Reflections on learning and teaching the Taubman Approach.

As you may know, Dorothy Taubman passed away in 2013, leaving a powerful contribution to piano pedagogy born of five decades of practice-based research. Her legacy is a profound system of understanding for comfortably navigating even the most treacherous passages in the repertoire, ideally leading to the stage whereby one’s artistry and interpretative visions are restricted only by imagination, not technical limitations.

 While one can learn general Taubman concepts quickly, teaching the Taubman Approach requires rigorous and ongoing training, as one needs to fully embody the technique to teach others. A Taubman teacher’s responsibilities include skilled diagnosis, identifying which aspects to leave alone or conversely encourage, what to change and the multi-layered steps necessary to do so. A Taubman teacher will never tell a student to “just practice more”, but strives to provide clear solutions as to why a passage is insecure or limited. One must both react flexibly in the moment while holding a clear long-term plan, balancing the minutia of details while constructing a larger perspective.

Lessons are interactive, with the teacher dependent upon the student providing kinaesthetic feedback. Learning works best when the student is calm, engaged and curious, focused on the present task, and is willing to be (temporarily) undone if necessary. Although high emotions and difficult personal situations often accompany injury, learning is easiest when these are left outside the studio door.

When working with an injured student, a Taubman teachers’ first priority is to get rid of the pain. Injuries such as tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome are relatively simple to solve, more complex situations include heavy relaxation poured over a tight technique. Dystonia is the most challenging injury to unlock. Often, the first step in overcoming injury is to establish the main playing apparatus, the fingers, hand and forearm, working in lively synchronicity. New students often report that all ten fingers feel strong and equal for the first time. This is created through addressing the seating height, eliminating curled fingers, twisting, low wrist height and incorrect alignment. Initial lessons may focus on dropping to single notes, later joined through rotation, before scales and arpeggios are introduced. Each concept introduced is simple and logical, contributing to a complex choreographic design. 

When necessary, rotational movements are large in early retraining stages, and are sometimes misunderstood as the final, integrated technique. Later concepts introduced include in and out movements relative to the fallboard, interval and staccato playing, shaping, grouping, and tone production. Guiding a student out of pain does not necessarily mean that all technical issues are solved, nor that the student is ready to perform a recital. The next, often more difficult step, is (re)building a high-level, facile technique.

The ideal learning situation is working with a healthy pianist who brings a typical list of relatively mild complaints and technical limitations. In this case, the teacher needs flexibility in meeting each student where they are. Some techniques require a complete overhaul, others mostly function well but are poisoned by some incoordinate movements, just as a few drops of chlorine alter the nature of water. It is a joy to observe a gifted pianist gleefully encounter these concepts, and to watch a technique quickly blossoming in healthy hands.

Learning Taubman may tap into concepts learned with a previous teacher or even in childhood; for others, each step is completely foreign. In my experience, there is rarely a “natural” hand, or students without any history. Even small children have established habits from using computers / iPads / phones, previous teachers or advice from family members. Adults bring layers of learning on conscious and unconscious levels, with sometimes decades of entrenched patterns, and varying degrees of flexibility in making desired changes.

Interestingly, intuitive pianists often sense the benefits of learning from the beginning, and put themselves in the teachers’ hands rather than imposing a schedule. Far too often, the reality is having to overcome a serious injury, build a new technique, and prepare repertoire for a university exam in a pressured timeframe.  During retraining, many pianists are enticed by the vast tools available for developing facility, timbral palette, security, accuracy, control over soft passages, faster octaves, and tackling difficult “bucket-list” repertoire, and continue lessons long-term.

 Like every discipline, each student brings different levels of commitment and engagement to the process. While mastering an instrument is a life-long process, Taubman students experience systematic, logical solutions to every roadblock they face. Teaching Taubman is exhilarating, rewarding, fascinating, challenging, and often difficult. However, it is a great privilege to be able to share this life-changing information, and witness many personal and pianistic transformations.



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