This is the first year I've ever seen real overlap in my two teaching jobs: private piano and classroom English.  It helps that several of my piano students are nearing the age level of my classes, and at the same time they're musically mature enough to be able to handle larger questions of interpretation and approach, rather than just pitch and rhythm fixes.

Most rewarding has been my use of self-diagnosis as a tool for improvement.  It's amazing how true it is that most people already know what they need to do; they just need someone to affirm that.  Whenever I meet with students (mostly in Creative Writing, but occasionally in literature classes as well) I try to let them do most of the talking, because it ensures they're really taking in the information; they leave empowered, and with many of the same ideas I would have given them in the first place.

So, this year, I've been trying to use this method of critique with my piano students.  When a student plays for me, I'll always lead with a compliment or two (as specific as possible, so he knows I was really listening.)  Then I'll ask him one or more of the following:

  • What's your favorite part of this piece?

  • What one thing do you most want to work on?

  • If you were me, what would you say to you?

  • What do you think the composer of this piece wanted to convey through it?

  • What's the main emotion or idea you want to leave your audience with?

  • Can you visualize an image that will help you better perform this piece?

There are others, too; these are just the ones that come to mind.  The great thing is that there are only two possible outcomes:

  1. The student says exactly what I was thinking.  At first, this made me feel a little insecure (why does he need me if he can tell this on his own?) but now I just take it as further confirmation of my thoughts, and I remember that he probably wouldn't have thought of it if I hadn't asked!

  2. The student says something completely different than what I was thinking.  I actually like this scenario even better, because it gives me the opportunity to learn something from him.  Often, it changes my view of the piece, adding layers of complexity that are useful to both me and the students who will play it in the future.