Hal Leonard-Britten
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I'm a great teacher... but my piano skills STINK!

I am just getting out of college, and while I've recieved great marks on all my teaching evaluations and compliments from several fellow choral conductors, I am greatly lacking in the piano playing area. I practice every day, but I just can't get my head and my hands to communicate. Obviously I will hire an accompanist for performances, but what about rehearsals? I recently directed a musical where I used Finale to teach parts and create a rehearsal track without voices. Is this acceptable? If not, what else can I do? 
Replies (20): Threaded | Chronological
on December 17, 2013 4:54am
I totally agree with the above: practice, and practice smart. I will add this: when I was doing my student teaching I had the opportunity to observe a wonderful teach. He has fabulous piano skills, but in rehearsal, uses the piano as little as possible. He often does make his students sight read, but he *can* play anything he needs to. He used some techniques that I adoped both because I thought they were good practice, and because I am a farily miserable pianist (though better than I was when I started teaching a few years ago). When I started, I could certainly play an vocal part individually, but get more than 2 together, and it got rough (more than one sometimes used to be a challenge). Here are a few techniques I use (I teach middle school, so I am often dealing w/ 2 part singing): I sing one part and play the other (it seems easier for the students to choose one instrument to follow, rather than distinguish notes on the piano). I often have the more confident section(s) hum/zzz/vvv their parts while struggling parts sing out until they gain the requisite confidence. One thing I was taught in school is the art of selective note playing. We mostly rehearse unaccompanied, but I can pick out important elements from the accompaniment to play so that they are not lamblasted when the accompanist arrives. My skills are SIGNIFICANTLY better than they were just 4 years ago. So much so that I find I can actually play the accompaniment sometimes, and 3 parts at once (this is a huge victory for me with dislexyia and tiny hands). You can do it!
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on December 17, 2013 10:06am
Piano skills are extremely important. Now this is easy for me to say because I was a piano major in college so playing the piano in rehearsals is second nature to me. However, I just gave a clinic to other choir teachers, most of whom do not have decent piano skills. Again, like everyone else has said, practice, practice, practice, but... don't over do it practicing because you are just going to stress yourself out. Spend 10-30 minutes a day just playing through the music. (Doesn't have to be fast or up to tempo, just at a speed where you can read it accurately) Soon enough, you'll see your skills will start to improve. Start working on playing major scales. You'll be amazed at how well scales improve your overall playing ability. As far as using a rehearsal track, I think that is ok as long as your are not using that to teach parts to your kids. For instance, I teach all of the parts myself on the piano. Now, since I am a pianist, I mostly play the accompaniments however, when concert time gets closer, I record myself playing the accompaniment so that the students can get used to having me in front of them directing. Believe it or not, I also hire out an accompanist for most of my concerts as well because I like to be in front of my kiddos.
Hope this helps.
Chris :)  
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