My teaching philosophy is centered around the belief that piano-playing is a language. I teach piano the way one would learn a new language: building fluency through a step-by-step process. To achieve this, I put a lot of thought into assigning repertoire that is appropriate for the student’s level and background and that will help the student develop his/her potential. If a student needs work on building a good hand position, for example, it’s best for the student to learn shorter pieces (such as etudes or preludes) so that he/she can work on adjustments without feeling overwhelmed. Shorter pieces focusing on a musical aspect are not only easier to absorb, but are also ideal for building new habits. In contrast, if I encounter a student who has a good technical set-up, but hasn’t played much of Chopin, for example, I might challenge the student with a “Chopin project.” Rather than assigning a big piece by Chopin, however, I would have the student begin with a set of mazurkas or a nocturne; and the following semester: several impromptus and etudes in preparation for learning a Chopin Ballade. By the time the student begins work on the Ballade, the student would have developed a better ear for Chopin’s language. Even if the student had greatly possessed the technique for playing a Chopin Ballade, it would greatly benefit the student to be exposed first to a wider range of genres: responding to the Polish dance in the Mazurka, sustaining a singing line in the Nocturne, and bringing out the inner-voicing in an Impromptu would all prepare the student for a much more rewarding experience when learning a Chopin Ballade.
After studying with five different piano teachers, and having gained teaching experience myself, I have come to understand that the method by which a teacher prepares a student for an upcoming recital exposes the philosophy of the teacher. In my experience, a teacher will generally prepare a student using one of the two following methods. The first one is to assign the pieces to be programmed on the recital, and then to work toward the recital, continuously refining, and ultimately perfecting the assigned repertoire with the goal of a successful performance by the student. The second method is to think more long-term. Instead of assigning one sonata, perhaps assign two that year so that connections can be made between the two works, understanding of sonata form more fully absorbed. This method helps accumulate a wider range of repertoire so that by the time the recital date is approaching, the teacher has a broader selection of repertoire to choose from and is responsible for narrowing down the list of choices. The second method is the one I believe in, because it approaches piano-playing more as a language. When a student wants to know what tempo to take in an Andante movement of a Mozart Piano Sonata, for example, rather than simply assigning a metronome marking and finding the answer within that movement, I would also encourage him/her to read through several andante movements of Mozart Piano Sonatas, and to develop an ear for Mozart’s music. The metronome marking assigned by me would thus become a point of reference, – helping the student feel the tempo in a more authentic way.
When I began my career as a teacher, I took some time to reflect on the teachings of my previous teachers. I wondered: what is the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher? (I felt that there was more to it than the great teacher being a better pianist.) Based on my experience, and after much reflection, I have come to believe that a great teacher knows how to assign repertoire. My teaching method is to assign the best repertoire possible for each student, and to guide the student in building a better foundation through a step-by-step process – without omitting any steps. This is ultimately to work toward the goal of playing the piano as one would speak a native language: fluently and with ease.