Fiona Lau

Piano book reviews

8:00, 20th September 2017

In the early years of falling into my piano teaching career I often wished that someone had written a ‘how-to’ book for piano teachers. So when Anthony Williams’ survival guide landed on the mat I was delighted – it’s never too late to learn something. I was then alerted to a similar book by Alexandra Westcott, billed as tips and advice on becoming a piano teacher. Both authors are very experienced teachers and share many practical ideas and strategies.

Piano Teaching as a Career: Tips and Advice on Becoming a Piano Teacher
Alexandra Westcott, lulu.com, £6.99

Alexandra Westcott is an experienced piano teacher with over 20 years’ experience, based in London. She was taught by Nelly Ben-Or and is committed to an approach that encourages the student’s enthusiasm while engendering a solid technical foundation – often a fine line.

Piano Teaching_2The book is small, short and easy to read in an afternoon. It is aimed at the graduate who might be considering piano teaching and starts by asking the right sensible questions: ‘What is your motivation?’, ‘Who are you teaching?’ and ‘Where do you want to teach?’ It discusses these and then moves on to how to acquire pupils, do the admin and what to do in interviews prior to starting lessons. Lessons and their contents are explored, from the first lesson to how to go about encouraging practice and activities to support the playing. In this chapter there are many games worth exploring. Judy Murray, the tennis coach, recently said that she discovered her two sons would do anything if she made it a game. It’s advice worth taking and there are plenty of ideas in this chapter to do just that. There is also guidance about motivation, how to deal with parents, suggestions for what to do in the holidays, and tips on how to end lessons when the time comes.

At the end are two appendices, one containing recommended books, music, resources, apps, and organisations to support your teaching; the other an article on piano playing with reference to the Alexander Technique. It’s a very readable book, beautifully printed and clearly laid out, and it should be in every piano teacher’s library.

The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide
Anthony Williams, Faber, £12.99

This is a larger book and covers everything with great practicality and honesty – from the first lesson to fingering, from technique to teaching skills. Anthony Williams is a very experienced teacher, concert pianist, ABRSM examiner and adjudicator. If you have ever been to one of his seminars you will know that above all he is a great communicator, giving valuable information in a realistic and humorous way.

SurvivalThis is apparent throughout the book as it tackles all the things we would probably want to ask an experienced teacher via frequent musical context, practical examples and clinic sections. It does ask the right how, who and why questions at the start but quickly moves on to developing a curriculum, first lesson ideas, foundation skills, strategies for practice, and so on.

How to teach different aspects of technique is covered over several chapters and this is one of the book’s great strengths – I love the clinic problems and solutions. Very often teachers understand technique but have little idea how to explain it to others. Here this is done thoroughly with some very relevant examples from pieces, and in fact the musical context examples are a possible curriculum in themselves.

The remaining chapters include ‘Choosing repertoire’, ‘A guide to interpretation’, and various aspects of performance. In short it is just about everything you will ever need to know; an invaluable guide for piano teaching survival and more.

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