Music to Their Ears

What is an effective strategy for teaching young children how to play the piano?

Combining “fun with discipline,” says Pei-Chen Chen, without missing a beat. Colleague Jessica Lee readily concurs: she has learned through theory and practice that simple activities—marching around the room, singing, moving to rhythm—can help children free their bodies and feel the emotional power of music before they even strike a note.

essica Lee (MMus) and Pei-Chen Chen (MMus and first-year DMus) are graduates of the Piano Performance and Pedagogy program at the Faculty of Music

Jessica Lee (MMus) and Pei-Chen Chen (MMus and first-year DMus) are graduates of the Piano Performance and Pedagogy program at the Faculty of Music

Adult learners, in contrast, “want to know why,” says Pei-Chen. To feed this curiosity, she often encourages older students to research a piece of music before learning how to play it. Jessica adds that teachers of advanced students must be thoroughly prepared to explain the theory behind an interpretive approach. Providing time management strategies for practising is also crucial for older students who lead busy lives with full-time jobs, children, and other responsibilities.

As graduates of the two-year master’s degree in Piano Performance and Pedagogy in U of T’s Faculty of Music, both Pei-Chen and Jessica have already acquired considerable teaching experience. Internships formed a significant component of their program: during first year, they had opportunities to teach group and private lessons to children registered in U of T’s Community Music School; during second year, they taught advanced students ranging in age from adolescents to adults. In between, they coached students at area high schools, participated in Master classes with their students and peers, and built their own roster of students who wished to continue private lessons. By taking an optional course, Pei-Chen was even introduced to the business side of music, learning how to create her professional website, prepare a résume, and practise the art of self-promotion. Like Jessica, Pei-Chen feels well on her way to launching a teaching career, one that she can balance with her passion for performing. As an international student from Taiwan, she is surprised at how quickly she was able to build a professional network, job-ready skills, and a promising future while studying in Toronto.

The Faculty of Music is working hard to ensure that as many students as possible can benefit from similar teaching internships during their master’s and doctoral programs. Last year, with help from the School of Graduate Studies’ Graduate Program Innovation Fund (GPIF), the Faculty created a new staff position—Internship Coordinator—to build on the successes of the Piano Performance and Pedagogy internships and ensure hands-on learning opportunities are available to graduate students specializing in other instruments. The Internship Coordinator will also set up mechanisms to monitor the quality and continued relevance of internship programs. “We are excited that this new Internship Coordinator will be able to bring all of these small, ad-hoc programs under one umbrella and create more consistency in terms of delivery and standards,” says Midori Koga, Associate Dean, Graduate Education and Associate Professor, Piano and Piano Pedagogy. Dr. Koga continues, “The importance of these internships cannot be overstated. Practical teaching experiences prepare the graduate students for their next steps after graduation.”

Launched in 2016, the School of Graduate Studies’ Program Innovation Fund was developed with precisely that end in mind: helping graduate faculties and units to innovate in ways that not only help students complete their programs efficiently, but also create avenues for career success. In exploring teaching opportunities beyond U of T, Pei-Chen and Jessica have discovered that their program’s reputation for rigorous internships makes them desirable job candidates for a wide range of employers.

To learn more about projects that received GPIF Funding from SGS, see our story about Dissertation Boot Camps and Writing Groups in the Faculty of Arts & Science and the spotlight on the OPTIONS program in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. We’ll also feature additional stories in upcoming editions of Gradschool e-news.




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