On teaching piano

Reflecting on my musical journey and career, I’ve had the privilege to study with outstanding pianists, both classical and jazz, in Argentina, the Netherlands, and New York. More than two decades ago, I embarked on a quest to find an ideal piano teacher, or at least one ideal for me. This exploration led me to diverse teachers and teachings styles, unveiling the common misconception that a great pianist does not necessarily equate to a great teacher.

Regrettably, the realm of piano pedagogy has faced challenges, including unreliable sensory appreciation, a lack of knowledge about invisible movements, and a historical approach based on “no pain, no gain”. Unfortunately, too often musicians become teachers for financial stability without a genuine interest in pedagogy .

During my studies in the Netherlands and NYC, I had the fortune of learning from exceptional teachers like Paul Komen and John Bloomfield, who deepened my understanding of the playing mechanism. I discovered that many of my struggles stemmed from misconceptions learned earlier and a lack of fundamental knowledge.

Through the teachings of figures like Dorothy Taubman, Otto Ortmann, Tobias Matthay, Thomas Mark, George Kochevitsky, Abbey Whiteside, and Reginald Gerig, I realized that solutions I sought in the 21st century were discovered in the 19th and 20th centuries. Shockingly, over 20 teachers had never shared this knowledge with me.

How can we change this situation? 

If you’re a student, choose your piano teacher based on their experience as teachers, not on their level of piano playing. Those two things can be completely different, and many of the best teachers I’ve ever had were definitely not the best pianists. If your teacher explains something to you, ask why. Why should I do this movement, why should I use this fingering, why not this other fingering, why should I sit this high, why should I sit this low, why should my wrist work like this, etc. That’s the best way for you to learn, and for you to know if the teacher knows what s/he is teaching to you. 

If your teacher tells you that pain is normal, that you’ll get used to it, that you should repeat and repeat the movement that is causing you discomfort until it gets better, then you might want to consider finding a new teacher. If something hurts, there’s probably something you’re doing wrong. If the teacher says the opposite, maybe they’re the wrong teacher for you. If your teacher emphasizes only technique without delving into the musical aspect and assisting you in uncovering the joy of playing the piano, they’re probably not the right teacher for you. It’s ultimately the teacher’s responsibility to help you find the way to solve any problem that appears, or to achieve any goals that you have. Of course, there’s a part on you too. But sometimes you don’t need more hours of practice, you don’t lack talent: maybe you just need a better teacher.

If you are a teacher, or if you decide to become one, commit to it, research, read, listen, learn as much as you can about everything that you’re teaching. When you teach something, ask yourself: am I basing my teaching on beliefs or on my knowledge? Am I certain about what I’m about to say? Can this affect the student in any bad way? Is there research on this topic that might explain why this is the best option? Does this have a solid explanation? Am I sure that this is the only way? Am I sure that this is the best option? 

Questioning oneself about everything we teach is fundamental. One simple comment, or one simple class may have an effect that can cause trouble for years in the student’s career. I know about this because it happened to me, many times.

And last, but not least, I heard many stories about teachers who said to their students things such as “you have no talent”, “you will never become a good musician”, “your hands are not adequate for a pianist”, or similar things. If you are a student, don’t pay attention to those comments, and change your teacher urgently. If you’re a teacher, don’t you ever say that to a student. You have no right, you have no idea, and you’re most certainly completely wrong.