Can I combine studying with a regular teacher and a Taubman teacher at university level?

 This question comes up often. While there is no one “yes or no”, I’d like to raise some issues to help you work through this issue for your personal circumstance.

Firstly, why are you seeking Taubman lessons? Are you injured?  It’s common for people to write to me, and say “I have pain but I’m not injured”…In the Taubman world, any pain is a red warning light that needs attention. Of course, there are degrees of intensity of pain, and degrees of injury, and interestingly, the two do not always correlate. Sometimes severe pain is caused by a relatively small number of incoordinate motions that are comparatively easy to replace, other times there are many layers that have to be uncovered to completely get rid of residual background pain.

If you are injured or experiencing any type of playing-related pain, is this really the time to be studying music full-time?

If so, wouldn’t it be better to save that huge time and financial investment until you have completely overcome your injury, you can practice comfortably as much as you want, and you can take full advantage of the possibilities within your university study?

I relate to young pianists feeling like they don’t have time to press pause, and can remember all too well feeling like the six weeks to “recover from tendonitis” felt like a life sentence when I was 18. Spoiler alert – my tendonitis didn’t disappear from resting. I suffered through my undergraduate degree unable to play at all for half the time, learned and memorised a 5-part fugue away from the piano, and dictated my honours thesis, paying my little sister well below minimum wage. It was miserable. Even if you are fortunate enough to be able to study at university with a Taubman teacher, you might consider the experience from a teacher’s perspective below.

I used to teach in a university music department, and more than once I was assigned a terribly injured student that every other teacher and health professional had given up on. Within that semester structure, we had 11 weeks of 45 minute lessons together, not only to get rid of the pain, retrain the technique, minimise the motions, put everything back together, but also learn the repertoire to performance level in a fraction of the normal time. I had the choice of giving them extra (unpaid) lesson time, or accepting poor results for both the student’s development, and reflection of my work. It was incredibly stressful for both me and the students. While I could bring them to the point of playing pain-free in their end of semester exams, of course they did not play as well as the students who could just prepare their programs. Their marks were lower than they otherwise would have been, there was not time to do the detailed work required in fully integrating the technique with the physical skills of tone production and expression, and the result was neither a great example of the Taubman work nor my teaching. To be honest, I’m happy to be separated from the university system, and to avoid those difficult situations.

I have also worked “on the side” in my private studio with students of other tertiary teachers. I insist that the student tells their regular teacher about our lessons, and if the student is not comfortable doing this, it’s often an indication that the arrangement is untenable. Usually small and large changes to their playing occur through our lessons, which any switched-on teacher could not fail to notice, and questions will be raised. Personally, I don’t like working behind someone’s back.

In this context, it comes down again to – how injured are you? Are you able to defer your assessment and performance commitments while working through issues in your technique? How regularly are you able to come for lessons? Is the Taubman teacher in the same city, or are you considering online lessons? Is your regular teacher supportive of the idea? And all the regular issues in dealing with helping yourself in the retraining process. If you must or choose to go through the full retraining process, generally I would advise against learning single and double rotations on Monday with a Taubman teacher and having to perform Chopin Ballades on Thursdays. They are very different processes, and mixing both often bring mixed results.

The success in working concurrently with two teachers that may have very different ideas on technique depends to a large extent on the open-mindedness of the regular teacher, and how thick-skinned the student is. If you have found that your symptoms improve through correcting a low wrist, how will you respond if your regular teacher continually prompts you to drop the wrist to produce an “expressive” tone? Is it fair to ask your regular teacher to only work on the musical aspects, when music and technique are inextricably linked? Some teachers are not open-minded to exploring something new to them, and thorny pride can create a difficult learning environment for the student stuck between worlds.

If the regular teacher recommends that their students seek Taubman lessons, this is a different situation. I always appreciate these recommendations, as it takes humility and a big heart to admit that you don’t have all the answers, and to seek someone who has had particular training in this field. The results are of course much better when the student is able to defer their studies, (not to mention much less stress for everyone involved!). It’s wonderful when the teacher has already had consultations with me, has made changes to their own playing, understands the benefit for their students, and are curious about the process and solutions that come up in working with their student. This way, the student is helped, the regular teacher also continues their learning and can help others better. Win win. If the teacher is able to attend the lessons, either in the room, virtually, or through watching a recording later, all the better.

Sometimes the reverse can happen, in that the teacher becomes involved along the way through the student’s example. One of my current (online) students has made such staggering progress that his regular teacher has started asking him to explain the new choreography and the fingering choices she observes. She is completely fascinated and wants to learn more herself. In this case, the regular teacher already had many coordinate elements in her own playing, though she may have explained them in other ways, or not always been aware of how she managed to play so brilliantly.

Finally, how deep you do want to deep into the Taubman world? When I first went to the US for a month in 2003 to overcome my injury and participate in two intensive symposia, I thought I could learn it all. I had to. I was broke, there was no online learning, and there was no chance of going back ever again. Or so I thought. Now in 2021, I still have regular lessons (online) and am still completely fascinated by the learning process and depth of information available. My level of commitment is not for everyone, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s okay to take what you need, then move on. Some people get out of pain, and they’re happy enough. Others get out of pain, and are excited about the possibilities to continue developing as a performer and teacher.  Wherever you stand, I suggest that you have a better chance of assessing how much you can gain from this work by having a series of lessons, not just one or two, and to let changes settle in the body without conflicting information from another teacher.

Hopefully through this article you have  more understanding of the complex issues involved in combining university study with two different teachers, the process of overcoming an injury, stress of university performance assessment, and dealing with possible personality conflicts. Sometimes it can be possible to overcome the obstacles, and combine two worlds of pianism while studying at university. Sometimes it may prove too difficult, and it is best to press pause on tertiary study while working with a Taubman teacher. Either way, it helps to be creative in your approach, strong, and clear in your intentions and communication in deciding how to best progress with your learning.

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