EP07: Ryan Greene – In search of a more sound music education curriculum

The Podcast

Show notes

Ryan Greene’s website: greenepiano.com

Ryan’s Opening Monologue: The curriculums from what I’ve seen is just a little outdated. And that kind of bothers me. And it’s just another reason why I kind of want to get in the door and have an opportunity to turn things around and change things and equip the teachers of tomorrow with the skills they really need.

Standout quotes from the interview with Ryan:

“Around seventh grade I changed to a much better teacher and that’s when I started getting serious about it. And pretty much from eighth or ninth grade on I decided that I wanted to pursue music professionally.”

It was really all thanks to this teacher that I switched to around the time I was 11 or 12. She’s really the reason I got interested in pursuing music.”

“[It] was really just a matter of choosing the right repertoire for me at the right time. And it was more challenging music than I had been working on before and she was a lot better equipped to teach it to me than the previous teacher.”

“[She] was teaching me and not just teaching me like one of her other students. I felt a connection to her. She just seemed really invested in me and even as a kid I could kind of tell that.”

[On the repertoire she assigned] “I had a mix of different time periods but I think it was the fast pieces that I really enjoyed…In hindsight she assigned me some music that was really beyond me at the time. So she wasn’t the perfect teacher but I certainly had a lot of fun studying music with her.”

[on music that students are not emotionally ready for] “I think there’s alternatives. They can learn the things that they would learn from that piece—like the voicing, playing really thick chords and thick textures—But on a slightly easier level and where the emotional and the musicality things are just a little simpler and easier for younger kids to grasp.”

“You find that this piece really leads into this one, and this one really leads into the next one and then eventually you can get to a piece like Brahms Opus 119 and really learn it thoroughly and be prepared for everything that’s in there.”

“The first Beethoven Sonata that I would give a student when they’re ready for it is probably one of the Opus 49 ones.”

“I think students need to learn about just how to play Beethoven, how to interpret it. Not only understanding the form but understanding how to bring up different characters in his music, voicing, dynamics, expression, pedal, all those things.”

That is really the challenge: that you’ve got to find something that’s pedagogically sound but they have to connect to it.”

[On Dr. Bobo, the teacher who got Ryan ready for his undergraduate auditions] “I’m very thankful for him because he definitely filled in some gaps that I had in my education. And what I remember the most and probably what I transferred to my own teaching is his tenacity…He eliminated any remaining sloppiness or laziness that I had in my practicing. And that that point in time I really needed that.”

“I definitely think it’s about creating habits within students to carry them throughout the week.”

[on Dr. Kate Boyd from Butler University] “She inspired me because of how well she could play. But she also taught me really, really well and taught me how to learn pieces efficiently…The things from her that I transfer to my teaching is just the way she talks to students. She says things in a very succinct way, especially like expressive or musical ideas.”

[on working at the Centre for Musical Minds] “You can kind of shape the curriculum that you want to teach there for any kind of student, which I like. The curriculum is not rigid.”

[on change in academic institutions] “The institutions themselves can be very slow to change the way things are set up, the change the curriculum…if you want to change something in the academic world you have to jump through a lot of hoops, whereas if you own your own business, you can just do it and it takes a lot less time and a lot less energy.”

[on his work with the Frances Clarke Center] “I feel like the work that I do there is unique and it ends up impacting and reaching a lot of teachers through this conference and the magazine…it’s really fulfilling.”

“Teachers get degrees and then where does their education continue from there?…We’re more interested in presenting things that are extremely important and fundamental to teaching but haven’t been said before.”

[on the different approach to Masterclasses at the conference] “What we want to try to capture is real teachers giving real lessons to their students, and really kind of seeing what goes on in excellent teaching. And trying to decode that and present it to the audience in a way that’s easy to see right in front of your eyes.”

“I think what’s going to be cool about it is it’s going to be real. It’s not going to be staged.”

[on the music job market and success] “Most people, their version of success is a mixture of things that they get fulfillment out of, and not just one job at one university.”

“The Internet: it helps connect us for better or for worse sometimes…The problem, for me, is finding how to discern whether it’s quality or not quality.”

[on new approaches to piano pedagogy] “And it’s not a problem that’s ever going to go away either. Children are going to keep changing and the kind of music that they’re interested in is going to keep changing and the world they live in is going to keep changing.”

[on talent] “If a student is practicing regularly with a good quality practicing, not mindless practicing—in my mind that’s a successful student and that’s a talented student.”

“I try not to say, you know “this student is really talented”. They’re just doing the same thing all the other students are doing, they’re just doing it faster.”

[on setting goals for students] “I have an acronym: NRFAD. We just call it NeRFAD. It means notes, rhythm, fingering, articulation, dynamics.”

[on what Ryan is working on] “Repertoire: because I find that the more times I teach a particular piece, the better I become at teaching it. It doesn’t matter how much planning I do, how much planning and study I do, there’s no replacement for teaching experience.”

Ryan’s recommended resources:

Intelligent Music Teaching by Robert Duke

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

Questions and Answers by Frances Clark

Blog: practisingthepiano.com

The BulletProof Musician Blog by Noa Kageyama 

Local Music Teachers Associations

Clavier Companion Magazine

The American Music Teacher Journal