EPTA launches a new piano teachers’ course

The European Piano Teachers’ Association (EPTA) has announced the launch of a new piano teachers’ course as part of its 40th-anniversary celebrations in 2019. The course, headed by Murray McLachlan, Chair of EPTA and head of keyboard at Chethams School in Manchester, takes place over 6 separate CPD training days in 2019 and will cover aspects such as basic foundations of technique, posture, hand position and finger independence, first principles to first lessons, mindfulness and the psychology of piano technique, repertoire, teaching different age groups, child protection, running a successful piano studio (including management of parent/teacher/student relationships), teaching students with special needs, improvisation and composition, and encouraging artistry, individuality and creativity in piano playing. Based on the outline which I have seen, this new course offers candidates a course which is rigorous, intelligently organised, extensive and sequential.

EPTA has recently forged a more formal collaboration with the ABRSM and this new course offers, in part, useful preparation for those who wish to take an ABRSM teaching diploma. The ABRSM affilitation will also almost certainly encourage take up of this new course, given the reputation of the ABRSM. However, my initial impression is that this course will offer anyone keen to extend their teaching skills a solid grounding, and not just in piano-specific instrumental teaching.

In addition, EPTA is launching its own bespoke diplomas: Cert.EPTA, Dip.EPTA and LEPTA. While these will roughly align with the ABRSM’s equivalent teaching diplomas and the Certificate of Music Education (CME), candidates will have the opportunity to explore a more individual route to becoming a robust teacher at each of these three levels.

There will also be an element of personal choice to be focused upon within the exam, and this should encourage candidates to have an element of freedom from which to reveal an even deeper awareness and familiarity. Topics from which candidates will be free to choose are likely to include memorising, Alexander Technique, app-based teaching, improvisation, mindfulness, the subtleties of pedalling, how to teach analysis, style and interpretation, choosing repertoire appropriately, how to build a foundation of technique, how how to avoid tension and to listen attentively, how to prepare pupils for an exam, how to encourage pupils to practise and how to sustain inspiration over the longer term.

(source: EPTA)

Candidates will be encouraged to explore the repertoire and syllabuses of the three major exam boards – ABRSM, TCL and LCM – to demonstrate the skills needed to teach at each level and to reflect the fact that members of EPTA use all three exam boards (and others) in the course of their teaching. First entries for these new diplomas is likely to be Summer or Autumn 2019.

Of course having letters after your name does not necessarily confer the status of “teacher” and experience is also crucial, together with a willingness to engage in CPD, formally or informally, to improve one’s skills. In the past, I have been troubled by both the lack of regulation in the profession and the number of teachers I have encountered who seem to lack the basic business/entrepreneurial skills in order to run a teaching practice properly and professionally. This has contributed to an image problem in piano teaching, that it is the realm of the hobbyist or the little old lady with cats and a cardigan. (In fact, most of the teachers whom I regard as trusted colleagues do not conform to this image at all, but it is an image which prevails amongst those outside the profession – read more here).

I like to hope that EPTA’s new course and its affilitation with the ABRSM will encourage a change of view of piano teaching in the UK and will also help to produce flexible, open-minded and above all well-qualified teachers who are “fit for purpose” in the 21st-century.


The ABRSM-EPTA PIANO TEACHERS’ COURSE takes place at Chethams School on January 27, Febraury 24, March 31, June 2, June 30, July 21 2019 from 10am-5pm

Admission: £100 for each day, £50 for music students at conservatoires/universities. Early bird discount to £500 if booked by 1 January for all six days

For reservations and further information, please contact the EPTA Administrator:

admin@epta-uk.org / 07510 379286 or 08456 581054 (calls charged at 4p/min plus your phone co charge)

 

A question of touch

It cannot have escaped the notice of many of those inside the piano teaching profession that a noisy and at times acrimonious debate is raging, once again, over the sensitive issue of touching students, specifically children, as a pedagogical device in the course of piano lessons. I am not going to go into the specific details of one particular discussion thread – those of you who use Facebook are probably already familiar with it. Nor am I going to discuss the opposing views expressed in this thread; I am simply offering some thoughts on this difficult area based on my own teaching practice and discussion with a number of piano teaching colleagues.
There is a wealth of published research demonstrating the value of touch in human interaction. Touch defines relationships between human beings from the moment a baby is born, and positive touch continues to be important to a child’s development throughout the early years. For instrumental teachers, and indeed singing, dance and sports teachers as well, touch can help improve a student’s technique, how to hold or play an instrument correctly, how to breathe, use the correct posture and protect against tension or injury. In its own guidelines the UK Government describes touch as a “necessary” activity in instrumental teaching.

