The world of piano education has long been dominated by outdated traditions. Technique and the mastering of classical repertoire are often seen as the gold standard for assessing skill level, often comprising the bulk of most established curriculums. While these do have their merits, it’s essential to recognize that measuring skill of any instrument solely based on these factors does not provide an accurate assessment of a student’s capabilities. In this blog post, we’ll explore why a broader perspective is required to properly evaluate anyones true skill set.
1. Musical Diversity
First off, the piano is a very versatile instrument. it has the ability to transcend many genre boundaries. While classical music can showcase a handful of the instrument’s technical demands and expressive possibilities, there are SO MANY other genres such as jazz, blues, pop, gospel, and rock. The list goes on and on! Each genre has its own unique challenges, structures, and techniques that are specific to them. Dismissing a pianist’s skill based solely on their proficiency in one or two genres of repertoire, completely overlooks the majority of other, and quite frankly, more popular genres.
2. Creativity and Improvisation
Most popular curriculums and methods will have a strict adherence to written scores, leaving very little room for improvisation or personal expression. This is such an immense overlooked aspect of musical skill, since, well, every piece of music started by someone creating it! Many modern musical genres rely on creativity, spontaneity, and the ability to improvise. Pianists who excel in these areas possess a different set of skills that I would argue are equally, if not more valuable than the best sight reader. This showcases their ability to think on their feet, and create something from scratch. Whether an original song or a solo!
Now this one is more of a quality issue. Many do judge skill based on performances, whether it’s in an audition, exam, or concert setting. However, the question is, what should we be judging a performance on? And what are the responsibilities of a musician in this setting? The mistake that’s commonly made here is judging someone’s skill solely based on the fact that they could play a song, in front of living people… That’s it!? Factors like body language, comfortability, emotional expression, and crowd engagement are more often than not swept under the rug. Without mastering these skills, you’ll make everyone just as nervous as you when you perform!
4. Technological Integration
Although you’d think that it’s hard to argue against the fact that technology has transformed the piano, many do, and decide to stick with what they call “real music”. Open up your mind and let the good ol’ days go! Where are the electronic elements, synthesizers, and digital effects? If you have a computer, your digital keyboard could be used to play any instrument you can name! Evaluating a pianist’s skill should also consider their ability to navigate and integrate technology in a more modern context.
5. Collaborative and Ensemble Skills
Piano players can often be called upon to collaborate with other musicians in various settings, including songwriting sessions, joining bands, jam sessions, and studio sessions. In order to hold your own in these collaborative settings, it requires a completely different skill set. This includes the ability to listen, adapt, and contribute your creativity meaningfully to a group. This is very often dismissed as a valuable skill set until the opportunity arises and it’s too late.
While classical technique and repertoire remain an important foundation for piano players, it is crucial to broaden our perspective. Music is constantly evolving. We evolved from Beethoven to Drake after all. Embracing diversity in musical styles, recognizing the importance of creativity and improvisation, appreciating someone putting on a good show, acknowledging technological integration, and valuing collaborative capabilities are all too often dismissed. By doing so, we can celebrate what TRULY comprises a well rounded musician in today’s day and age, encouraging a more inclusive and open-minded approach to assessing skill.