Teaching has been central to my musicianship ever since I was a teenager. Even though I started giving lessons very early, I consider the meeting with Franco Scala, one of the most important piano pedagogues in Italy, as a revelation, both as a pupil and as a potential professor. His example has grown and shaped in me along the years, while I was encountering new piano professors, new piano methods, and new students. My system of beliefs about teaching can be summarized in a list of principles that are embraced in my personal view of how a good piano teacher should operate:
Treasure the past: As oxymoronic as this may sound, there is nothing more innovative than looking to and learning from the past. Many methods have surfaced, trying to introduce new ideas and strategies that already exist. Great personalities, in fact, have bequeathed us with a huge and precious amount of writings that just need to be studied, and critically readapted to our era. It is true that time changes society, but it is also true that human beings are still much the same. Therefore, if something worked well in the past, there is no reason to consider it as a mere old-fashioned and obsolete method.
Teach how to face the stage: Discoveries, whether intuited or empirically proven, are often linked with science, and particularly psychology. This aspect is key in teaching piano, given the paramount importance of the student’s preparation for the stage. If one considers how vast is the play of cognitive processes in our mental activities like memory, emotions, perception, etc., this must be an aspect that every teacher should face.
Teach how to learn, learn by teaching: One of the common mistakes in teaching is a lack of understanding about the learning process. To some extent, the student-teacher relationship can be related to the parental one. Very often, it is extremely difficult to understand someone else’s viewpoint. The teacher, of course, has the main responsibility in this matter, especially when students are developing their first conceptions. The pedagogical choice of explaining the process of learning while learning will develop in the student a powerful tool, which is the capability of being the teacher of one self. In most of my lessons I devote a huge amount of time on practicing together with the student, which I believe is the best option one has for helping students remember what to do when they are on their own. This practice will also help students become aware of musical and technical choices, thus preparing them for a life of responsibilities in which relying on others’ help and advices is not always an available option. I trust that by seeing the progress of their own study, students are motivated to work harder, and even facing failures, which will be the starting point of their own knowledge construction.
Another significant aspect of the practice of sharing is that it gives me the chance to acquire a vast amount of information from my students (fresh ideas, different views, etc.), making me an endless learner.
Be humble and flexible: In Art, the Truth does not exist. One of the biggest challenges for professors is facing ideas that are not in line with their own. My teaching normally focuses initially on what is supposed to be the “right” way to play a certain piece, according to its period of composition. Depending on the students’ readiness, to encourage their choices or inclinations would be the following step, thus helping them develop a unique and different personality. I believe in allowing and stimulating student’s natural curiosity and creativity. That is why part of the syllabus has to be student-centered: to fit his/her personality and meet as much as possible the student’s needs.
Be responsible and honest: Teaching involves challenges and responsibilities that often times are not reflected in today’s education. Being a musician requires sacrifices, renunciations, and a lot of energy and time. Very often, I have seen students discover too late that the choice of devoting their entire life to the piano had been a mistake, leading them to frustration and regret. It is the teacher’s moral obligation addressing students to the right field and helping them make the right choices.
Learn outside of the practice room: I strongly believe that visiting a museum, eating good food, or having a daily time committed to physical exercise, would make anyone a better musician. Spending hours in a practice room is very important, but I always recommend my students to enrich their senses with other activities, not necessarily directly connected to music.
Be patient: Lately, I have seen increased interest in teaching how to maximize benefits and efficiency. Of course, if one were committed to accompany a new piece for a next-day concert, information on how to concentrate one’s energies in order to learn the piece in the shortest possible time would be very useful. But, this does not apply, in my opinion, when you have to build a strong preparation structure that will have to last for the rest of your life. I have learned from Franco Scala how slow processes are extremely important, for long and short-term goals. Looking back to Vincenzo Scaramuzza (from whom he inherited his teaching philosophy), he used to compare a teacher to a Medieval artisan who forged the pupil in the same manner of a piece of art, working on it every day, with patience and unconditional passion. Often adespota, the work itself was more important than its creator, and each one of them was not the same. I think that fastness is overrated and I believe in the qualitative function of time: this is probably the most significant innovation of my teaching vision.