A Piano Teacher’s Manifesto

Originally published some years ago as What Are Piano Lessons For? this is my manifesto on the purpose of piano lessons.  This is a manifesto that emerges from my experience, that reflects my values, and that frames everything about my piano teaching, about my writing for piano teachers, and about my composing for piano students. 1. Piano lessons are for learning how to do cool stuff on the piano. Cool stuff starts with things like playing familiar melodies, creating glissandi, using the sustain pedal, and moves on to more sophisticated cool stuff like creating a balance between the melody and accompaniment, voicing two parts within one hand, being able to control tonal variation, learning to recognise and perform any number of patterns (both by sight and by ear), knowing how to make different chords and chord sequences, being able to play a chromatic scale – fast, being able to play scales in contrary motion, or thirds apart, or sixths apart, creating different effects

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A Teenage Cautionary Tale

In her marvellous memoir Piano Lessons, Anna Goldsworthy recounts a turning point in her relationship with her piano teacher. Anna had won an extraordinary string of awards, academic and musical, in her final year at high school, and she was being interviewed for a story in the paper. Anna describes the whole experience as being quite surreal, finding the questions put to her by the reporter as being weirdly disconnected from anything she might have wanted to say. When the story appeared in the paper then next day Anna was bemused to herself quoted as saying that she owed her success to her kindergarten teacher, and that she planned to move to Sydney to further her career. It’s not that she was misquoted exactly, but that the whole story skewed very far from Anna’s reality. Next thing Anna received a phone call from her piano teacher, very cold, asking her about her plans to relocate to Sydney. Long story short,

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Piano Lessons for Life: Don’t Correct Mistakes

  One of the most profound life lessons I’ve learned as a piano teacher is to not correct mistakes. Correcting mistakes can take up whole piano lessons, whole terms of piano lessons, whole lifetimes of piano lessons. It’s no fun for the teacher, even less so for the student, and what’s more it simply doesn’t do any good. Correcting mistakes means that all the attention is drawn to what is being done wrong, rather than to what one should be aiming to do right. This is not a good tactic in improving performance (on the piano, on the tennis court, and keep extrapolating as suits your own activities); the performer’s focus is drawn inward to the mistake rather than outward to communicating clearly. But correcting mistakes is an easy habit to fall into. A what-not-to-do list looks like ‘instruction’, and is much simpler to compile than a strategy for success, and that’s because at the piano (as in life) it’s

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The Letter Chelsea White Received From Me

For anyone following the so-called ‘radio wives war’ as reported by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, here’s what I really said. If you want to check my tweets you need to look at December 13. I tweet as @elissamilne, and be warned – I tweet mostly about music education, piano teaching and classical music, the same topics I cover in this blog. Hi Chelsea My apologies for being impossible to access yesterday – I’m in the middle of a tour around the country presenting seminars to piano teachers in this last week before school goes back, and my flight back to Sydney last night was one of the last of the day. I suspect it’s too late for phone calls now, seeing as your plans were to go forward with the story already. But I’m assuming you are referring to the news that Lisa Oldfield made remarks about me on her private facebook account. I wouldn’t even know about it except for someone alerting my

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Resuming Normal Transmission

It’s been exactly a month since my last post to this blog, and in the intervening time my journalist husband has been working overtime making commentary on the unique electoral result Australia achieved (and on the final makeup of the minority government) while I’ve had a fairly full schedule myself, with a weekend in Wagga Wagga participating in a composing festival (premieres of specially commissioned works at night followed by workshops for aspiring composers during the day) and many pages of proofing for some new books coming out over the next few months. Oh, and my sister has just had her first baby, so the whole family (yes, that includes me!) has been enjoying this newborn phase with the delighted parents. But transmission is about to be reset to ‘Normal’, with a backlog of issues, ideas and music to discuss. I’ve been playing through the new ABRSM (2011-12) piano exam books, and revisiting the AMEB Series 16 selections as well.

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Anita Milne is my mother

It’s time to write a piece about my mum.  Mums are self-evidently worth writing about, but in my case I am further motivated to do so knowing that about 10 people have discovered my blog in the past seven days because they were wanting to know more about my mum, Anita. A brief history: Anita was born in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1943 and started piano lessons at the age of nine. She progressed rapidly, and was teaching the piano herself by the time she was in her late teens, as well as working as an accompanist and organist. She married Richard Milne (born in Prosperpine, QLD, and working in Christchurch at the time) in 1963. I was born when Anita was nearly 24 and living in Wahroonga, Sydney, and I grew up listening to her piano lessons (as a baby) and hearing her students practice (as I became older). When she was 27 our whole family moved to the

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So it turns out I AM an Australian composer.

When asking if I am really an Australian composer, and if it mattered all that much anyway, I was asking for trouble.  Especially in the week preceding Australia Day. Comments posted to my Facebook page convinced me that when I questioned the value of national identity I did so in a myopia of macro-thinking (thinking “do I represent this nation?”), and was forgetting all about the micro-realities about identity (“do I live in my community?”). Of course it matters if I am Australian to the children from Australia who play my music: me being from where they are from tells them that composers live in their community, which is a double shock to some people (the fact that composers are alive at all, and that they live down the road).  It matters to the Kiwi kids who find out I grew up half an hour away from where they live, or I went to school at their high school. Knowing

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