HomeEducationPost Pandemic Piano Teaching: Part 2 by Karen Marshall

Post Pandemic Piano Teaching: Part 2 by Karen Marshall

Planning the best curriculum for our students to help to tackle the effects of the pandemic has never been more important. Post Pandemic Piano Teaching is a reality we are all dealing with to a greater or lesser extent. How can we address our student’s lost learning to help them reach their potential? How can this contribute positively to their over-all wellbeing? Addressing this issue can build a student’s confidence and help them to succeed in the piano learning journey, helping them to thrive musically and potentially personally. In this second blog, following my Part I which tackles lost learning with a planned approach, I talk about Musicianship and Theory, Live Performance and Ensemble Playing.

Theory and Musicianship

As already mentioned, this was less than easy to incorporate when teaching online. With no iPad and magic pencil, I just didn’t have the technology to do it well. However, I am now making a concerted effort to get my students flying once again in their theory and musicianship.

How can I incorporate these into every lesson even if my student isn’t doing a theory exam? How effectively am I explaining the value of theory to my students, so they want to do it for theory’s sake (not just to be tested)? 

At the end of the day, a student understanding the theoretical and musical context to what they are playing makes an enormous difference to how well they interpret repertoire.  Incorporating musicianship and playing by ear (alongside Music Theory) into our piano lessons broadens the session into a music lesson rather than just a piano lesson. It’s part of the process of helping our student to be an independent learner long after they have moved on from lessons with us. It also helps students experience music theory practically. 

Grade 5 Music Theory Practice Papers

Music Theory Grade 5 – It’s a worthy goal to get every student up to Grade 5 theory level regardless of whether they take the examination or not through weekly input. Just because they can use their GCSE music or the exam board doesn’t require the prerequisite, theory is important for theory’s sake in my personal view! There’s lots of wonderful theory books out there but I must confess to loving Theory in a Nutshell by Maureen Cox. It’s a wonderful summary. I use this alongside theory workbooks, past papers and my own materials. I simply find what I feel is best for my student. 

Consider making it a goal for every student to be Grade 5 Theory level when they move on for employment or university 

Musicianship – Skills like playing by ear, improvising and even composing were not the easiest to do in lockdown. They can be taught online quite easily, although the problem for me was finding the time to do them. I’ve been using some great resources to catch up my students here. 

If you haven’t ever checked out the ABRSM Practical Musicianship exam, do take a look at it now. There’s some fantastic material here. Whether doing the exam or not, experiment with the sample materials. Piano Star Skills Builder (Pre-Grade 1) from ABRSM also includes lots of wonderful musicianship activities alongside preparing students for an Initial Piano exam (without them realising they are being prepared for the examination). Do also take a look at the Graded Keyboard Musicianship Book from Oxford University Press by Anne Marden Thomas and Frederick Stocken. The book develops core keyboard skills, including figured bass, score-reading, transposition, harmonisation and improvisation.  

The Piano Trainer Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced books include a broad range of musicianship and theory incorporated throughout the books.  

Something to ponder: What wasn’t possible to do and what can be done now, how are you going to catch your student up? 

Live performance – naturally, there were months and months where this wasn’t done at all. What programme of live performance is possible now? Think simply. I’ve been getting my students in primary schools to perform to their class or immediate family. Festivals and concerts are also far more readily available, and my students do seem to be moving back to live exams too – instead of recorded ones.  

Plan and make this happen 

Ensemble playing – It’s been real fun trying to pair up my students again or just getting piano playing siblings and parents to play piano with each other. Piano Star Duets from ABRSM is packed with duets for pre-Grade 1 to Grade 2 along with the odd trio. In addition, there are resources where you can play with recordings. Diabelli Melodious Pieces on 5 Notes for four hands is superb, with wonderful teacher parts. Try the Schirmer’s edition on Musicroom. In HerStory: The Piano Collection any Grade 5 plus student can download a quartet audio file performing where, through using the music in the book, they become the pianist in the ensemble! And don’t forget about Piano Trios, there’s one in Get Set! Piano Pieces: Book 2, Piano Star Grade 1 but I also love the Hal Leonard Student Piano Library, Piano Ensembles for two pianos or more (Levels 1 beginner to Level 5 approximately Grade 4) if you do have two pianos/or an additional keyboard, to use. It’s fantastic for developing reading and huge fun. 

Think ensemble opportunities: what is possible, how can I proactively make it happen? 

Concluding thoughts

As my student left her lesson this morning, I asked her about the topic of lost learning. She said that she’d found weekly (rather than ad-hoc) online lessons tough as it simply didn’t feel the same. “You just can’t do as much in an online lesson, and I do really prefer being in person with you. It’s that connection, if you know what I mean?” It was clear that she felt she was learning more now but also recognised there was some catching up to be done. I, like the rest of the piano teaching community, am doing my best to help in that process. To make lost learning disappear through conscious teaching and conscientious planning. Our students deserve it so they can achieve their full potential despite the pandemic. I have great confidence in the wonderful army of piano teachers we are, we will achieve it!

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