I teach piano teachers and one common lament I get from them is that there are components in the Aural test where their previous teachers never fully explained to them the strategy behind ‘how’ to arrive at the answer. What should they be listening to? How to work out the answer? If one does not have perfect pitch, is there another means to manually work out the answer? My students who are now piano teachers themselves, said that their piano teachers then just played exercise after exercise during the aural training with little explanation. Hence, they had to resort to guessing the correct answers. They guessed the cadences, chord progressions and modulations. So sometimes, with luck they will get it right, and when luck runs out, they will get it wrong. And now they have a REAL problem at hand, they don’t know HOW to teach the next generation of music learners HOW to work out the cadences, chord progressions and modulations. Many teachers have asked me to teach them how to teach aural. Are you one of them?
I believe in solfege singing. I believe that it is a powerful tool to sightsinging. Singing solfege enables to musician to ‘hear in their mind’ the music that is printed on the music score, even when they do not have access to their musical instrument to play the music out loud. Singing in solfege is more accurate than merely singing to ‘la, la, la’, simply because it grounds the pitch. Giving the mind a grounded system to place the pitch is definitely more accurate than floating around on ‘la, la, la’. So important was solfege singing, that at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where I did my graduate work in Music, Sightsinging was a 2 credit course by itself that all music majors had to take. When I went for teaching job interviews with Music Schools in Singapore, I remember that I also had to sing and accompany my singing with instant piano accompaniment, plus do so expressively! When I was a student, my RCM trained piano teacher only made me sing to ‘la’. Now, I am totally bought over to the ‘dark side’……I make all my students sing solfege when they are beginners all the way to grade 8.
Watch my 3 year old nephew sing his do re mi for me in this youtube:
From singing the solfege, the singing is translated to playback:
This is Justin playing his grade 6 Bach piece after one week of working on it:
This is Justin in 2017, completed his abrsm grade 8 with distinction, playing on a piece of anime music that he has learnt on his own outside of his piano lessons.
Don’t you wish for the same kind of musical growth for your students?
There is also a component in the exam in any piano exam board where the student is asked to talk about the music. It really is a test of the student’s understanding and expounding on his knowledge of Music History and Theory and applying it onto the music that is placed before him. How many times do we talk to our students about the music that they are working on? Do we analyse the music score? Do we understand the key, the structure, the cadences, the modulations, the texture, the harmony, the mood, the style, the composer? Do we as piano teachers FORM the musicianship of our piano students?
There is a trend among students these days, especially those who dislike their piano lessons, to have a ‘bochap’ attitude. Whatever the teacher says at the lesson is immediately forgotten once they leave. But I choose not to focus and dwell on that. Much like the fisherman casting out his net to catch fish, he will get all sorts of debris, and cockles and shellfish, and algae which is of no use to the fisherman. He is focused on the fish that he can sell. Likewise, we piano teachers will get the half-past-six type of students but the gem lies in that student who experiences the ‘aha!’ moment. And that totally makes all the rest that did not make it seem so much worthwhile teaching.
Teachers who wish to hone and polish their AURAL TEACHING SKILLS might be keen to join my upcoming AURAL REFRESHER COURSE for piano teachers. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.