Now, largely in response to the online debate, the European Piano Teachers’ Association (EPTA) has issued a revised Safeguarding Code of Practice regarding child protection which runs somewhat counter to the Government guidelines:

“Any physical contact with pupils can be potentially subject to misinterpretation or even malicious allegations. The best advice is to avoid touching your pupils and to develop strategies for teaching through demonstration and modelling. If a teacher feels that touching is essential to their pedagogic style, they are to obtain prior permission in writing from the parent and pupil, and will encourage a parent/guardian to attend the lessons. However, it is not appropriate to touch a child on the trunk of the body unless there is a justifiable reason (eg to administer first aid).”

European Piano Teachers’ Association, 24 July 2017

There are a number of problems with this statement, on which a colleague of mine, with many more years of experience than I, makes the following, considered response:

We have a revised policy from EPTA, which keeps the sensible advice of obtaining written agreement and encouraging parental attendance/involvement, but which precedes it with an ill-advised statement that can only be described as fear-mongering, rather than fact. The idea that the teacher who gently corrects a dangerous wrist position, with permission, with proper explanation, and with the parent present, could be mistaken by the child or parent for an abuser is simply bizarre. Has this happened, ever? In 25 years of teaching, training and observing other teachers on three continents, I’ve certainly never heard of such a thing happening.

There are two problems:

1. These statements stigmatise ordinary piano teachers who are doing a wonderful job – the very people that EPTA should be supporting

2. And secondly, conflating these issues, in my view, rather trivialises the experiences of those traumatised by genuine abuse. How disappointing that EPTA now writes policies predicated on fear rather than fact. They are very out-of-step with the Department of Education at this point, and I rather feel they have seriously let down the piano teaching profession on this occasion.

Private music teachers already suffer a hefty degree of suspicion in the light of the abuse scandals at specialist music schools and colleges, and so we must do our utmost to demonstrate that we work with transparency and good practice at all times. This may be through seeking formal written permission to use touch in lessons from the parents of our students (which could be incorporated into one’s studio terms and conditions) or by discussing the issue of touching for pedagogical reasons with parents and students in advance. For the record, I don’t touch students in the course of my teaching. Never have, and probably never will. It is just my policy and while it is not ideal, I manage by using clear instructions and demonstration (I might occasionally ask the student to feel my hand or arm to understand arm weight). 

In our hyper-aware, hyper-sensitive times, following the deeply unpleasant revelations of the abuse that has taken place in specialist music schools and conservatoires, we are of course more concerned than ever to protect the children to whom we have a duty of care as teachers. But to infer, as certain commentators in the online debate have, that any teacher who touches a student in the course of a lesson is a potential groomer or child-abuser, is deeply insulting to the profession and the very many highly professional teachers working within it. The vast majority of teachers do not harbour perverse feelings towards children, and most children, even quite young children, are able to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate touching. And do such guidelines actually stop those teachers who have genuinely bad intentions towards their students? EPTA’s statement also ignores the fact that teachers can perpetrate abuse through words or gesture: for example, the teacher who regularly reduces a student to tears or who humiliates a student in front of others in a group lesson.

The sad outcome of this latest debate is that trust and confidence in the teaching profession seem to be the real victim here, rather and, as is often the way in such scenarios, the actions of a few have created a difficult environment for the many to operate in.  It strikes me that teachers are now more vulnerable than the children they seek to protect, and in an effort to avoid risk, teachers may become less effective educators.


Further reading:

A policy for touch

The Use of Touch for Facilitate Learning in Music Education

Drawing the line with student–teacher relationships