The Future of Piano Teaching – Pete Jutras Interview
I’m sure you’ve noticed that life has changed a lot in the last 10 to 20 years! We can now “google” something to get an immediate answer, children and adults have screens in front of them all the time, we now have the ability to always be virtually connected to others, and we have music in every part of our life!
But, think about your teaching. Are you still teaching the same way you did 10-20 years ago? Sure, the principles of beautiful music making remain the same, but the way we humans interact with information and with each other has certainly changed and that should be something that we consider as we evolve in our teaching skills.
I had the distinct privilege of interviewing Pete Jutras about the future of piano teaching and how they are and should be affecting our piano teaching. You might already know Pete as the editor-in-chief of Clavier Companion magazine, the most piano pedagogy specific and “up-with-the times” magazine about piano teaching that exists today. I highly recommend that every piano teacher who reads and speaks English get a subscription to this magazine as Pete and others have thought provoking columns in every issue! You’ll see why as you read this interview with Pete about the future of piano pedagogy.
Pete, what kinds of things have changed in the last 10-20 years that affect our teaching?
There have been remarkable changes in our basic environment over the last twenty years, particularly in the areas of communication, connectivity, and access to information. Twenty years doesn’t seem like that long ago (the 1990s), but think about what you couldn’t do in the early 1990s. You couldn’t Google anything on the internet. You didn’t have access to thousands of recordings and performances on YouTube. If you wanted factual information you probably went to a library where you looked up something in a book or an encyclopedia. Most people didn’t have cell phones. If you were lost, there was no GPS; you had to stop and ask a human being for directions! If you wanted to hear the news, you turned on the television at dinnertime, or the radio at the top of the hour. Connections with people not in your immediate local area happened via a telephone call or a written letter, and those interactions were much less frequent than they are in today’s world of social media. The rate of change and the global, almost universal adoption of new technologies is happening at a pace that may be unprecedented in human history.
What kinds of things have changed about children in the last 10-20 years that affect piano teaching?
We are all products of our environment, and children today are growing up in an environment that is markedly different from the environment that shaped most of us (the teachers). Teachers (including myself) often get frustrated with younger generations, but we can’t change the world that kids are entering. We would probably do well to spend less time complaining about these changes and more time trying to understand them and figure out how we can operate more effectively in this new landscape. Whether we like it or not, kids are not going to travel back in time just for piano lessons and suddenly pretend they live in the eighteenth century!
How is teaching children piano these days different than it was 10-20 years ago?
It may be true that children today are a little less patient than previous generations. Again, this is a product of their environment – technology now delivers almost anything one desires instantly, and you don’t have to work very hard to get it. Children today expect more options and more choices than previous generations. They also have a keen interest in being creative – in speaking with their own voices. Ultimately, all of these things can be good for piano teachers. To satisfy less patient students we may need to get the point a little sooner, and show students why what are teaching is relevant. When you think about it, that’s not such a bad thing, as it forces us to clarify what’s important. We should be prepared to offer more options for creative expression, and perhaps to teach more styles and genres of repertoire. There are so many paths to music making at the piano; learning standard repertoire is one of those paths (and a valuable one!) but it isn’t the only one.
What concerns do you have about the state of piano teaching in 2014?
I worry that the traditional model of teaching is losing relevance, and that there is too much of a focus on singular performances (recitals, competitions, festivals). I worry that this is leading us to be more product oriented at the expense of the learning process. While this traditional approach works very well for some students, I’m concerned that it leaves a very large population of people behind—people that would like to do something at the piano, but perhaps not perform standard repertoire in recitals. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with our traditional model, or that we should abandon it. We just need to acknowledge that this model isn’t for everyone, and we should be prepared to offer alternatives.
What 3 action items could each piano teacher take this year that would help them teach more effectively in the 21st Century?
- Listen to your students, and respect their individual identities. As Frances Clark said, we must “meet the students where they are.” Do what you can to make music interesting, motivating, and exciting for the student. This may not always be what is the most interesting, motivating, and exciting for YOU, but that is OK. People are different, and a one-size-fits-all approach will not work with this generation.
- Allow more time for your students to be creative at the piano. Let them do some arranging, some playing by ear, some improvising. These are all useful skills, and students will take ownership of these activities. When students create their OWN music, they place a very high value on it and gain a sense of fulfillment and pride.
- Stay abreast of the technologies your students are using every day. Find out how they consume information and entertainment. Do what you can to insert music and musical thinking into these activities. Students in this generation expect regular upgrades to all of their apps and d
evices. If you don’t upgrade yourself, you will appear more and more obsolete.
As you think about any of these changes always remember the things about good music making and good music teaching that will never change: thoughtful listening, a sense artistry, a thorough understanding of concepts, and an unceasing devotion to the creation of beautiful sounds. All of those (and feel free to insert your own) qualities remain important, and should stay at the center of any teaching, no matter the repertoire or technological platform.
Thank you, Pete, for taking the time to share your thoughts with us! What about you? What are your thoughts on the future of piano teaching?
You can see now why I think reading Pete’s thoughts in each issue of The Clavier Companion is indispensable to good piano teaching. It’s actually on my list of “things I can’t teach without” and you can get a digital or print subscription here. You can even get a free copy to try it out! And if you haven’t looked at the magazine since November, take a look at the facelift it’s received! Snazzy, huh?!
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