Teaching

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“If piano playing seems difficult – you’re doing it wrong”
 

Giving piano lessons has been a passion of mine for many years.

Because of my long-term teaching experience I have understood that many students are very motivated and willing to work hard. However, the process of piano practicing is mainly a problem-solving tool. In order to be truly effective, one needs an ability to recognize the cause of the problem and, respectively, the knowledge of how to fix it efficiently. Thus, I see my task as a teacher not only in providing my students with a feedback, but also in helping them develop the most effective practicing strategy.

The basis for this goal is developing a natural, efficient, and precise technique. This is why I pay special attention to the physiology of piano playing, which I have been studying intensively for many years. During my research I have worked with a number of physiotherapists and pianists specializing at piano technique and pianist’s physical health and muscle issues. I have studied many acclaimed approaches dedicated to playing efficiency, while have been constantly improving my own playing and teaching approach according to the new data available

by Elina Akselrud

As a concert pianist, who once faced serious physical health problems caused by a massive muscle overuse, I had a perfect chance to develop, test, and apply findings about efficiency and safety of piano playing. This painful experience turned out to be the most beneficial one for both, my performing and especially teaching activities, because it provoked me to deeply analyze and restructure my entire technique, study the physiology of piano playing, develop new practicing ways, and get the necessary knowledge and experience in order to recognize the root of any technical issue and be able to find an efficient way to solve it.

Such a technique optimization approach includes various aspects:

  • understanding how to use the whole arm and body as a unit
  • applying the weight of the arm accordingly in order to reduce the tension and avoid working with isolated fingers
  • motion coordination of the body parts in order to resolve difficulties
  • adjusting the hand posture
  • understanding how the efficiency of physical motion can benefit musical expressivity

Piano playing is not possible without any tension, with rigid hands. However a precise understanding, which exact parts of the arm/body should be focused, and for how long turns piano playing into a safe and enjoyable experience. Most of the technical problems and health issues are caused by the lack of understanding how to coordinate motions, so a student unconsciously uses compensatory motions, that are unnecessary and in most cases even harmful. Very often piano playing doesn’t need much effort, most of the muscle effort might be replaced by the use of gravity, rotational movements, and the motion coordination.

Of course one of the most vital but nevertheless broadly underestimated topics that I constantly bring to attention of my students is how to practice efficiently, getting the best possible results in a shorter amount of time. There is no strategy that would suit everyone, because each piano player should develop their own practicing routine. That’s why my goal is not to just give a lot of helpful suggestions, but to understand the level and personal qualities of a student, in order to offer a strategy that would work best for them.

This includes

  • how to use different types of memory in order to memorize music faster
  • developing and applying skills like sight-reading, music theory, ear training
  • getting more stability during run-throughs, performances
  • organizing practice sessions in accordance with personal qualities and modern knowledge about learning process and brain/neural activity
  • learning how to deal with stress and anxiety that ruin performances
  • how to reach a level when the success of your performance doesn’t really depend on the fact whether you are inspired right now or not, or – in other words – how to teach yourself being inspired whenever you need it

Another aspect of my teaching approach includes stimulating creativity of a student, so instead of just following the teacher’s directions, they would always consider other possible ways of interpreting the piece, with the final goal of being able to create original and vivid renditions themselves.

Although knowledge about stylistic traditions is essential and it always remains a basis for any creative work, my task is to introduce my students to the joyful experience of embodiment of the creative ideas into musical sounds. Each piece is a captivating story or a journey. Thus I use all the possible devices, such as visualisations, non-musical associations, sometimes also by asking students to create a story/plot or, with younger students, to draw a picture in order to stimulate their creative perception of the music.

From a YouTube tutorial

While working with the youngest students I always try to demonstrate that even in the tight stylistic brackets of a particular musical style there is nevertheless a huge space for creativity. For this purpose I often demonstrate a few possible options in addition to providing them with interpretational advice, and I then explain why each of these options is appropriate, letting them choose a way to play a piece or a certain spot.

Furthermore, due to having studied with world-renowned piano professors, who have grandiose artistic and human personalities, I realized how much a teacher can and should inspire their students, and how important it is to create an atmosphere of partnership and mutual respect. In my opinion this is existential for the entire studio as well as for each individual student.

Teaching students is a great passion, which for me is equivalent to being on stage myself. It is a constant self-exploration, an endless joyful process of searching for uniqueness of every human being, while discovering new abilities of the students.