Notes from the Piano

Coaching Approaches to Teaching

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” (Benjamin Franklin)

The first half of term has been unusually busy with a huge increase in student numbers both in my private practice and my Junior Guildhall teaching schedule, courses to teach, concerts to plan for my students and my own to practice for, masterclasses to plan and my final submissions for the European Mentoring and Coaching Council to submit,  plus the usual admin involved with running my own teaching studio, it was certainly a very hectic start to the new academic year.

Being fully absorbed in the world of music and all things piano though is something I thrive on, it motivates me hugely and I find myself enjoying every lesson, every practice session and every new thing I learn, I feel alert and alive, the world of piano and everything in and around it is the place where I feel most at home, the more I am in it, the more inspired I become.

I have written many times about my love of learning and my strong belief in the importance of CPD, to that end my chosen CPD this year was a Coaching and Mentoring course offered by Guildhall School of Music and Drama where I teach piano, with the option of further study to submit in order to become verified by the EMCC which is the option I chose.

The Coaching and Mentoring course and qualification, along with a Masterclass which I observed last month at Guildhall with Pianist Albert Tiu working with some very talented Piano students from Guildhall, have both inspired me to think deeply about the approaches we use in our teaching.

Initially, as a coaching student, the thing I found the most difficult was to resist giving advice, after all, even with our most able students, we need to give advice, opinions and guidance, not in the old-style way whereby the teacher’s word was gospel, but in such a way as to help students realise the music in the most effective and stylistic way.  I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could still help my students to achieve their best but yet incorporate more of a coaching approach where appropriate.

It has to be acknowledged that there are many situations where we do need to share and impart knowledge, information and skills that the student does not yet know/has not yet acquired, knowledge regarding technique, repertoire, style, interpretation etc, it is essential that we have a huge amount of skill and knowledge to share, however I feel that we need to also be open to what the student has to say musically, after all, every student needs to develop their own musical voice and part of our job is really to encourage them to be independent and creative thinkers, music and the world of sound, how we hear and feel it is such an individual thing. In any given lesson we probably use numerous different approaches and styles of teaching depending on the student, their skill level and their learning styles and I believe that it is possible to bring in a coaching approach to every lesson too, to work from the very first lesson on helping students to question and search, to develop a love of sound and to think and listen more carefully and musically.

The recent masterclass I observed led by Alber Tui was a wonderful example of how effective this style of teaching and coaching is. I was hugely impressed by the way that Albert Tui’s approach was to first ask each student ‘what do you hear’ , ‘what does this say to you’, ‘what does it mean to you’ and each session began this way, with a genuine interest in what each student was hearing and feeling withing the work they were playing, how had they understood the composers writing first and foremost, and although suggestions were made, they were very much ‘have you thought about this’ or ‘do you think he might be saying this here’, questions asked which allowed the student to search within themselves, to reimagine certain sections in the music with a new or different perception.

Of course there were discussions about texture and voicing, harmony and dissonance, phrasing, ‘orchestration’, breathing, and suggestions of  ‘a little more top voice here’ or ‘more inner voices’ there , but there was always a discussion about why that might be, discussions way beyond the notes questions which required the students to think and examine deeply and find their own answers, everything was done in such a manner that the students were required to dig deep, to perhaps go away having heard these complex works in a new way, it was left to the student to decide what to do with the suggestions they were given, I loved that there was no instruction that things must be done a certain way.

Of course these were very talented students, musically and technically very advanced and performance degree level students, however, this inspiring and enlightening masterclass reinforced for me that no matter how brilliant, we can all continue to learn, we must open keep our minds open and hungry for more knowledge, there are times when we can learn as much from our students as they do from us, and we learn by listening, by questioning and not by dictating.





Lorraine Augustine is a Pianist, teacher and adjudicator based in Bedfordshire, with over 40 years’ experience of teaching and performing she teaches piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and runs a busy private practice in Bedfordshire.