Talking vs. Playing in the Classroom

Something occurred to me the other day.

If you recorded and analyzed how I spend time during lessons, you would see that most time is spent talking and discussing.  Very little time is spent playing.

When I compare this to how my university piano teachers conducted my lessons, the results are the same: lots of talking and less playing.

When I refer to “playing”, I’m referring to any time the student and/or the teacher are physically playing music.  The student could be playing what he/she has been working on, the teacher could be demonstrating, the teacher could be performing, or the student and the teacher could be playing together.

Of course, this may not be a trend across the board; different teachers have different teaching styles that involve some balance between talking and playing. I remember lessons with my first jazz piano teacher, Anthony Panacci.  Often, the entire lesson was like a jam session.  Between the two of us, we’d cover three parts in different combinations – the bass line, chords and melody/improvisation.

Consider the other extreme: My mom told me that when she took piano lessons as a girl, her teacher never played for her.  Furthermore, she never heard anybody play the music she was trying to learn.  I suspect this is more common in the classical tradition; my own classical music experience was very similar.

When I think about past lessons and former students, I realize that in some circumstances, choosing to play rather than talk would have been more effective. One isn’t necessarily better than the other – talking and playing are  different ways of articulating music; they both have strengths and weaknesses.  But it’s a relationship we should be mindful of.

For teachers and students: How do you balance your lesson times?

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