I recently joined the Piano Teacher Practice Room group on Facebook and as a result have begun learning Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor. This group was started at the perfect time for me, right after I welcomed home my new-to-me Boston grand. The idea of the group is for piano teachers to learn new pieces together and share insights as we study. The group voted on an intermediate piece, a late-intermediate piece, and an early-advanced/advanced piece to learn. The Chopin Ballade was chosen in the advanced category. This is probably the most challenging piece I’ve learned on my own since grad school, but I am really enjoying the process. I’ve realized along the way that stretching ourselves as teachers to learn new and challenging repertoire is very beneficial. Working on a brand-new, challenging piece reminds me:
- How my students feel when they look at a new piece of music. I can look at my students’ music and immediately see the patterns, find the melody, etc. But they can’t always see these things right away! Parts of the Ballade that really seemed like nonsense when I first started learning them, but over time they have begun to make sense to me. This reminds me to be patient with my students, especially adults, when they don’t see the patterns or understand the music right away.
- It’s always important to have an aural sense of the final goal for the piece. I’ve spent time listening to recordings by several different pianists to gain a better idea of the end result I am striving for. This reminds me of Steven Covey’s second of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People; “begin with the end in mind.” Our students should have an idea of what they want to sound like. A recording or a live demonstration of the piece goes a long way!
- The difference between playing and practicing. Some days I just want to sit at the piano and play. I enjoy playing through some of my favorite pieces. I also play through the Ballade, now that I can at least struggle through all of it. But I know when I do this I’m not really practicing. I’m not making significant progress on any of my works in progress. I’m okay with that, because I don’t have any performances I currently need to be preparing for. But, do my students know the difference between play and practice? A big part of our job as teachers is to show them how to practice.
Working on the Ballade has been very rewarding for me. I had forgotten how neat it is to see a large piece of music come together. What started as nonsense that I could hardly play through now makes sense to me and is coming together nicely. If you haven’t learned any new repertoire lately I’d challenge you to do so! Let me know what’s been on your practice list lately!
Spring Seals, NCTM, teaches 60 piano students ranging from age 3 to 70 in Fort Worth, Texas. She also serves as the Director of Certification for TMTA. She is passionate about helping teachers become more effective in their studios through professional development, new resources, and fresh ideas.