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17. Prelude and Fugue in A flat major from Book 1



                    Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!

Education is one of those topics which gives scope for seemingly endless dialogue, discussion and disagreement. A perennial political hot potato where everyone wants to be seen and heard expounding the best solutions. As we have seen already, If the etymology of the word is taken seriously, education is about drawing out from not about filling up an empty vessel. The teacher’s role is to draw out from the student an ability to focus on the sound being produced, a relaxed alertness which physically makes the playing easier and a clarity of intention which is enhanced by an understanding of the structure of the music being played. This threefold model of how people learn music is something I have always found very useful. There is first of all learning from the sound, as can be developed for example by being able to accurately reproduce a melody or rhythm which has just been heard. Some people are amazingly good at this without having any ability in music reading or music theory whatsoever. They need to be encouraged to believe that they are good musicians already; that they have the most important aspect of music learning already well developed. Secondly there is learning from the physical memory. Everyone needs to be encouraged here to practise by mindful repetition. Not repetition for the sake of repetition but repetition with awareness to create a stronger physical memory. On piano the physical memory of a piece is a very complex dance between the hands where there are thousands of very fine precise movements. Thirdly there is the mental clarity of the musical structure. This informs the clarity of the intention behind the playing. Some clear knowledge of the architecture of a piece is necessary to have a clear intention behind the sound in terms of pulse, harmonic movement, dynamics, phrasing and articulation. The teacher is a guide, a coach, a confidant, a trusted ally in the journey through this threefold way of learning. but ultimately of course you have to find your own way through. You have to forge your own relationship with the sound just as with your own body and mind. You have to forge your own understanding of the different possibilities. One of the most interesting factors here with the piano is the use of the sustaining pedal. Many pupils want to know exactly when they should use the pedal, but my view is that the teacher needs to throw the question back with the challenge to listen attentively to the sound and pedal as little or as much as is necessary to make the sound match the intention. Pianos vary so much, as do the rooms in which they live, so in a way all you can offer as a teacher are a few guiding principles and encouragement to listen more attentively. There can be no safety net of knowing exactly what you are going to do with the pedal in a particular piece because as soon as you play it on a different piano in a different room you may well need to do something different. If as a teacher you approach each lesson with the view that you can learn more than the pupil then you will not often be disappointed. It is like meditation - staying present with open heart, open mind, listening, acknowledging the presence of inner demons (both in yourself and the pupil) without either suppressing or projecting them. Awakeness, alertness and openness to experience will keep you listening and learning. And if it doesn’t work for a particular lesson because you are simply too tired or too wrapped up in your own thoughts or feelings then learn from that experience too - and be kind to yourself as well as to your pupil! The best way to develop good listening in your students is to model good listening yourself. The best way to develop better coordination in your students is for you to model good coordination yourself. The best way to develop clear intention in your students is for you to model clear intention yourself. And if you do all this then this will also be the best way for you to learn from the experience and continue to grow on your own path.