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Empowering Independence: Teaching Self-Reliance in Piano Playing

This will be only a brief post on the topic of self-reliance and how to teach pupils in a way that will maximize their independence.

man playing piano

There seems to be an increasing number of pupils who are over-reliant on instruction to proceed in learning unfamiliar piano repertoire. They need help with notes and very basic musical features even in the intermediate grades. They are generally slower to learn, because their sight-reading ability is almost non-existent. It is not necessarily clear, immediately, what the cause of this reluctance might be; however, I believe one aspect is teachers who spoon feed pupils and make few demands. I will explain below what I mean by this and offer some advice on how to encourage pupils to develop their independent learning capacity.


Do not write in the notes for your piano pupils

This is the most important tip. Do not continuously tell a pupil the notes. Ask them to tell you. If they hesitate, encourage them with leading questions. The Socratic technique works; it may not be true, as Plato thought, that this learning was remembered from another world, but a series of questions to which a pupil knows the answers which gradually leads them to recognizing the truth they already knew from previous lessons will teach them the steps to follow on their own.


Furthermore, requiring the pupil to give you the information they ought to know will reinforce that knowledge and emphasize the face that it is something they are expected to know.


Require pupils to sight-read music before writing in the notes

As we have already seen, pupils must be expected to write the notes in for themselves. In addition, we can add the extremely important idea that they should sight-read everything the first time. Naturally, this assumes that what they are learning is within their ability range, but it establishes a healthy habit from the very beginning.


The vast majority of my pupils when they have finished the basic level tuition books, are competent readers. The reason for this is that they never ever read music with the letter-names written in. Pupils always read first, and only if they are unsure, write the notes in (themselves) after that first attempt.


Continually recapitulate previously learned facts

It is most important that we continually recapitulate what we covered in previous lessons. Ask pupils at random to name a particular note or musical symbol which they ought to know; give them easier repertoire, hard enough to challenge them, easy enough to play hands together as a sight-reading exercise.

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