For centuries the teaching of the piano has been in a state of evolution. Given that the COVID-19 Pandemic has changed the nature of education, this is an excellent reflective piece regarding student comfort, health, and technique at the piano.
1. Student Comfort Level
Students need ample personal space, and their comfort level can be significantly affected if a teacher is not mindful of their proximity. Even beloved teachers are often close enough for the student to smell what they had for lunch; This can be distracting or uncomfortable during a lesson. Ample space will bring greater joy and comfort to students who are eager to learn.
2. Health and Wellness
Close student-teacher proximity in piano lessons may result in a high transmission rate of contagious illnesses. For this reason, many piano teachers have strict cancellation policies that insist that students stay home if they are sick. Some piano teachers frequently get sick as students often directly cough and sneeze on the keys in their face or direction without remembering to cover their mouths.
3. Effective Teaching and Observation Skills
Some teachers sit incredibly close to students throughout the lessons, often placing their students' hands on their own as they play to demonstrate a particular feeling or movement. The effectiveness of such a demonstration is up for debate. Some teachers guide students through visualization and imitation prompts without the use of physical touch. Styles and approaches vary by philosophies, regions, and how a teacher was trained in their own educational journey.
From a pedagogical standpoint, a proximity that is too close would limit the visibility of a student's posture, full-body technique, and movement. Some great teachers often teach from various locations in a single lesson; This may be standing up, switching sides, and listening and watching from multiple distances. Advanced teachers can identify what is going on with their eyes closed and need not be in extremely close proximity to the student throughout the duration of the lesson.
Best practice means that teachers have their own seats and only share a bench temporarily or if necessary. It is of utmost importance for students to have comfort and independence on sitting on their bench unless they are very young and require seating support and supervision. The priority must always be the comfort and safety of each and every student.
Jodi Ann Russell, Ed.D., M.M., B.M., N.C.T.M. is an expert piano instructor who emphasizes mindfulness, relaxation, creativity and technique in personalized piano lessons and master classes online.