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The Art of Holistic Piano Teaching


Piano Geography for Beginners

First of all, piano lessons for beginners should never start with middle C. Get rid of all those books from your local store that really just teach mechanical reading and don’t teach playing. Piano lessons should be much more than, “which key does this blob on the graph represent? Now, find this button, press it with this finger”. However, this is how the majority of beginner piano lessons start and this is completely wrong.

From a technical standpoint, all students should start with the black notes for two reasons. Firstly, the handshape created encourages the excellent ‘bridge shape’ with the long fingers on the three black notes and ‘a mouse could crawl under the hand’.

Secondly, we identify white notes by referring to the patterns/groups of 3 verses 2 black notes. Therefore, start by identifying the black notes.

Next, the entire piano should be used in lesson 1. The student should not be limited to just the centre of the piano. Spark their imagination!

Piano Melodies

Melodies for piano should firstly be understood in terms of pitch relationships. Solfege or using numbers develops the ear and activities need to be used that train the pianist like a conductor, hearing the music in their head using their ‘inner ear’.

Melodies can initially be taught by rote, but, do something that enhances the depth of understanding rather than simple copying. The inner ear method is part of this. To play “Hot Cross Buns” or the beginning of “Imagine” by John Lennon on the three black notes is not a bad starting point at all. However, take it a step further and be transposing from the word go. Start on a different note and count the semitones between the notes. Already the beginner piano student is understanding different keys and intervals on the piano.

Piano Chords

Piano chords can be added. Firstly, explore the chord. Improvise with the notes of the chord. Try inversions. Count the number of semitone steps between each pitch, in other words, understand what makes it major/minor/diminished/augmented and so on.

Piano Notation and Sight-Reading

It is not uncommon to then convert the melody to notation and to create a sight-reading exercises using just these relevant pitches in a couple of the keys explored. Traditional notation can still be valued and integrated.

Holistic Piano Improvisation for Beginners

Next, improvise. (1) Yes, we’re back to sparking the imagination and that is supported by the inner ear. Different emotions for more adult piano beginners or different animals for younger piano beginners all connect emotion with sound, which is exactly what music is about.

(2) Improvisation can also happen in the mind and/or via the voice so that pitch relationships and aural are simultaneously developed, creating a more holistic training.

(3) Improvisation can also move between keys from the early stages, developing a concept of modulation.

(4) Another reason for improvisation, is that it connects with the beat. I often create a simple accompaniment that students improvise over and immediately we can start discussing beat and note values that are shorter or longer than a beat, or even where the first beat of the bar is. We are developing an intuitive comprehension of rhythm and pulse. Backing tracks can certainly help here and I create backing tracks for students in the style of the main piece(s) that they are learning.

Holistic Piano Improvisation for Adults and Advanced Pupils

Piano Lessons to enhance expression and release tension

Pupil A’s holistic piano lesson. A can feel really anxious and has discovered piano improvisation as a way to help her let emotions flow. In tonight’s lesson she arrived visibly anxious with her left knee constantly trembling. We focused on some specific breathing techniques that I use to enhance wellbeing for musicians and then she played. All her muscles relaxed (from neck down to toes) and afterwards she said, “I just let it flow”. The person that left was different to the person that arrived and the music we improvised was really quite touching. We continue to use meditation style breathing and awareness of muscle tension, followed by exercises on how to make the piano express the emotion that we want. Whilst I don’t advertise lessons as being qualified music therapy, music certainly is therapy for so many people. Moments like this – I love my job.

Do you connect your music with your soul?

Piano Lesson that allow emotions to flow

Pupil B – Holistic piano teaching: B began his lesson saying that as a teenager he sometimes feels he wants his own space but at other times he loves being with the people he closest to him. Therefore, we started with a piano improv. He says he chose to show the two different feelings by contrasting low and high notes. The main melody represents people you care about helping you out.

Beginner Piano Improv Lessons for Pandemic Anxiety

Piano pupil C this week started improvising after a phone-call from his Dad. The young beginner piano pupil, as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, had become extremely anxious about anything social or even going out. Even though, locally, the area is coming out of lockdown, it is only know that his family are realising the long-term effects. For this lesson, we did not use the book for Pupil C, instead, he developed his own piece. It started by me asking, “what emotion shall we explore today?” He replies, “happiness”. I ask him to define the type of happiness, “Is it a relaxed Sunday afternoon on the sofa, jumping up and down in a swimming pool, eating an ice-cream, or your birthday kind of happiness?” He goes for the swimming pool option! This leads to exploration of jumping into the pool and if the sound should be short or long, waterfalls and other water related ideas and how we can represent them on the piano. Towards the end of the lesson, Pupil C rehearses the piece a few times in his head only and then we video it and email it to Dad. What a happy pupil he was!

Piano Music Styles

Well, you’re reading an article by a piano teacher who trained at the Royal Northern College of Music Conservatoire, a highly classical establishment, grew up with a Church of England style choral and organ education, who lived with a Mandinko tribe in Gambia in order to learn their tribal songs and drumming, who worked with other tribes in South African in Ladysmith, who has directed a Gospel Choir in the UK, who studied jazz piano with a Russian genius for 4 years on a weekly basis, who co-directed a We Will Rock You season in a theatre, who has played keys for numerous Musical Theatre productions and coached Musical Theatre soloists, who learns Hindustani music from a guru in Sri Lanka weekly (applying it vocally and to piano) and who reached no. 1 in the UK, no. 33 globally for putting jazzy twists on pop songs in the Reverbnation Charts. Holistic piano teaching? Oh yes, most definitely!

Your Holistic Pop Piano Lessons and Holistic Classical Piano Lessons

Dr Robin Harrison, The Maestro Online, teaches online and face-to-face (Yarm near Stockton, Middlesbrough, Darlington, Northallerton, Teesside, UK). He is currently offering 25% off for new students. for more pop piano lessons for classical piano lessons for popular vocal coach technique for classical singing lessons.

Interested in Online Music Courses for Piano? Pop and Rock Piano?

Visit the Music Course Online Library – Pop and Rock Piano Courses from the beginning that develop musicianship skills so that you can play any pieces/songs that you like the way that you would like. Improvise and embellish! There’s some free samples here: Courses are made to request too, so please ask if you want something specific, I love the challenge!

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