Thursday, September 17, 2009

It strikes me as deeply ironic that we trust psychologists and psychiatrists to listen to us empathetically while we look to piano teachers to "rip us to shreds," as one adult put it.

Does empathetic listening require an advanced degree and a framed diploma?

What does empathetic listening have to do with music, anyway?

It's simple: In order for one's playing to sound and feel authentic--i.e., to sound and feel as if we really mean it--we have to trust our own ear. In order for that to happen someone has to affirm first, that we do hear; second, that what we hear makes sense in its own terms. It doesn't need to make someone else's sense.

Here's where the advanced degree, unfortunately, comes in. After years trying desperately to replicate their own teacher's playing, many piano teachers have lost touch with their own native musical sense. After years of having to get it "right," whatever that is, how can we be expected to change our expectations of our students?

Most of our students are decades younger than we are. They are not growing up in a world of consonant major triads. Their sound imaginations reflect their soundworld, not ours. Unrestricted improvisation is a great way to start the two-way listening that makes real mutual awareness, the basis of empathetic listening.