Teaching Creators

At the close of the SMU-IPT Conference last July, a piano teacher came up to me and said with a solemn tone, “Thank you for your presentations. I never knew you could teach music with creativity. I was just taught to play the notes correctly and that was it.”

Since the mid-19th century, the central focus of piano pedagogy has been to turn piano students into performers, not creators. Unlike painters, writers, and other creative artists, most musicians are now trained to recreate other people’s art and stop there. While people today crop their own photos, make their own movies, design their own websites, and write their own blogs, piano students are rarely encouraged to make music of their own or given the tools to do so. Piano pedagogy remains stuck in the 19th century. Where is the creativity?

I believe that, as piano teachers, we must make personal creativity a top priority. Most of our studio practices will then undergo a profound change, but the rewards for both students and teachers are immeasurable. We are no longer “piano teachers,” but educators who teach creativity through the Four Arts of Music: improvising, arranging, composing, in addition to interpreting.

The challenge of our times is to recognize that music is not only a performance art, but a creative art. Our challenge is to become teachers who can empower our students to create.