Teaching vs. Coaching Emphasis: On Musicianship Building vs. Interpretation of Repertoire

By Leung, Jackson | American Music Teacher, June-July 2004 | Go to article overview

Teaching vs. Coaching Emphasis: On Musicianship Building vs. Interpretation of Repertoire


Leung, Jackson, American Music Teacher


There are certain fundamental differences between teaching and coaching. Teaching involves the instillation of musical and technical concepts into students, while coaching focuses primarily on the interpretation and performance of the pieces at hand. Teaching is a long-term process, emphasizing the development of several different areas relating to piano studies. They include physical aspects of piano playing, musicianship and interpretation, intellectual development relating to piano playing and practice habits, as well as peril, finance and psychological preparation. Coaching, on the other hand, can be either a long- or short-term experience. It also can occur sporadically since there is no long-range goal involved. The emphasis of coaching is on the diagnosis of technical problems and the study of" interpretive issues in specific works. It aims to heighten the process of critical listening and provide guidelines for interpretation options.

Physical Aspects of Piano Playing

One of the foremost responsibilities of a teacher is to lay a good technical foundation for students. This is not merely the teaching of rudiments such as scale and arpeggio fingerings, dominant and diminished seventh arpeggios, octaves and chords; it also should include the concept of sound, tone production, touch, pedaling, gestures and control. An effective teacher also demonstrates and advocates good posture at the keyboard, as well as emphasizing the awareness of body movements and tension. Tension in the arms, shoulders and body are common problems among young pianists that need to be detected, diagnosed and resolved early on.

Musicianship and Interpretation

Although this is a broad subject, it never is too early to introduce interpretation concepts to young piano students. In fact, the earlier it is incorporated into a student's learning, the more effective the results are in the long run. Students who are not exposed to interpretive issues in the early stages of development often have difficulty understanding these ideas later. Issues such as balance, voicing, shaping of phrases, rhythmic steadiness and accuracy, variety of articulation, planning of dynamic shadings and pacing of ritardandos and accelerandos, all need to be discussed in a young pianist's musical development. A thorough understanding of performance practice in different stylistic periods also is essential. Young students need to learn concepts relating to ornamentation in baroque music, articulation in classical music, tempo fluctuation and use of rubato in romantic music, as well as color and sonorities in contemporary music. The ability, to interpret pieces from different style periods allows students to have a wider spectrum of sound, texture, color and emotional projection in their playing.

Intellectual Development

To train students as complete musicians, teachers need to focus on their intellectual development in musical understanding. Some crucial areas pertaining to the development of" a student include formal structure, harmonic and intervallic relationships, performance directions and musical terms, musical genres and instruments, historical background and composers representative of different style periods. …

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