The Status of the B.M.-Piano Performance Degree

By Walker, Tammie | American Music Teacher, April-May 2008 | Go to article overview

The Status of the B.M.-Piano Performance Degree


Walker, Tammie, American Music Teacher


The Importance of Pianistic Diversity in Bachelor's-Level Training

How many pianists do you know who, after college, pursue careers strictly in the field of solo piano performance? I personally know none. Yet, how many undergraduate piano majors spend the vast majority of their college careers studying, polishing and performing solo piano literature? Most! It is exactly this dichotomy that led me to undertake a thorough examination of what a traditional B.M.-piano performance degree requires in terms of curriculum, then pose important questions in terms of the practicality and marketability of these students upon their graduation. A pianist's post-college life is richly diverse and multi faceted--it is my opinion that a pianist's undergraduate training should prepare students for this reality. As a disclaimer: I am not, in any way, recommending that the study of solo piano literature be discouraged or in any way slighted ... doing so, in fact, would negate my 11 years of college study, which includes B.M., M.M. and D.M.A. degrees all in piano performance. The thorough study of solo piano literature creates a refined pianist and forms one's technique and comprehension of style, articulation and pedaling. I am strictly recommending that in addition to this wonderfully rich and rewarding literature, we strive to diversify our curricula to help ensure our students' success upon graduation.

Piano Pedagogy

(A B.M.-piano performance requirement at 89 percent of schools surveyed [73 of 82 institutions])

Teaching is a part of daily life. How many students have you taught that claimed, "I never want to teach" or "Teachers are pianists who are not able to make a living playing"? Sadly, we all have most likely heard one of these misinformed statements at least once. Yet, how many pianists do you know who do not teach in some capacity? Call it "coaching" or "master classes" or "mentoring," every pianist (every musician for that matter!) shares their knowledge and insight in some capacity. Because of this truth, our undergraduate curricula should effectively and methodically train our piano students in the art of teaching students of all levels and ages. A two-semester curriculum is most practical: semester one--preschool through early-intermediate level students, semester two--intermediate through advanced level students. The curriculum at each level should include: study of the history and pioneers of pedagogy research at each level, study of the mainstream (and non-mainstream) piano methods and philosophies, intense repertoire surveys (and appropriate pedagogical grading of repertoire), and the use of technology to aid and enhance teaching at all levels. Students armed with these basics upon their graduation will be more immediately successful in their teaching, and will hopefully avoid many of the "teaching growing pains" many of us experience at the beginning of our teaching careers.

Keyboard Literature

(A B.M.-piano performance requirement at 84 percent of schools surveyed [69 of 82 institutions])

While an intense repertoire survey should take place in the pedagogy classroom, a comprehensive keyboard literature curriculum must exist; the main purpose of the repertoire survey from the pedagogical slant is to characterize appropriateness and grading strategies, while the main purpose of the keyboard literature curriculum is to arm students with the historical and aesthetic impact composers and their music have had on piano repertoire. A two-semester curriculum is recommended: semester one--early harpsichord music through Beethoven, semester two--Beethoven through the 21st Century. The keyboard literature curriculum should include: intense study of the main keyboard composers and their comprehensive musical contributions in each piano genre, a thorough study of the different national "schools" and contributions and cross-fertilization of each, the evolution (and resurrection) of the different piano genres, societal influences on the creation of piano works, an intense and continual listening component, and frequent writing assignments of an extended nature. …

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