As I talk to prospective students and their parents, I think more about explaining why I teach playing by chords and ear, not just by note reading like most teachers, and how remarkably effective this
teaching method is. I'm passionate on this and want to spread this method!
Learning chords is a very old and somewhat forgotten essential keyboard
skill. Really, essential. Like scales. But it's been lost for the
most part. Why? Especially since learning to play by ear and aural
training is still common in Eastern Europe, Russia (Eur-russia is where a
LOT of the greatest pianists and composers come from) and Asia (think
Suzuki method for toddlers).
Familiar with Bach? In
Bach's day, it was taken for granted that a keyboard player could be
given the basso continuo (their equivalent to chord symbols) and realize
the appropriate harmony in order to accompany other musicians or simply a
melody. Bach would be proud: I teach that. Why don't others?
There are many reasons many pianist don't know, much less teach, chord playing today. Since I'm a history buff and music history was my major's concentration, this development was fascinating to me.
One reason for chord playing's neglect is that this skill was not the
rage of the mid to late 1800's, when learning piano became a favorite
American hobby especially for the young. The rage was to be able to
play like Chopin - or at least play Chopin. And every other virtuoso
that was the rockstar of Victorian audiences. Seriously, Franz Liszt was the Beetles/BG's/Ricky Martin/One Direction/Backstreet Boys of his day. (I had to think hard for the names of these girl-gaggle-gathering boy stars.)
Though the piano rage started to wane as Elvis and the Beatles
came on the scene, it seemed like by the 50's, hardly a house lacked a
piano, and everybody's aunt taught lessons. For the purpose of playing classical and sacred music by note.
And still today piano teachers are trying to get every student to be Rachmaninoff. And yes, I totally completely 100% want every pianist to play classical music!!! But, Bach would say they need to play chord symbols too. And Rachmaninoff would scoff (I had to) if he heard musicians didn't have aural training. So, let's all get together, take over modern America, and LEARN TO PLAY THE THREE WAYS! **cue in 1812 Overture Canons**