Learning

Teaching


Welcome to my Learning/Teaching page!

I created this page with the intention of opening up a dialogue about teaching and learning music, and I welcome your questions, comments and feedback. I’ve been having a conversation about piano and all things music with a best friend of mine for forty years, and we have yet to run out of things to talk about. So I figured it it was high time to share with the wider world some of what I've gleaned over the years of playing and singing. I'll start by sharing my own experiences, followed by some thoughts and useful information about learning your instrument – which meant piano and voice in my case. 

If you wish to find relevant information regarding my teaching  studio, see the last paragraph, highlighted in bold. 

Brief Background: I really learned “how” to play piano in my 20's, after having already played and studied since the age of three. Re-learning meant focusing on understanding and being conscious of how my body – arms, wrist, fingers, torso – moved, all within a musical context. No teacher had ever explained how my hands were supposed to feel when moving from one note to another, or when shifting from one area of the keyboard to another. Although I was considered talented, there was an elusive thing called “technique” that seemed to be missing. I didn't understand how to practice – (which I didn't particularly like anyway) – or how to play. I had simply been playing “on automatic” for years.

As for listening and hearing, I was pretty sure I had a great ear – after all I had perfect pitch! But I learned that despite this “great ear”, I lacked a concept or experience of deep listening. I recall one of my early sessions with my teacher, Phil Cohen, in Montreal. When he played a chord at my first lesson, it was as if I were hearing the piano for the very first time. He taught not only how to play, but how to hear, and how to concentrate deeply. Those three elements were inseparable. He had the ability to transmit information and concepts in ways that were eloquent and evocative;  he synthesized and addressed fundamental information sorely missing from the world of piano playing. (And much of it relevant to the playing of all instruments; he coached instrumentalists and singers as well.) The ten years spent with him, and the lessons I 've had over the years since then profoundly inform my own teaching.

Fast forward to the present, where I  bring many decades of experience and understanding on how to play, how to teach, and how to help people improve. I love to help people get better! Since everyone has a different way of relating to the piano and  different challenges, solving technical issues  will be unique to each person. But it's fair to say that when you leave a lesson, you should either be able to do something you could not do before, or have a beginning grasp of a concept that you did not have before. Because I myself am “in the trenches” as a performer, I know what it is to practice, to “get nerves”, and to try to overcome apparent stumbling blocks. I've taught people of all ages, including teens with special needs, and beginners.

About Voice – I started singing later in life, in service to my own music, as I became a songwriter and composer. I began serious study, aided by the fact that I was already a musician with a capacity to concentrate and to notice sensations. Additionally, I knew the kinds of questions to ask that would aid in the discovery of finding my own voice. Singing did not come as easily to me as the piano. In a way, however, that's been a gift because I have had to really own, really know and understand just how I became a better singer; it was not something I could take for granted. That acquired knowledge has become something I've been able to transmit to other students. And of course, starting as a beginner later in life has managed to keep my own empathy for students’ struggles very much alive! All of this is an ongoing process of learning that never ceases.

I'd like to offer some advice to anyone who desires to play better at any level, on any instrument- whether beginner or extremely advanced. It is this:

First, start with a musical intention.

By musical intention, I mean how you want the music to sound. This will determine the physical gesture you use- which sounds very simple. Yet being able to execute your physical intention takes understanding, concentration and usually, assistance from a teacher.

Secondly, for beginner to advanced students, I offer four simple words: take a smaller bite!

It is only by taking the smallest amount of music of which you are truly aware and truly conscious, that you can then even begin to  know what you just played. Most of us take too long a phrase, or too many bars, or too many pages, or just too much playing – as if on automatic. If your ear is not “turned on”, your practice time is fruitless and your precious time is not well spent. And you end up with a sense of having played something where you’ve gone for quantity over quality- and that can be fairly demoralizing.   

Because I devote a lot of my time to writing music, recording and preparing for performances, I maintain a smaller studio than I used to. However, I can usually make room for additional students-especially adults who wish to return to the piano, or those who somehow always felt frustrated with their level of playing. I'm  usually able to accommodate people who can't  have regular lessons, but desire (for example) an introduction to some basic principles they can incorporate, or  need assistance with a troublesome passage.  So feel free to contact me regarding lessons, or if anything struck your fancy here that you'd like to discuss further with me. I have lots more to say about practicing and learning, so check back on this page periodically. I offer piano for all levels and voice for beginner/intermediate.