Meri’s Musical Musings

How piano teachers who teach other instruments benefit students

Posted on: April 4, 2009

Some students and parents think that a piano teacher in which piano is not the teacher’s main instrument is not a good choice for piano students. However, such piano teachers can be, and often are, better choices for many piano students, due to a greater musical perspective, provide interest in learning other instruments, especially to students who won’t start band or orchestra 2-5 years after the student begins piano lessons, provide additional approaches or understanding of music reading and ear training skills, may be more likely to have a piano that is well-maintained and tuned, and provide ensemble experiences such as training intermediate and advanced students as accompanists.

Piano teachers who teach other instruments are more likely to have a greater contextual frame. Let us take the example of one movement from a Beethoven piano sonata, his op. 49 number 2, second movement, which is a minuet. Piano teachers who teach other instruments may recognize the piece—in fact the piano version is an arrangement from Beethoven’s Septet, op. 20. The Mozart Viennese sonatas are also arrangements of works for wind instruments, and at least a couple of pieces in the elementary piano pedagogy are originally written for solo instrument and piano. A piano teacher who has recordings of pieces such as these can encourage students to ‘balance’ the voices in a similar manner to the original, they can spark interest in learning to play other instruments (which many students in school music programs do), or develop an interest in chamber music.

Second, piano teachers who teach other instruments provide sound models for students who within a few years will be learning to play another instrument in school. Some of my piano students, who started when they were about 5 years old, are now 8 years old, have seen myself and a number of my clarinet students perform in various concerts. One day, one student asked me to try the clarinet, which a couple lessons later I brought a mouthpiece, ligature, and a fairly soft reed. When I let this student try it, they were not only able to make a sound, but a sound better than most clarinet beginners make. Perhaps this was because this student had been exposed to the playing of good intermediate and early advanced students I have and have had over the previous 3 years of lessons.

Third, piano teachers who teach other instruments may have additional approaches to teaching reading or ear training skills, or even a greater understanding of the notes a student is able to read based on the notes they learned on another instrument, which is especially important with piano beginners who study other instruments. For example, woodwind instruments often play in thirds, and brass instruments often play in fifths. Students can listen to recordings that show how these instruments are used in thirds and fifths, which they may quickly learn to recognize what is commonly known as ‘the horn fifth’. In symphonic works, pairs of woodwind instruments often play in thirds; this is true in a lot of concert band music as well. An experienced tuba or double bass player may be able to read bass clef notes below the staff easily; an intermediate-level clarinet student probably has learned to read low treble clef notes easily and some notes above the staff as well.

Fourth, piano teachers who teach other instruments may have ideas about musicianship that apply to students of all instruments. For example, many elementary piano students have difficulties with the concept of the two note slur, especially if the second note has a dot over it. A piano teacher can use their other instrument to demonstrate the sound of this kind of two-note slur, I have brought my clarinet on at least two or three piano students to their lesson to demonstrate an idea they couldn’t understand with a demonstration on the piano, but once they got to hear the sound of them on another instrument, they were able to imitate that sound on the piano.

Fifth, piano teachers who teach other instruments probably are more likely to keep their pianos in tune. The main reason for this is because it is not possible to play in ensembles with other instruments if the piano is too far out of tune, but other reasons include students needing an accurate pitch reference especially on instruments in which the pitches are controlled more by the player (brass, strings, and voice) than the instrument (woodwinds). Not only that, but some musicians have what is commonly known as perfect pitch, or at least a strong sense of relative pitch; a piano that is distinctively out of tune causes problems with pitch reference.

Finally, piano teachers who teach other instruments can provide ensemble experiences in addition to piano duets. This is important as students get older, as ensembles provide social as well as musical experiences. Intermediate and advanced piano students can be trained as assistant accompanists, a skill that is in high demand, as students of most other instruments and some groups need good pianists, and many pianists do not want to learn accompanying skills. In addition, students can see the purpose of playing with good timing and rhythm as they will see how students of other instruments cannot go out of sync without causing chaos.

So please consider piano teachers who teach instruments other than piano, even if piano is not their primary instrument. Such teachers are likely to have a better understanding of how to teach various musical and playing skills, and provide ensemble experiences with students of other instruments. An excellent music teacher is an excellent music teacher—no matter what instruments they teach.

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  • None
  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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