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T e a c h i n g   P h i l o s o p h y

Music has the power to move people and communicate in a manner that transcends words. As a teacher, I aim to convey to my students an appreciation of what music can be, and to provide them with skills for self-expression, in the spirit of empowerment.

Independent, critical thinking is a crucial part of the learning process. Students of all ages and in all settings, group or individual, will find that I am constantly asking them questions: from questions as simple and objective as, “What notes form a dominant seventh chord of C major?”; to more complicated, subjective ones, such as, “What do you think the music is trying to say?” This inquiry-based approach not only allows me to understand a student’s mindset better, but also ensures the active participation of each student in their personal learning process, and encourages them to discover ideas and concepts for themselves, instead of expecting to be spoon-fed. Additionally, I keep students in classes of multiple people engaged by setting in-class group tasks and using online word cloud generators that allow anonymous submission, such that all students are comfortable in making contributions, even if they are too nervous to speak up individually. I see my role as a guide and facilitator, shaping and advising my students’ searches for new information and truths, but always with their active input.

Recognising and encouraging the individuality of each student is a priority for me. I enjoy learning how each student thinks, and I believe that the most effective teaching emerges out of something resembling empathy: trying to adopt the student’s perspective so as to find the best ways of explaining things to and motivating them. If the student is logically-minded, I take a more analytical approach: for example, rationally stating that making a delicate sound is a result of quiet playing, which one achieves by depressing the key more slowly. If the student is more in touch with their senses and tends towards creative imagination, I conjure up images and ideas for them to consider: delicate playing is akin to a ballet dancer en pointe, with the fingers carefully balanced on the fingertips. In classroom settings, I seek to employ a combination of approaches in order to cater to the needs of various students. I also want to encourage within the class a respect of each student’s uniqueness, and incorporate creative aspects into assignments where possible, such as composing or writing lyrics in a theory class.

A large part of empowering my students is building their self-confidence. I strive to always create an atmosphere of positivity and productivity. Successes, however small, help students to remain encouraged and motivated to keep trying and learning. I start from the basics and gradually build things up, guiding students step by step and giving them achievable goals, whether it is conquering difficult passagework one phrase at a time, or harmonising a chord progression chord by chord. When things are challenging for my students, I trace their thinking back to a fundamental place that is secure for them and, going from there, show how the new information and ideas relate to what they know. Building up students’ confidence by showing them their incremental and cumulative progress creates a positive attitude and keeps them open to new ideas.

Students should also be constantly reminded that art is not created in a vacuum, and to that end I seek to foster peer interaction and collaboration, whether it is encouraging piano students to play for each other and give constructive feedback, or assigning group work, or things as simple as asking one of the students to count out loud and lead the others when carrying out class piano or aural skills exercises. The social aspects of engaging with music are thus never far from the students’ minds.

Music only truly lives when it is personal, and staying in conversation with my students and keeping an open mind is important to me in encouraging their unique creativity. At the end of it all, I hope to leave my students filled with a greater passion for music, and empowered to communicate it to others.


Some of the ideas above are inspired by Robert A. Duke, Intelligent Music Teaching: Essays on the Core Principles of Effective Instruction (Austin: Learning and Behavior Resources, 2016), as well as by my many wonderful teachers, mentors, and colleagues over the years.

Frances Lee, pianist, photo by Deanna Ng

Photo credit: Deanna Ng

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