Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Teaching Well-Rounded Musicians

Laura Lowe of The Piano Studio has done a couple of posts lately discussing choral accompanying for the pianist.  As the Music Director at my local church, I want to give a HUGE CHEER!  I have been leading our adult choir for over 25 years and I can tell you that most of those years I have had to play as well as direct because there is no other pianist who can handle the accompanying.  There's been a number of reasons for it but primarily it comes down to a lack of understanding of what it takes and the skill to be able to do the job.  They are good pianists - that is not the issue - yet, I spend much of the rehearsal time leading from the piano bench! 

Here is a quote from Laura's post:

"Of all the things I do as a musician, church choral accompanying has been the most financially lucrative and emotionally satisfying of my activities short of teaching. Ironically, not one minute of my formal piano instruction was ever devoted to this craft which requires an additional set of skills beyond those of performing well as a soloist."

I couldn't agree more and unfortunately I find her words accurate for most students today.  I certainly don't teach all of the children and teens taking lessons in my church, but I spend a lot of time explaining and demonstrating accompanying skills to them.  They are not learning this aspect of playing anywhere else.  This is a large gap in music education and I would love to encourage you to consider adding this aspect to your teaching.  Laura has done a great job of putting together information about the importance of teaching this skill in lessons and key points to be able to master it.  If you haven't read either post, it is well worth your time!

The other gap I see is a lack of ability to read lead sheets.  I also lead our church praise team so being able to read lead sheets is a critical skill.  I've starting adding teens once a month to the group and working with those that play piano.  Most have never read a lead sheet and don't know how.  Again, they are not learning this skill in lessons. 

I don't want any of my students to master their technique and not be able to accompany a soloist. I don't want any of my students to be able to sight read well, but not be able to understand chord structure well enough to play in a praise team or band. 

Consider what you might be able to offer your students to help them become more rounded musicians.  And if possible...offer them opportunities to practice those skills.

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

You are so right! This is such an important skill for pianists to learn.
I had 3 students this year play at church (one with the praise band and the other during offertory) and one student accompanied for our local Elementary School Chorus spring concert.
The chorus teacher was so thrilled, she's already offered this student a position as accompanist for the December concert!
(Not to mention that my student was paid for the accompanying)