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Blog #37: 2 Necessary Steps When Marking for Pianists (all 5 types of them!)

Working with a pianist can be all kinds of things.. Awesome, terrifying, exciting, dreadful, amazing, supportive, disastrous, mind blowing, horrific and the words could go on and on. The important part is to realize that we're all different kinds of people with different experiences, skills, perspectives, mentalities, etc.

Today, I'm going to give you 2 necessary steps for you as a ballet teacher when working with a pianist!

SIDE NOTE: Keep in mind, we're all different so some pianists may not totally agree, but this at least opens the door for you to have discussion with them about what they would prefer, right?

First off, mostly just for fun (though you might gain some clarity), let's talk about the 5 different kinds of musicians you'll likely work with at some point (if you get to work with pianists)! There are many different kinds of pianists and some are definitely easier to work with than others. 

5 Types of pianists

  1. The Beginner: Super eager, generally interested in what's going on. They are quite stressed about playing what you want, except they have NO IDEA what you want! lol. These pianists should work with the most experienced ballet teacher when possible because they'll learn more, and faster! If you put a beginner pianist with a beginner ballet teacher, the class is going to suffer a LOT of downtime. Syllabus work can be a really great idea to start them with because it takes some of the guess work out! (Please be kind, they deserve respect even though they have no idea what's going on. They are your equal, as another adult in the room, they're not one of the students.) Tempos: Will be all over!
  2. The Experienced: This pianist believes they have learned everything they need to know, they're not truly interested in adjusting and serving your needs, they firmly believe they are, just by playing the way they always have. These are sometimes difficult pianists to work with since they are not interested in feedback and, generally, are not flexible or willing to adjust how they play. They are great for moderately skilled teachers since the teacher can deal with the lack of pianist flexibility. Tempos: will be the traditional tempo, spot on and unyielding.
  3. The Entertainer: This pianist would prefer a stage or a lounge full of people listening to them and smiling. They are all about playing for others to make them happy. They can be an incredible asset if they can get past themselves and serve the teacher. They will die inside if they have to play syllabus all the time and the job will lose it's joy for them. Great pianist for your advanced classes!  Tempos: They may be a little 'flexible' but then that's the joy of it all, right?
  4. The Accompanist: This pianist has been wired to serve. They are all about the art they are supporting, whether it's a singer, a choir, an orchestra or dancers! They'll put the work in to learn the art and then serve to the best of their ability! This is your dream accompanist! You ask them to jiggle their head while they play, they will. Ask them to find some Chopin pieces that are light and sparkly and they will. They really are a dream to work with. Syllabus? Sure. They'll learn it's nuances and support the dancers. Tempos: Their tempos will be exactly what you want and adjustable on the fly.
  5. The Piano Player: They play. They play piano. You want it, they play it. These are generally mathematical brains who are less inclined to be emotional when it comes to music. Their music will sound functional. Syllabus, all day long? No problem. They respond to cues and will adjust tempo but the heat in their music will be ... slightly warmer than tepid. Tempos: Accurate. Consistent.

Now that we've that out of the way (and you've likely pegged every pianist you know into one or more of those categories, lol), let's look at how you can communicate in a way that serves your working relationship with these paragons of the piano, in the dance studio!

2 Necessary Steps for Marking Exercises for Musicians!

  • Step #1 - While lesson planning: You MUST know the tempo and meter (or music type) that you want for each exercise, and why! 
    1. Meter wise, you need to know if you want a duple meter or triple meter. Do you want 8 count phrases, or one of those 6 count phrase music types? And WHY? What's the value or purpose of choosing it? Knowing this information for each of your exercises will serve you well!
    2. Tempo wise, Marking exercises is tricky. You likely do not want to mark the ENTIRE exercise at the tempo you want, who has class time for that, right? BUT, it is important to mark the first 8 counts in the EXACT tempo you want! (This is a direct confirmation for your pianist of the information that you give us in step 2)
  • Step #2 - In the studio: Each time, before you mark the exercise, go to your pianist and give them a 3-5 second music 'ticket' so they know EXACTLY what you want them to play.
    1. Your music 'ticket' should include 3 things:  1) What music meter or type you want, 2) what tempo you want and 3) what quality you want. For example: 'I'd like a slow 4/4, very smooth with long phrases. 32 counts please. 1     &      2       &      ' . That's it. Then walk away and teach your exercise to your students. SIDE NOTE: The BONUS for the pianist, and ultimately for you, is that by giving that information first, they have the most amount of time to find the best piece of music for that exercise. They can even confirm it when they listen to you marking those first 8 counts in the exact tempo you want. This is a HUGE win for you in the end, right?
    2. Please, regardless of how NOT perfect your pianist's tempos are, please don't correct/adjust your pianist's tempos in every exercise unless they really are that wet behind the ears! That sucks.

(whispering) If your pianist's tempos are always wrong, every single exercise is either too slow or too fast, and your pianist isn't new to accompanying.. it might not be them..


If you can regular do the time consuming and dirty work of Step #1, then Step #2 will become a breeze as you practice the skill consistently. You'll know what you want, why you want it and the tempo and accent that best supports those needs in your exercise! If you enjoyed this blog post, you'll likely also LOVE this FREE download that I put together for ballet teachers working with pianists! Grab it here!




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