my teaching philosophy
In my years of experience as a Choir Director, I’ve observed that students are motivated and actively engaged in those things they find most interesting on a personal level. With that in mind, if I can relate music to my students’ everyday lives and personal interests, they tend to more easily accept the concepts I’m presenting, regardless of age or experience.
Students of both genders and all age groups participate in either voice lessons, piano lessons, or both. A student's ability level usually falls somewhere within the following categories and my studio easily accomodates the needs of each group no matter where they fall on the continuum.
Beginner: Has no prior knowledge of musical terms or techniques and usually has never experienced the act of playing a piano.
Intermediate: Has a basic understanding of musical terms, understands keyboard layout, fingering, may know how to play mildly complex songs.
Advanced: Possesses an in-depth understanding of musical terms, key signatures, fingering positions and has the ability to sight read. Has achieved chord and scale mastery.
Beginner: Has had no prior performance experience. Little to no comprehension of breath support, and limited to no understanding of the vocal mechanism.
Intermediate: Limited performance experience, possesses comprehension of breath support and a basic understanding of the vocal mechanism.
Advanced: Possesses considerable performance experience, understands their strengths and weaknesses, demonstrates vocal chord control and breath support.
the music/math connection
In the academic community, it is widely understood that students involved in music are more likely to excel in other academic studies, especially math. There is a direct correlation between musical notation (a written system that graphically represents organized sound) and written mathematical computation.
“There’s nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.”
- Johann Sebastian Bach
The following is a simple example of this music/math connection and I recognize that some of the terminology I am using may be unfamiliar to the aspiring musician. For now, let’s accept these ideals as truthful and explore the meaning and significance of the terms during our lesson time. The point of the example is that a basic unit of measure in music is represented by quarters (1/4) in math:
In 4/4 time, a quarter note in music receives one beat. The quarter note makes up 1-quarter of the measure.
half and whole notes
In 4/4 time a half note receives two beats (two twenty-five cent pieces or one fifty cent piece). The half note “takes up” half of one measure (fifty cents of one dollar is used). A whole note receives four beats (one dollar). The whole note “consumes” the entire measure (the entire dollar is used in musical notation).
Time and again I have found students responding very well to these comparisons and the above serves as a foundational truth for the pianist and/or vocal musician.
For piano lessons we will start with the basic foundational information and work toward more complicated techniques. The student’s individual progress will be used as a measurement of progressive speed rather than any implied schedule within written teaching aids.
It is quite probable that multiple, less complicated concepts are absorbed during a one week period and higher-order techniques may require many weeks of practice and adjustment before mastery is achieved.
Vocal instruction is a very personal experience. When playing an instrument, there is of course, talent and skill involved. However, when you carry your instrument within your body, performance becomes very personal. Constructive criticism is the tool that we use to learn new vocal techniques. We also use a modeling technique where I will model a particular sound and the student will parrot the sound back.
In vocal instruction, we most often start with breath support and control; learning to use breathing to produce the best possible sound. We also use ear-training techniques that help the singer match pitches. In my opinion, the best way to self-critique and advance in vocal instruction is by recording a voice lesson and playing it back during your personal study time. We use a series of warm-ups to perfect techniques and stretch our vocal cords as you would stretch any muscle before activity. The goal in vocal instruction is two-fold: the singer will learn how to produce the best possible sound that is natural (not a sound that is mimicking a famous artist, etc.), and the singer will use techniques that are proper and healthy, so that they do not damage their instrument.
All of this is to say that anyone, in spite of age or ability, can play the piano or learn to sing. Their motives can be for pleasure or for education. Regardless of your reasoning I believe that you will find your niche in my studio.