Teaching

I have been teaching piano full time for 25 years. Typically I carry 30-35 students, young children to adults, beginners to advanced.alan1

Currently:

  • Teaches privately
  • Directs Academe of the Oaks (Waldorf High School) Jazz Combo
  • Accompanies the Academe choir
  • Teacher-in-residence at Opus Music in Decatur

Other Experience:

  • Peggy Still School of Music (10 years)
  • Piano teacher in residence at Cooper Piano Music (9 years)
  • Georgia State University Neighborhood Music — jazz piano (2 years)
  • Conducts Improvisation Workshops
  • Group keyboard/music classes, including Mary Lin School (Candler Park), Evansdale Elementary (Chamblee area) and Sagamore Hills Elementary (Oak Grove area)

APPROACH AND PEDAGOGY

Physical Aspect

  • Seating at an ergonomically appropriate distance from the piano or keyboard is surprisingly important and helpful. This is the first thing we look at, particularly with respect to height. (For example, you should be seated such that your elbow and wrist are level when in a playing posture.)
  • Playing with the right amount of tension really makes a difference! Most people, particularly adults, hold their hands, wrists and arms with way too much tension when trying to play piano — this gets in the way of playing your best. I’ve developed a few exercises to quickly help people relax into comfortable playing postures. When you do this, you’ll be able to play faster and for longer periods of time without arm fatigue.
  • Developing dexterity in all the fingers — especially the ring finger and pinky (4th and 5th fingers), which are the weakest fingers. I’ve created special exercises for strength and fluidity, particularly for those digits.

Reading Music

  • For new students I believe that writing down treble and bass notes can be an excellent way to learn them.
  • I also will often do a game with kids where I ask them how many notes they can name on a page in thirty seconds. We then see if we can increase the total by next lesson.
  • For all students, I also like to teach the skill of looking for patterns — steps, skips, scale and chord fragments, etc., as this is what skilled players are actually doing all the time.

Learning Songs

For all students, learning to tell what parts of a piece they’re working on are mastered (vs. what parts need work) is a major skill in succeeding at learning pieces. I will often record and play back for students how they just played a song. This allows students to hear for themselves what they’re sounding like, and what parts of the song aren’t correct just yet. At the end of a lesson, I’ll ask them to tell me what sections (or individual measures) they need to work on for each piece they’re learning.

Jazz and Popular Music

I have many students interested in these types of music. For those interested in popular music, we often start with simpler Beatles songs like “Norwiegan Wood” or “And I love Her”. For jazz, we often start by learning “Summertime” or “Autumn Leaves”. In either case, we focus on learning chords and chord voicings, as well as learning left hand patternings and improvising.

Interpreting and Feeling Music

We all want to learn an instrument and play music because it makes us feel something! I like to create a connection between the notes we are playing in a song and the feeling and story represented by the music. I will sometimes have a student listen to me playing the song they are working on, and ask them questions like:  “What color(s) would this song be? What season or time of day? What feeling(s)? Can you make up a story that goes with the flow of music?” I also sometimes teach students to connect their breath to the song, as if they were singing it. All these kinds of activities create a deeper, richer experience while playing.

Performing

Being able to play a piece with reasonable success in front of an appreciative audience is a great experience, and can be very motivating. I set up performance opportunities every three months for my students at an Assisted Living Home in Decatur. This has worked great —  a lot of residents consistently show up and look forward to our coming by, and the students get excited about working up new pieces for the next performance (which is never that far away). While performing is optional, most of my kids and teens make most performances, and their parents are usually happy not only that they’re playing in front of people, but also that they’re providing a benefit to the community. I also personally perform at restaurants several times a week, and students are also usually welcome to come sit in, whatever their level.