While updating my LinkedIn profile earlier today, during which I forced myself to reduce my curriculum vitae to five catchy points to succinctly sum up who I am and what I do, and it occurred to me that those of us who are freelance music teachers or musicians, or both, have to wear many hats in the course of our working life. Added to that, if one has a family, one must factor in a whole ‘nother skills base, and demands upon one’s time. Since it’s nearly the end of term, this is a slightly tongue-in-cheek post, though the underlying sentiments are more serious. I expect those who do a similar job to me will recognise many of these roles!

CEO – I run my own company!

ENTREPRENEUR – I took the risk to set up my studio (company), purchase the equipment, and seek out clients

DIPLOMAT – a child arrives, upset by something that has happened at school, and needs gentle coaxing and encouragement to participate in his/her piano lesson

TEACHER – obviously!

COMPOSER/ARRANGER – adapting music from the charts or a tv show that a student has requested to learn (I’m currently engaged in writing out the theme from The A-Team for one of my students).

CHILD WHISPERER – several parents have complimented me on my “child-wrangling” skills and my ability to get a group of kids on the stage and performing

I.T. CONSULTANT – making sure my computer/iPad/iPhone work to serve me, my studio and my students; managing my website and blog, ensuring content remains fresh and up to date

PR/ADVERTISING EXECUTIVE – marketing my skills and my studio, networking to make new connections, keeping up with friends and colleagues for mutual benefit, keeping abreast of what is new in teaching/pianism

IMPRESARIO/CONCERT PROMOTER/ARTISTS’ MANAGER – I organise twice-yearly concerts for my students, for which I do all the publicity, write the programme notes, provide the post-concert refreshments (including homemade cakes!), and get everyone sufficiently motivated and excited to get up and perform.

THERAPIST – a couple of my adult students regard their lessons as “time out” from their busy lives, and sometimes a lesson becomes a chance just to talk to de-stress

JUGGLER – organising my weekly schedule to accommodate teaching, my own practising/study, running the home and looking after my family

STUDENT – teaching, for me, has become a wonderful, endless circle of attainment and study, especially since I started having lessons myself again two years ago.

Since I also run a home and care for my family, I could add some other “jobs” to my profile: cook, taxi driver, nurse, cleaner, laundress, cat sitter.

Which hats do you wear? Please feel free to leave comments. For a longer, serious article on this subject, go to ComposeCreate.com

I have enjoyed the recent video compilations of pianists playing the opening measures of Schubert’s last sonata, and Chopin’s ‘Butterfly’ Etude, which have come to me via people I follow on Twitter. Thus inspired, I have decided to add my own offering, this time of pianists playing the Toccata from Bach’s 6th Partita BWV 830. I have been learning this piece for the last 3 months, and will be performing it in a concert next weekend. My benchmark recording has been Murray Perahia’s, but the following films offer some very interesting interpretations, each of which has its own merits. As one of the comments on Sokolov’s performance says, “there is no right or wrong way to Bach….” and these films demonstrate that very clearly, with widely varying tempos and touches. No one version is “right” or “wrong”: each offers interesting insights, and each has informed my practising of this piece in some way or other, whether the flourishes of the opening, arpeggiated figure, the true “toccare” measures (bars 3-4, 7, for example), the ornamentation, or the character of the fugue. The harpischord and organ clips are ‘wild cards’ in some ways, yet they give an idea of how the piece might have sounded to Bach, played in the chamber, or church.

Following on from last week’s post of 8 pianists playing the opening measures of Schubert’s last sonata, here’s another interesting selection of styles, tempos and interpretations, this time in Chopin’s Opus 25 No. 9 Etude (‘Butterfly’). The pianists, in order of appearance are:

1. Vladimir Ashkenazy
2. Wilhelm Backhaus
3. Idil Biret
4. Vladimir Horowitz
5. Phillipe Cassard
6. Murray Perahia
7. Maurizio Pollini
8. Leonard Bernstein
9. Grigory Sokolov

I particularly like Ash, Perahia, Pollini and Sokolov, who can do truly amazing things with Chopin. There’s a robustness in his playing, yet it’s light and playful when required. Pollini’s version is more light-hearted, joyful even.

Thanks to the Collaborative Piano Blog and Harold Gray (Portland Piano International) for flagging this up.

A post by Geraldine in A Bottle inspired this one. There’s a wrong way and a right way to offer corrections to a student. I hope I am doing it the right way….

Continually picking up a student over small slips and errors will dent their confidence and erode their ability to trust their musical self. Teaching a student how to identify errors, by ear and by feel, and how to learn from them is crucial. If a student stumbles over a passage but cannot point out where the error happened, they need to be shown where and why the mistake occurred. “Listen to yourself playing” I tell my students, and they look at me askance. Of course you must use your ears when you play, just as you use your brain, your fingers and your eyes.

A good teacher knows each student individually, can remember where they are in their study, and adapts his or her teaching style to suit each student. A bad teacher cannot remember names, or the student’s progress, and teaches every student in exactly the same, formulaic way.

A good teacher allows the student to play through the entire piece first, without interruption. A good teacher listens critically and supportively. When the student has finished, a good teacher first points out the places where the student played well and praises the student for his or her playing. Then the serious work begins.

A bad teacher halts the student mid-way to highlight errors or correct mistakes. This is a very bad habit, as it encourages ‘stop-start’ practising and a message is sent to the student’s brain that this is an acceptable way of playing, even if the student (and the teacher!) knows it is not. In a performance or examination situation, stopping and starting is not acceptable, but if a student becomes accustomed to doing it in practice (reinforced by teacher’s behaviour during lessons), he or she does not learn a coping mechanism for quick recovery when a mistake occurs. Mistakes need to be seen in context, and understood, but students should also be encouraged to “play through” errors.

One of my students, in fact, a student who has been with me the longest, a competent 11 year old called Lucy, still often asks me when she is playing “is this right?”. Most of the time she is right, and me keeping quiet, or simply saying “keep going, we’ll talk about it in a moment”, is enabling her to trust her musical instincts and work out problems for herself.

A good teacher encourages students to think for themselves, work out their own fingering schemes, and helps them to see solutions to problems. A bad teacher just tells them how to do it without allowing any forum for discussion or feedback, thus ridding the student of any sense of control over the music, and making the student entirely reliant on the teacher (who may not always be right!).

A good teacher encourages students to see how a particular technique learnt in one piece (see my earlier post on technical exercises) can be applied to another. A bad teacher says “You will do it this way. Or else….”

Sometimes even the youngest student has something fresh and insightful to say to me about the music they are learning. And when I pass on such an anecdote to my teacher, I realise that we are all connected in an infinite circle of learning and mentoring.

Further reading:

The Perfect Wrong NoteWilliam Westney

The Inner Game of MusicBarry Green

The Art of PractisingMadeline Bruser