Teaching “Why’s” and “What’s”

Today I just felt like sharing a random reflection on a couple of teaching moments this week.


Student #1

A student in Piano Safari Level 3 was playing the three forms of the D minor scale. She played beautifully, hands separately at a nice pace of mm.=200 (quarter note). Before we moved on to the next exercise, I wanted to make sure she understood some of the why’s and what’s.

Why is it called the natural minor?
(Because it’s in it’s most natural “raw” state – using the same pitches as its related major).

Why do we change one note in the harmonic minor?
(So we can create a leading tone which makes the scale feel more like it leads back to the resting tone “home.”  This also makes our Dominant (V) chord major rather than minor.)

What notes are altered in the ascending melodic minor scale?
(The 6th and the 7th, making the scale start sounding minor but finishing sounding major).

What scale do we essentially play as we descend in the melodic minor?
(The natural minor scale)

I ask a lot of the same questions every time we study new keys.

At first, the questions are completely new, and I’m mostly telling and explaining.

After a few key studies, they seem to recall that they know the answer, they just can’t articulate it in full – this is where “teacher mode” comes in. Ask the question and pause to give them a minute to think. They will often begin to answer but stumble like they can’t get the words out. At this point, I begin stating the answer and they sort of “join in” as they’re shaking their head in recollection.

Eventually, they can articulate it completely on their own.


Student #2

A student is working on a praise hit, “One Thing Remains (Your Love Never Fails)” from Alfred’s Praise Hit’s Complete, Book 2.

There’s a scalar passage leading into the beginning of a phrase. She’s hopping her fingers, rather than crossing under, causing a break in the phrase. I have her circle the finger number where she needs to cross under, and ask:

Why should we not hop here?
(Student: “because the music tells us to use finger three.”)
While this is true, the more important reason and I demonstrate to the student… Would we sing it like this?

“This one…” INSERT A DRAMATIC BIG BREATH  “…thing remains.”?

The student always gets a chuckle when they realize how silly that sounds. Point made.


Execution is not the only goal, make sure they understand (and can articulate) WHY – the bigger picture.

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