Musicianship

I think of myself more as a musician who plays the piano, rather than a pianist. I’m more interested in the music itself than the mechanics of it.   Martin Roscoe                                                            

I was delighted to hear Martin Roscoe say this in a recent interview, since it mirrors almost exactly my own sentiments when it comes to teaching. A quote from a blog post of mine from just a few months ago:

I find it very helpful to think of myself first and foremost as a music teacher, but one who just happens to teach that musicianship through the piano.

Sadly, unlike Martin I don’t think that I will ever reach the point where I will be able to let the ‘mechanics’ of playing the piano take care of themselves! But let’s get back down to earth and summarise:

It’s about the music.

A good proportion of my piano teaching is concerned with forming a solid technique. The purpose of the technique is to serve the music effectively, so that the pianist is able to express their intentions at whatever level they happen to be performing. I am also passionate about the mechanics of learning, and in particular in how to transfer the skills necessary for a pupil to become self-sufficient.

But what happens if the student just isn’t very musical? The answer is stunningly obvious  – we need to draw out their musicianship. I really can’t see the point of teaching the mechanics if the musicianship is neglected, since the student will have nothing to communicate if they have no musical understanding. And yet I find myself, on a daily basis, encountering young musicians who are ploughing through the ABRSM/Trinity grades with little understanding of the music which they are playing because the focus is too much on the mechanics, and not enough on the music itself. I am not talking about instructing pupils how to play musically. No, it is about drawing out an understanding so that they know for themselves how to play musically. The difference is vast.

Since coming to Monkton some three and a half years ago I have done a lot of work with ‘non-musicians’. The tone deaf project and The Choir who can’t sing are clear indications to me that to write off the ‘non-musician’ is a serious mistake. I am also convinced that the way forward is to train the musician first, because this the the bit which lasts. In order to do this, the focus needs to be on musical things – aural skills and inner hearing, understanding the implications of harmonic progressions etc. If that means going a little slower with repertoire in order to further the musicianship of the pupil, that shouldn’t be a problem!

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