The importance of the piano teacher cannot be over-emphasized. “Every teacher has varied experience, and everyone a different idea about how to instruct,” says Tomoko. “The key is to find the right match.” She goes on to say. “If you are college age, casually go and listen to peers’ and teachers’ interpretations of music. Think to yourself: ‘I can fit with this teacher’ or not.” As a parent, you can attend piano recitals, and see how the students behave and perform, as well as how the teacher relates to the students. How stressful are the students and teacher? Is the atmosphere full of hopeful or dreaded anticipation? Do the students seem self-confident? Can you feel an element of trust and support? As an adult, you can use your common sense and your instinctive feel of music.
As a teacher, Tomoko studies each child to see how he relates to music. “If I give you seven crayons, can you create twelve colors? Music is created with seven notes. How does the child connect with this color, this note? How does he create or make something with the music. You can judge the child’s musical IQ.” Nevertheless, Tomoko cautions, “Never say you have no talent, but students are in the experience, and don’t know where they are musically. You need a lot of respect for children.” Tomoko builds on the child’s curiosity. She will preview a piece of music with the child, and ask, “What do you think comes next? Which part do you like? Isn’t that rhythm interesting?”
Tomoko recounts the approach used in Russia with piano protégés. “The piano teacher goes to the public school, and says, ‘Let’s everyone play.’ The teacher spots the most talented child, and tells the parents. The government then pays for the lessons. That’s how the Bolshoi ballet can be so good.”
Teachers have to take developmental issues into consideration as they teach, Tomoko points out. “I remember when I was a young piano student. My teacher said, ‘You are too young for Chopin; you have no experience.” Students bring their lives to the keyboard, and they cannot hide from their interpretation. The good piano teacher fits the music to the child’s age and ability.” Tomoko muses, “Mozart is easy for a child, but hard for an adult. His ideas are very simple, but wonderful. He is best when played cleanly. If you put too much sugar or dress up his music too much, it can be overdone. Mozart is more childlike.”
Tomoko reminds parents to be patient with their children’s playing development. “At the beginning, the child needs to learn the basics, like arithmetic tables. They need to learn the feel of the keyboard and the piano itself: the physical instrument. Students need to know how to play before they can interpret. Even flats and sharps are a developmental process, for instance, and need to come after playing in the key of C.” Tomoko continues: “Parents may ask: ‘Can my child play in four years?’ Tomoko remembers a high school senior student who was very busy. “I encouraged her to memorize 20% of the piece over the next two months. She can do more later, and should not feel disappointed if she cannot do everything at once. Parents understand that need to adjust the playing, but persevere. Parents can destroy a child if they expect too much too soon.” Tomoko reminds parents that playing the piano is a life-long experience.
Tomoko also mentions Bach is a good composer for younger students because of his structure and use of chords. For a more sophisticated listening experience of Bach, try Tomoko’s interpretation of Bach’s Capriccio in B flat major, BWV 993 on her album Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann at https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/tomokohagiwara2