Teaching

“Gastón Frydman is a gifted and passionate teacher, dedicated to the musical and pianistic growth of his students. Having observed him teach on several occasions, I am confident that his students will receive expert feedback along with artistic guidance that nurtures the whole musician”. Sean Schulze DMA Associate Dean for Academic Partnerships. Piano Faculty (Piano Literature, Piano Pedagogy, JMP) Cleveland Institute of Music

“Studying with Gastón Frydman has powerfully impacted the perspective that I view music in. I learned that being able to identify the various emotions within a piece of music is paramount to understanding the music. Because of my studies with him, I now know about how to best express those emotions. Whether it would be via provided technical exercises, emphasizing specific notes, or utilizing physical force to my advantage, these are all things that helped me further craft my musicianship. Overall, Gastón has certainly left a significant imprint in the way I view music, and the way I view the piano”. Myles Temesi Student at the Pre-college program, Cleveland Institute of Music

We all know the infamous phrase “the one who can, perform. The one who cannot, teach”. This phrase is, among many other things, doubly wrong. Those who cannot perform at a high level will necessarily have some flaws in their teaching, and the larger portion of the great performers are not good teachers. Taking a basic activity as reading, we all know how to do it, but knowing how we learnt it, and explaining it to somebody is a different story. Additionally, teaching piano is such an all-encompassing activity that requires as much expertise as utmost compassive care. Results between the passive teacher who corrects some obvious mistakes and answers the few questions from a student who is in their classroom precisely because they don’t know how to work by themselves, and the active position of making short- and long-term plans and working together to conquer them will be very different.

I grew up dreaming to be a performer, paired with a complete unawareness of what it meant to be one. Teaching was not something I had in my plans. During my 20-year journey in music, there were better and worst moments in which I believe I had the great fortune of learning and developing at an early stage some extremely important artistic skills that many brilliant young pianists lack, while I lacked myself some other extremely important and paradoxically more basic skills that every young pianist must possess.

A few years ago, while studying in a prestigious conservatory and being surrounded by many excellent young pianists, I found myself in a big dilemma. On one side suffering terrible injuries and found myself incapable of some basic mechanic pianistic skills, on the other hand some of the great musicians I admire the most would praise my music for being special and I would constantly be asked by many of my classmates -who often were much better pianists than me- to hear them and for advice. Step by step I kept working, thinking, solving, developing, and becoming aware of the problems I had, and at the same time I started attending my required pedagogic classes. At this moment the most magical thing happened: While I was analyzing and working on my flaws, trying to be the best possible teacher for myself, I also needed to start teaching children, and I found that while trying to become a good teacher for myself I had accidentally also became a better teacher to others.

There is a big number of valuable things that I learnt from each of my teachers, being especially grateful for the guidance I receive in the line of interpretation and critical thinking, but at the same time, many learnt things came from the bad moments experienced. I learned the physical basics of piano playing when faced with playing the most difficult pieces of the repertoire in my 20s, to practice efficiently when faced with few days of preparation before an important event after having made no progress in months, to develop a strong body after having terrible injuries, to have a peaceful mindset after experiencing my darkest times, to prepare for competitions after knowing how it felt to be there when not well prepared, and the list keeps going.

Bruno Gelber once told me “a teacher needs to teach you from do re mi to the Goldberg”, and this is true in the broadest possible sense. Nobody is born with innate knowledge, yet we are often thrown into practice rooms without any real guidance. How many times we were told to “go practice”? how many times we saw no progress in our work? How many times we saw people playing over and over the same thing doing the same mistakes? The answer is very simple, we often limit our work to mere repetition. Practicing a lot is undoubtedly important (the amount we do it will have a bigger impact on the amount of repertory we learn rather in the level of our playing), but it is equally essential to practice with purpose. Repetition’s function is to reinforce ideas, therefore mindlessly repeating the same mistakes not only won’t lead to progress but will make our current problems stronger. So, what should we do? To start with, leaving magic away. Stop expecting memorization to miraculously happen someday, don’t expect the metronome (obsolete and dangerous object) to help us play faster, don’t repeat without knowing why we are repeating something (of course its indispensable, but only in its due time), don’t expecting the instrument to give us something we don’t have inside, and embracing the following two steps: Interpretation (the ideas of what we want to do that we have in our head) and performing (how do we physically approach the instrument to make others hear what we want to do). 

The first one is the most difficult one to develop, and for doing so the teacher should be in charge of guiding, inspiring, pushing, and making the right questions to the student, helping them to develop their own knowledge, curiosity and imagination. Nevertheless, positivism doesn’t apply here, becoming a true artist takes a long time, and it has a lot to do with each individual. Also, a teacher should always be very careful of retaining the limbo position of guiding the student in their artistic journey and not creating a clone (reason for which Horowitz is said to have never played a note in front of their students, as his influence would have been too strong not to try copying). The second one is the easiest and fastest of the two as it could be developed almost instantly if doing the right things, but is as important, and without it, it doesn’t really matter our artistry as we will not be able to show it, and nobody will ever know. This performing side consists in transforming each of our ideas, through physical skills, into sound, and it works as maths. We either know how to do it or we will generally fail, perhaps doing it correctly from time to time by accident.

These tools could also be discovered without external help, but this would most necessarily take much longer, and they might never arrive. It was Tchaikovsky who said, I sit down to the piano regularly at nine-o’clock in the morning and Mesdames les Muses have learned to be on time for that rendezvous”. Results are more likely to come from good work rather than from (only) looking at the stars for inspiration. There obviously are different possible ways of feeling art and there are plenty examples of equally amazing pianists playing completely different, but before arriving there and talking in a much more banal level there also are easily recognizable paths that will almost always work or not work for most people.

Being that at a professional level, the ratio of teaching and practicing can be 1:40 or similar, I believe that teachers should use this limited time to impart the skills and techniques necessary for the student’s self-development in each of their practice sessions, this means helping them to develop the metacognitive skills necessary to monitor their own progress.

Every aspect of the development needs to be cared for, and these includes, between many others: The steps to learn pieces, how to organize structure, how to make the ideas in our head clear to the audience, how to produce each type of sound and color, the relation from each physical movement -or lack of it- and sound, how to memorize, how to put fingerings, how to conquer difficult skips, how to utilize rotation, how does the thumb work, what attack speed is necessary in each register, how to shape a phrase, how to find balance, how to produce each dynamic and articulation, how to put pedals, how to utilize weight, when to use different attacks, directing the awareness to each type of hearing, how to tell a story, what elements aside from the score must be considered, the importance and capacity of each joint, and how to create lines (very important!), but so does how to be a skilled networker, how to make a program for a recital or a competition, how to speak to the audiences, how to walk on stage, how to plan our career, and the list goes on. The gradual introduction of these and other skills helps each of us to be acquainted with a toolbox we can have access and apply whenever needed, and the bigger the toolbox, the more independent we can be.

On many occasions I wished to be receiving more golden moments than punches in the face, but is precisely because of those moments, that I became aware in thinking and word of each of the elements necessary to become my own best version, and I am looking forward to sharing these methods consisting in equal parts of the right questions and answers with those youngsters who also dream to be a performer, not yet knowing what does it mean to be one.