We are very fortunate to have a world class piano teacher at our school. When I mean world class, I really do mean it literally, her students consistently win international piano competitions and the standard of performance from all her students is exceptional. You can even tell which children are her students simply by the way they sit at the piano and how they take a bow. I have asked to visit her every Friday morning to see what she does and how she gets very young children to obtain such high standards.
The main point I took from today’s half an hour lesson with a six-year old student is the attention to detail. For example, she has a special pedal board for the children so their legs and feet are still if they are too small to put their feet on the floor. She has special piano shoes that she keeps in her room as their normal shoes are sometimes inappropriate for using the pedal. She insists on a very good posture and helps with their arm movement as they go up and down the keyboard. She marks exactly where children should put their fingers on the piano by using a pencil on the keys. All these very fine details add up to make exceptional performance.
Another other thing I took away from today is the importance of the metronome. All children have a metronome at home and she asks them to remember exact numbers for each piece they are practicing as well as their scales. These are incredibly precise – one piece the student was playing at 60 bpm and she said it was too fast and so changed it to 58. Most teachers would barely recognize the difference.
Finally, there is the sheer ambition of the repertoire she asks young children to play. This little six-year whose fingers are half the size of mine, is preparing for a piano concerto that she will play with a string orchestra in a concert on stage with a large audience. And it is not easy, in fact one of the passages I would have to really think hard about and practice slowly as technically it is around Grade 5/6 standard. The little girl plays four octave scales and then one where in D major you play the scale that turns into contrary motion then back into a scale again then ends with a perfect cadence. She does chords in root position, first inversion and second inversion as well as arpeggios, both hands together for four octaves. She plays chromatic scales both hands together for four octaves. It is very impressive and remember, this girl is six and is around four feet tall.