As I attempt to get fully organized for the start of the new teaching year, I’m spending way too much time on the computer, reading other blogs, chat groups, surfing, and generally practicing avoidance of what I should be doing. My thinking about teaching has started to undergo a shift in the last year – a result of what I’ve read online and a subsequent exposure to different approaches. As I’ve said previously, those of us who work within a structured exam system can get lazy and complacent, letting the exam be our guide for what we teach. The idea of setting specific goals for students and then teaching accordingly was foreign to me until fairly recently. (I have a number of articles written about this – see under Examinations in the Categories column).
It was fitting that this article by Kevin Coan appeared in the Files group of the Yahoo Teachers Group. It’s a very good, comprehensive list of objectives in teaching intermediate students – the weak link in piano teaching, as he says. Here it is in whole:
Good Intermediate Teaching
By Kevin M Coan
I have some very definite opinions on what we need to be doing in the intermediate stage to prepare our students adequately for advanced work. I have made the statement several times that as a profession, our weakest link is in the intermediate stages. And I believe that occurs because teachers abandon a focus on teaching skills and concepts and turn to coaching isolated pieces. When you talk to most teachers about what a student is doing, they will reply with a list of the pieces the student is working on. When one inquires into the objectives the teacher has for the student, many teachers are at a loss – their only objective is to get the student to play Piece XYZ well.
My definition of good intermediate teaching includes the following:
- A carefully thought out list of objectives of skills and concepts to be developed.
- An emphasis on the PROCESS of learning pieces rather than only the PRODUCT of individual pieces.
- A proper understanding of PROCESS teaching definitely includes the learning of many quality pieces. In PROCESS based teaching, the objectives become the driver, not the pieces. For example, my objective may be to develop the ability to project a melody line when more than one part is played in the hand. THEREFORE, I choose a piece like Schumann’s “First Loss,” which provides meaningful application of that skill. In PRODUCT based teaching, the teacher would choose “First Loss” either because it is in a collection, because it is a “beautiful piece,” or because it is a “piece the student likes.” Since “First Loss” requires the ability to project a melody line, THEREFORE the teacher INCIDENTALLY teaches that skill. But there was no prior plan to teach that skill at that time.
- A comprehensive program of theory, including style, melodic analysis, rhythmic analysis, harmonic analysis, formal analysis, and expressive elements. A lot of intermediate teaching would improve tremendously if the teacher would simply require the student to analyze the form of the piece and to mark the major sections.
- A comprehensive curriculum of musicianship skills, including transposition, composition, improvisation, harmonization, and arrangement.
- Systematic development of multikey competency, hopefully building on such training begun during the elementary years.
- A complete program of technical development, including the following skills (which was your question in the first place):
- Mastery of the major, harmonic minor, and melodic minor scales in all keys, four octaves, parallel and contrary motion.
- Mastery of major, minor, augmented, and diminished triads in all inversions, broken and blocked.
- Mastery of seventh chords in all inversions.
- Ability to play arpeggios in all major and minor keys. At the intermediate level, three octaves with the major and minor triads is a reasonable goal. Advanced work would carry this to four-octave competency, and it would include the various seventh chords.
- Mastery of the six basic techniques for position changes: 1) direct moves, 2) contractions, 3) extensions, 4) crossings 5) substitutions (on a held note) and 6) change of finger on a repeated note.
- Mastery of four-note broken and blocked chords, where the top and bottom notes are the same. Mastery of correct fingerings for this as well.
- Mastery of parallel legato thirds.
- Mastery of parallel sixths
- Mastery of sustained and moving voices
- Mastery of correct pedal technique
- Mastery of the chromatic scale
- Mastery of the chromatic scale, in parallel and contrary motion, and in intervals of major and minor thirds and sixths
- Effective execution of all ornaments
- Ability to execute 2 against 3 polyrhythm. Other combinations would be developed at the advanced level.
- Mastery of the technique of rapidly repeating notes with change of fingers
- A complete curriculum of performance practices
- An understanding of the various forms of music: sonata, suite, invention, fugue, waltz, nocturne, etc., and the corresponding periods in which each type was developed.
- An understanding of the performance practices of each of the historical periods
- Ability to use rubato effectively
- Knowledge of the proper performance of ornaments in each of the periods
In any list of this nature, I have probably omitted at least a couple of important elements, but this should give a meaningful list of things to be included as a base. Also, as I mentioned in a prior posting, ten percent of students will progress if they are taught by a horse using a phone book. Probably ten percent of students would not learn if taught by the best teacher in America using the “perfect” piano course. The other eighty percent will be more likely to make an effective transition from the late elementary to the early advanced level when the instruction is organized according to objectives rather than being left to chance.
©2009 by Kevin M Coan
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