The Piano Teachers Forum (PTF) is an active professional association that has proudly served Central New Jersey area piano teachers since 1981. The friendly and supportive atmosphere of the PTF allows for an open exchange of ideas and fosters the development of valuable relationships among colleagues.
PTF is your go-to resource for continuing education and stimulating professional development. Membership gives you access to our monthly programs, Spring Festival, Composer Showcase, performance group, and media lending library.
We hope that you'll join us this year!
Please read this welcome message from our 2021-2022 President, Jason Gallagher:
During the past few months, we have been enjoying a respite from quarantine, and finally going out into the world. I remember enjoying a beautiful lunch near Princeton where, sitting outside, we got to enjoy the deafening buzz of the cicadas as we ate our sandwiches and drank our sodas. But much of the past year has been spent indoors, and, wow, did the major organizations of the piano teaching world ever step up to the plate? There have been more webinars and opportunities for online learning presented in the past year than anyone would care to count, and all that content likely surpasses everything available leading up to that point!
Forgive me, that last statement may have been a bit of an exaggeration. Still, with all the educational material out there, and in light of the purpose of our organization, I thought it would be relevant to talk about learning. Not the student’s learning, but our own.
I think that you all know this fundamental rule of teaching: the student must never leave the lesson without having demonstrated the practice steps to be used at home. But, in a way, isn’t this rule broken all the time in our own education? It’s simply not a practical thing to do. We sit and hear a 30-minute, hour-long, two hour-long lecture where we’ve sat and taken notes, and then at a later time we are expected to use that knowledge in our own teaching. Occasionally, the presenter, in a moment of wisdom, will attempt to have us teach our fellow attendees using the principles discussed, but can working with a fellow adult ever adequately simulate what it’s like to sit with a child? Of course not!
So I would like to suggest a solution as we head into another exciting year of PTF presentations: the Index Card. From time to time (please don’t think I do this every month – I’m no saint), I take an index card and write down the most important teaching skills I want to practice. I use an index card because, even though you can still put too much on it, you are at least somewhat limited. This makes it easier to focus on the current skills you feel are most essential. This card sits on the piano rack where it will catch my eye throughout the teaching day. If you teach on just one piano, there’s no need to worry about the student seeing it. A simple explanation: “this is to remind me what I wanted to do with you today!” will suffice. As an example, here’s the text from one of my past cards (I need a new one for September):
- ENTHUSIASTIC PRAISE!
- Hear assigned practice steps
- Count off before everything
- Blind playing
- Creative Practice Techniques go beyond learning notes
- Rapport – Body Language, Vocal Quality
- Relate known to unknown – analogies!
The big thing I want to point out here is that the child is not the only one learning in the piano lesson! There is a perhaps apocryphal, yet fundamentally true, exchange between cellist Pablo Casals and an interviewer that I’m sure you have heard. A quick search on the internet says that it originated in 1944 when the Nazis no longer occupied Casal’s country: “Now that the enemy has been forced to leave, I have resumed my practicing and you will be pleased to know that I feel that I am making progress.” Even though Casals was more likely 67 at this time rather than the 85 or 95 we often hear, still, it is incredible to hear a virtuoso with a long and illustrious career say he is “making progress.” That said, if we say we teach an art where a virtuoso with a career spanning decades still has room to progress, our teaching must, as well, have limitless potential for improvement.
For the rest of the year, I urge you to look at every lesson you teach not as a performance, but as practice. It is not just an environment for you to demonstrate the skills you have already mastered – it is an opportunity for you to build new skills. The index card is the link between our student-selves and our teacher-selves that allows that to happen. It brings the presenter into our own classroom to guide us and look over our shoulder.
A couple of caveats: First, practice is inherently messier than performance, yet certain things must be done for us to grow. As a concrete example, many of us will not teach artistry until a student has mastered the notes, rhythms, and tempo of a piece. The problem with this is, of course, that many of us will not teach artistry – ever! Some students are just not invested enough to get every note right, and who can blame them, since they’ve never made a beautiful sound before. Remember that you cannot acquire a skill that is unused! Sometimes this means you must practice that skill, even though it doesn’t seem like the perfect moment. Trust me, any new teaching skills that you acquire, even at the expense of accuracy, will benefit the child as much as they will benefit you.
Second, as in our practice, progress is not always forward – nor should it be! Recently, I was dealing with the frequent problem of students practicing too fast and too sloppy (to provide counterpoint to the above). I had spent many lessons having the student practice slow with me, I thought I had made things very clear. Then I observed another teacher and realized the missing link – the metronome. Now, in the past, I have used a metronome to define for a student exactly what slow is, but I got out of the habit because I was never taught with a metronome myself as a child. So, did I beat myself up over this? No, because forgetting is a natural part of learning, and what we re-learn after having forgotten always returns stronger and lasts longer. So as you look at the large number of skills presented to you through your online education, realize that you don’t have to work on all at once, and that after working on one set of skills for a while, it is perfectly fine to drop them and focus on others for a while. If you forget them, you’ll relearn them when the time is right.
Thank you for staying with me this long! I hope that what I’ve said will help make sure that the fascinating ideas our presenters share with us cross the divide between Jacob’s Music and our piano studios. What a blessing it is that whether in person or online, pandemic or no, we have a profession where we can continue to learn and grow. It is through that growth that we touch ever more lives with the beauty of music.
Jason Gallagher, B.M., M.M.
President, Piano Teachers Forum of Central New Jersey