Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

My teaching philosophy

We asked teachers 'what philosophy dominates your teaching?'
The first thing I’m going to do is to dispel the fact that I actually consider myself a piano teacher. Yes, I’m a professional pianist but I’m a musician first and foremost, a musician who happens to have the piano as their specialism. And in fact a pianist for whom the piano is their own very special voice, it’s my friend, it’s my means of communicating, it’s my means of telling other people what I think and what I feel. And that’s the context in which I teach. So from the moment a young pupil comes into, through the door, it’s not that I’m teaching them the piano, it’s that I’m teaching them what it’s like to be a musician.
I’m nurturing the musician inside them, I’m forging those connections, that umbilical cord between emotion and communication and creativity and imagination and a love of sound and their own personal feelings and how they can communicate those through music. And of course, that music may be somebody else’s music, it may be a score but much in the same way as it would be a nonsense to teach a young child to speak simply by saying you have to read other people’s books, I think we should be nurturing the sound and the color and the ability to be able to write your own music, right from the word go.
Just as much as we would be asking a young pupil to play other people’s notes. And of course why do we need a score in the first place? The only purpose of a score is as a handover document, it’s some sort of testament to your ideas and your thoughts, which you want to pass on to somebody else. In fact, the art of playing the piano is about sound and color and it’s about tone and timbre and it’s about articulation, and all sorts of things, the dynamic that makes up a personal and communicative performance and none of those need a score. In fact, technique is all about the right sound, at exactly the right time and what is the right sound?
What’s the right sound for the first D octave in Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto? What’s the right sound for the very first note in a Grade one piece? In fact, we’re guided by that, in terms of the score but actually to know what a ‘piano’ D sounds like, it’s endless.
We need to have something in our imagination, we need to have a particular sound in our head and then we have to aspire to get it, because there are hundreds of ways of getting the most beautiful ‘piano’ D and every single one involves a different sequence of events, a different subtlety of technique, a different physical approach, things that take years and years and years of piano playing to really feel comfortable with. And yes it’s technique but it’s not technique driven by repetition and mindless exercises, this is technique of saying this is how I want it to sound, let’s find the easiest and best way of actually producing those sounds.
And of course that can be done in all sorts of guises, simply asking a young pupil to play as if there’s a mouse scampering across the floor or to create a sound like a thunderstorm or to create just a beautiful line like the most soulful princesses or the most valiant of princes, it doesn’t really matter. Getting those sounds still involves a huge amount of technique and there’s not often a note in sight. In fact notation could provide a big barrier.
So i’m not against notation per se, but very much I have a philosophy of creating a love of sound and colour and developing technique and posture and an ability, a freedom at the instrument, the feeling that this is your friend, that you can imagine things in your head and you can make those sounds almost effortlessly, that’s the most important thing. And the relevance of somebody else’s notes comes in to the fact that you may have a little tune, it may only be four notes that you want to, that you’re very proud of, that you want to play to somebody else and that actually you quite like somebody else to play to you. And there’s the inspiration for writing something down.
Initially, perhaps it could just be symbols, it could just be pictures, some sort of graphic score, bit by bit being refined and focused into notation. Yes you could make your elephants bigger on this page to give the impression that they’re louder but did you know that there’s a word called ‘Forte’, which we put as an F that actually means that you can play it loud? We’ve already got that notation there, and we can start to feed it in, bit by bit, that shorthand that shows us what the notes on the page are all about. But of course music is only a map.
It’s like looking at a walking map, you can look as a walking map of Ben Nevis and you can see all the details, you can see all the contours. And you can reproduce all of those details. But it’s not Ben Nevis. And in fact it’s very hard for anyone to tell you what Ben Nevis is because somebody’s experience of walking Ben Nevis in October will be very different for somebody else’s in May. And that’s why music is so wonderful. And therein lies another part of my philosophy which is that I’m lucky if I get one pianist every five to ten years who goes on into the profession to be a professional pianist. And in fact that’s not important.
What is important is that when they do go out there to play something one they’ve got something to offer musically, they’re telling us something about the music we haven’t heard before, but two that there is an audience there that wants to go and listen, that might say I’ve heard this piece three or four times before but I really want to hear what you’ve got to say about it. Because that interests me, not whether you can play the notes fast and loud or whether you can do it all from memory, but actually what are you telling me about this music that I haven’t heard before?
And that engagement and receptiveness of music and understanding of music as communication is something that we should be inspiring from the word go. It should be central to all of our teaching. And that means that the pianists that come to our hands who do go into the profession may well have an audience to play to. And that love of music will live with our young musicians for the rest of their life. Not only that it will mean something to them, they’ll be inspired to do some practice, they will be inspired to make progress, they’ll be inspired to explore new repertoire.
Not because it’s another math session, they’re not going to look at the map of Ben Nevis but because actually they’re trying to tell us what Ben Nevis looked and sounded and smelt like when they were actually climbing Ben Nevis. And that’s what they’re trying to do with their music is, to give us a different perspective, a different emotional context to that music and engage with music in a way in which they will then want to go and hear other people play So it’s a philosophy of music, it’s a philosophy of communication, it’s a philosophy of emotion. We’re all too scared about talking about emotion and music and I think it’s really important that we do.
And all of those things come together to inspire us to actually want to be able to play an instrument like the piano, might be electric guitar, might be violin, might be double bass, it doesn’t really matter, but to find our instrument of choice and use that to communicate all of the things that we have that are most personal to say.

ABRSM Examiner and teacher, Anthony Williams, shares his teaching philosophy.

This article is from the free online

Becoming a Better Music Teacher

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now