Ever since I was casually asked by a fellow student at senior school “how do you play so fast?”, the question of “how” has remained a very interesting and essential one for me. Although I really wanted to help my friend I was lost for any explanation; my facility had until then come rather naturally and without much thought! I then began to ask myself the same question when practising and found the very question was often quite off-putting and disturbed my ability to play. A bit like the centipede who was asked by the grasshopper how he knows which leg to move and when, this was my first realisation that my problem solving mind was not able to properly comprehend the complex things my body was doing and in fact interfered with it.
Nevertheless, the word “how” when asked with an open- mind has led me in useful directions and is vital for both teaching and self-development (the two of course are interlinked). Over the years I have tried many methods which profess to know “how” to develop a good piano technique by giving you a list of what to do but something about them never quite sat right with me. It was really only when I met the pianist and Alexander Technique teacher Nelly Ben-Or that I began to think instead of what not to do. This to me explained how someone can have ability but not understand how they do it - they are able because they are not burdened by certain habits which disturb a naturally co-ordinated approach. In this way the Alexander Technique is a strong influence in my teaching and I use its principles to help clear the way for a natural and healthy approach to learning music.
Although I see patterns amongst my pupils, no single student has exactly the same obstacles to overcome as another. I therefore try to be fluid in my approach to teaching as it is needs to be an alive process which adapts to the situation; I suppose “philosophy” could be a misleading word as it implies a fixed, preconceived viewpoint. Inevitably, however, I have picked up and created my own techniques to overcoming common problems which often work with many pupils.
For beginner pupils my first priority is to acquaint them with the geography of the piano. So often piano teaching jumps far too quickly into stave reading before the pupil is really happy with the layout of the instrument. I so often see pupils brought up on the age-old Middle C method years later still not being confident finding notes and having to “count along” from C key by key in order to find a G for instance. I have created my own method for beginners which encourages them to explore the whole range of the piano as well as instilling in them a systematic and clear mental picture of the keyboard.
In order to communicate rhythm in a straightforward way I firstly teach the rhythm syllables commonly used in the Kódaly Method and later introduce bar-counting once bar lines have been introduced. Bar lines tend to be inadvertently interpreted as a kind of full stop so I tend to leave them till later.