Teaching Heritage

Sometimes it feels like my past teachers are sitting on my shoulders as I play certain pieces – giving me notes, reminding me to do certain things, tutting, humming, hopefully smiling.

The person whose presence I feel the most is the late Arthur Haley.

I was lucky enough to meet Arthur when he was in his late 80s.  I was living in the next village and were introduced through a mutual friend and had lessons with him for a few years before his death.  He was a wonderful man and his inspiring teaching widened my musical horizons and transformed my playing.  I feel honoured to have studied with him and to have known him.

Arthur was proud of his teaching heritage and gave all his pupils a list of the generations of tutors who linked him back to Beethoven.  So here here it is:

Arthur Haley

Waddington Cooke

Paderewski

Theodor Leschetizky

Czerny

Beethoven

So, through Arthur, my pupils can trace their piano teacher ancestry back 8 generations to Beethoven: their Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandteacher.

This of course is just a bit of fun.  Arthur showed me a new way of approaching the piano.  Before, my tuition had been mostly about playing the right notes with the right fingers.  Basic technique which, whilst solid, lacked emotional intelligence and vitality.  I do think the heritage of Beethoven was there – that imagined bit of passion and rigour.  Whatever it was, I use a lot of what Arthur taught me with my pupils so the legacy continues.

Practise …

How often should I practise?

How should I practise?

I really haven’t got time….

I’m always talking about practise.  I’m always thinking I should practise more.  Parents often ask how much time their children should be practising.  Pupils are always apologising (or fibbing) about how much practise they have done.

In the end it’s about quality, not quantity.  A short amount of daily and focussed practise is better than an hour in one go, once a week which is unstructured.

In the early days, it’s difficult: you’ve learned hardly anything and it can take only 10 minutes to play everything you know.  At this stage it’s important to just get used to sitting at the piano and finding out what it does.  10-15 minutes a day at this point makes a huge amount of difference.  Exploring.  Playing what you’ve learned in a lesson and maybe making up something. All of this is practise.  As soon as it’s boring, stop.

When you’re more advanced it’s about finding the sticking points.   What are you working on?  What’s just not going in and feeling comfortable under the fingers?  Isolate sections, maybe even a few bars at a time and look at them on their own.  Then work backwards to what you can do.  Also play through things you know well to keep the momentum going and the enthusiasm.  Remember to keep exploring and experimenting with sounds and dynamics.

Just enjoy it.

If you get stuck ask your teacher.  Contact them if it’s a while before the next lesson.  No piano teacher I know would be unhappy to be asked what they should practise next.