“There is a vast difference between a Music Education and the ability to move the fingers over the keyboard to produce a succession of sounds. In one case, there is initiative and musical understanding—the other is mechanical mimicry of the teacher.
“A Music Education for a piano student consists of two things:
(1) A mind trained to understand the fundamentals and construction of music, and the principles which underlie piano playing.
(2) Hands trained to execute the will of the educated mind.
“Equipped with a true Music Education, the student is materially assisted in his own playing—he can draw on his store of accumulated knowledge and make independent progress—he can understand and appreciate the artistry of others.
“Lacking a Music Education, the student can only mimic the teacher—there is no musical inspiration—he has no foundation of music knowledge upon which he can build and progress.”
The truth of this essay should be apparent to anyone that thinks about it. Yet, how many teachers simply say “this is how to play this piece, now you do it” and don’t take the time to help students understand just what they’re doing? Small wonder, then, that different students of the same teacher are likely to play a given piece in exactly the same way—the way their teacher told them to—and when approaching a new piece of music, have little idea how to make real music out of it! Methods that place heavy emphasis on students’ listening and repeating back are especially susceptible to this problem, especially if the student only listens to one recording of their piece.
Yet, even with little real understanding of music—the “Music Education” in the essay quoted above—students can replicate the teacher’s performance quite fluently, and audiences (and the parents paying for lessons) will respond to the student’s “musicality.”
Unfortunately, such “instruction” in music makes the student little more than a playback machine, and not a human being with something to share. We have made great strides in using computer controls to reproduce performances; I’ve tried one of the latest systems and it was basically impossible to tell the difference between the original and the reproduction, except for the empty piano bench. Do we really want to reduce our children to machines? Or should we instead encourage their development as individual persons?
The answer, I think, is clear, which is why I always try to help students understand what they’re doing, and why they’re playing a piece a certain way. I also give students freedom in their interpretations (within the bounds of good taste of course!) so that their performances really are their own, not just an imitation of mine.