Keeping Your Musical Balance

By John Hart

We’ve heard for years about the importance of maintaining balance in our work lives, our diets, and our exercise. In general, too much of any one thing is not good for us. This principle applies to the study of music as well. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the study of music was well-balanced, some time given both to reproducing the music of others as well as inventing one’s own music. In the late 1800’s, the emphasis shifted almost entirely to music reproduction. Even today, many piano teachers teach students only the skill of sight-reading with the purpose of performing someone else’s music.

My goal as a piano teacher is to teach a balance of the following 5 skills as students are ready:

  1. Sight-reading (playing easier pieces that can be learned in approximately 1-2 weeks)
  2. Performing (playing repertoire that has been polished over time)
  3. Playing by Ear (playing without reference to sheet music)
  4. Improvisation (creating music at the piano without preplanning)
  5. Composition (inventing a piece using music notation)

Very young students should spend the majority of their time becoming proficient in the first skill before advancing to the others. For more information on this topic, read “Redefining the Teaching of Musical Performance” by Gary E. McPherson.”