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QUALITIES OF AN EFFECTIVE TEACHER

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

I'm eternally curious about what makes for an effective piano teacher.


Here's a helpful list of 19 common elements present in the methods of three renowned artist/teachers mentioned on Julliard professor Noa Kageyama's website. It's resourced from this paper:

Duke, R. A., & Simmons, A. L. (2006). The Nature of Expertise: Narrative Descriptions of 19 Common Elements Observed in the Lessons of Three Renowned Artist-Teachers. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 170, 7–19. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40319345


On Noa's page, I also found video examples of some of these 19 elements. Many were particularly helpful to begin to understand better why my piano teachers have done what they have done or said in my former lessons. However, I suspect that a number of the 19 behaviors are more appropriate to students more advanced than I am; it is mentioned that students come to these teachers "with notes and rhythms already learned."


Noa asks "Do any of these strategies hold a special place in your own teaching approach?" I would ask the same thing of students who are on the other end of the equation.


The teaching behaviors of the19 that work best and feel most comfortable to me, include:


  1. After I present a piece I'm learning, my teacher starts by giving me honest and specific comments on things that I did well, perhaps just one thing, and doesn't jump right into things that I need to work on; there is always time for the second step of getting down to work!

  2. I need very specific and clear feedback on things that improve my presentation or interpretation, as well as on what options I have to improve the weak spots.

  3. Not just telling me once what will work, but giving me the opportunity in a lesson at least three times to actually implement or try the new technique, leaves me with a better sense of safety and security as I start out my practice week. It ensures that I do not quickly come to feel "lost" the next day after a lesson. I need at least three repetitions during a lesson in order to get a leg up on learning something. This means that nothing new should be started in the last five minutes of my lesson, or it just will not stick!

However, this third behavior comes with a proviso, at least for me. In their desire not to "let me get off too easily," it becomes a bit depressing if I start to feel "pushed" too hard by a teacher to implement something new after I've tried two or three time, but not succeeded. I am in danger of becoming quite discouraged and beginning to think I am "never going to get it." To me, it can begin to feel humiliating. I need to learn to avoid that feeling because in the past, it has led me occasionally to come to a full stop in lessons. Afterwards I wonder if I am suited to be a piano student at all? Perhaps all I need is to go off during the week and practice to learn the new technique!


One thing not mentioned in the list of 19 common behaviors, is a teacher's necessary recognition that people learn, store, and output information in three principal modes: visual, kinesthetic, and auditory. I believe teachers need to figure out what the principal and the secondary learning styles of the individual student are, and then teach to those.


I am principally a visual and secondarily a kinesthetic learner, no matter the subject matter of my endeavor or class. If I can see my teacher perform the behavior, and then find some way to use my body to input the information, I will pick a lesson up faster with less risk to my self confidence, because I fail less often. Yet hearing my teacher model technical or musicality issues, is also helpful!


In my school studies, I could never learn a thing just by listening to a lecture; I had to take notes, then underline or highlight them to remember (visual and kinesthetic). In law school I not only outlined each case in each class I took, I would then boil those outlines down into an even pithier version and highlight the key points in order to focus on, review, and cement the principles of the case in my head.


Finally, I don't think I agree with one of the 19 behaviors, that is, playing a study piece from beginning to end. For example, the Amy Beach waltz from her Children's Album that I am working on, is in the form A-B-A. I found the A part easy to play but the B part introduced some trickier melodies, more challenging fingering, and note values differing from Part A. I would rather have had my teacher note my difficulty, then concentrate some lessons solely on having me play and improve Part B. After all, 45 minutes goes by very quickly. I am now having to go back on my own to figure out how to secure my performance on Part B so that my fingers hit the right notes with the right tempo and dynamics consistent with the tempo of Part A, and use a metronome on many, many repetitions as I build up the tempo. Luckily my early February lesson allowed me to move on to improving musicality issues--because I had succeeded focusing on and effectively practicing Part B!


Sadly, I can't dance while sitting on the piano bench - and more's the pity for me! So the next best option for me (something not all teachers are willing or able to do) is during lessons to see and hear my teacher perform a piece or part, try it a few times, then on the next day if I start to feel lost and can't remember what to do, request my teacher to send me a short focused video demo so I can once more see their hands and body, and hear the sound of the assignment as they demonstrate it. I've noted that in that fashion I tend to avoid cementing incorrect tempos, rhythms, or techniques into my piece.



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