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Kenn Gartner

Bay Area resident with Ph.D. in Performance (Steinhardt School, New York University, 1979) where he studied with Eugene List.  An M.S. in Music Education with emphasis on Musicology (Queens College, City University of New York, 1970).  Studied with Adele Marcus and Eduard Steuermann leading to the Artist’s Diploma (The Juilliard School, 1964).

Earned an A.B. in Music as a student of John Kirkpatrick and of music historian Donald J. Grout, author of A History of Western Music  (Cornell, 1960).  Performances in many countries (1969 to present).  Teacher of Music, NYC etc.; Supervisor/Director of Music for school districts Lexington, MA; Copiague, NY; Jackson, NJ.  Professor of Music at Long Island’s Hofstra University; Adelphi University; LaGuardia Community College; Suffolk County Community College; Chair/Associate Professor, Five Towns College.

When someone comes for an audition, the student auditions me!

Parents and adult students are often interested in results of work with a particular teacher.  As a courtesy, one may find, at the bottom of this site, a short list of present and former students whose achievements may be of interest to any considering study.

WHAT SIMPLE THINGS MIGHT I OBSERVE TO ASCERTAIN IF MY CHILD IS TAUGHT CORRECTLY?

For a beginning pianist:  The student is incorrectly taught if thumb notes are pushed down with the forearm and the first finger joint bends concavely rather than convexly.

For a beginning singer:  The student is incorrectly taught if breaths occur in the middle of a word and the pupil is not taught to correctly use the diaphragm and with the correct position of the larynx.

FYI:  The Juilliard School recently increased requirements for those listed in its Private Teacher Directory.  In addition to a complete resume, a teacher must document public performance within the past ten years and provide outstanding recommendations.

The BEST Music Teacher! How to find him/her and other important things to know.

HOW TO FIND THE BEST MUSIC TEACHER

1. What instrument should a child study in an elementary–or, for that matter–ANY school music program?

The instrument your child should study in a school music program is the instrument in which the music teacher majored. The student will then receive instruction based upon the teacher’s years of study. Should the child later decide to take private lessons on this instrument, the foundation will have been laid. Imagine studying, say, piano with someone who was only a voice major in college and studied a few semesters of class piano: can one imagine the problems these students will have in the future! (Refer to Stephen Shen, below).

2. What is the easiest instrument for my child to learn?

There is no such thing as an “easy” instrument: if you are looking for the easy way out, DO NOT participate in the school’s music program. If your child does participate, a commitment must be made to work diligently and regularly to gain the most benefit from the experience. Because we are not born knowing how to practice—or study, for that matter–your child should ask the music teacher for instruction as to how to practice at home. Be aware that teachers often do not know how to practice!

3. Do I need a real piano? We have an electronic instrument. Will that do, at least at the beginning?

Please refer to my blog in which I discuss this issue at greater length.

The answer to the first question is a CONDITIONAL YES!

The answer to the second question is this: You, I, and a BRICK can make the exact same sound on an electronic instrument! But it plays loud and soft, you say. And the keyboard is weighted. And we just paid $5000 for it! You, I, and a BIG ROCK will make the exact same noise on it.

To answer the first question, the fingers are trained to pull the sound from the piano: the way they contact the keys has a very important job in creating the piano’s sound. Secondly, there are fairly good pianos for about $1200 with working MIDDLE PEDALS to be found: email me for information. Third, piano stores such as J B Piano in San Rafael or the Sherman-Clay stores on the West Coast, will rent an instrument for a certain period to see if it works out for the student. Often rental money may be applied towards purchase of either the rental piano if you are in love with it (it happens!) or towards another instrument. (Incidentally, J B and other piano shops apply what you paid–less taxes and moving–towards the purchase of a newer or larger instrument: in my case, Steinway gave me credit for what I paid when I found a better Steinway at their factory.) Mention my name when you go looking.

4. Where may one find an outstanding music teacher?

If you have heard a wonderful performance by a child or an adult, ask with whom he studies. This is a prima facie recommendation. Then make an appointment to see the instructor. Should the instructor have a full studio, ask about getting on the waiting list, or, should you be in a hurry, whom the instructor may recommend. As mentioned in the notes about me, I am nationally certified as both a teacher of piano and of voice: none of the Music Teachers Association of California (MTAC), at least in Marin County seems to have sufficient credentials or desire to achieve this level of pedagogical expertise. (You may wish to have them perform a small amount for you if you are interested in working with them! DEFINITELY WATCH THEM TEACH!)

Recording an interview will provide comparisons should you meet with a number of prospective teachers. Ask a teacher’s permission in advance if you may videotape or record the interview. If a teacher refuses, find another. Teachers, confident in their teaching skills, should not be afraid to have a record made of what they can do.

DO NOT be impressed by the organizations to which some teachers belong, but DO ask about professional affiliations. Some affiliations are truly outstanding; others exist solely to acquire students. (Christina Bradley, former “president” of The Music Teachers Association of California, Marin Branch, when telephoned to inquire how one may join her organization, stated clearly, “But there are no students!” What does this say about the teacher and her organization?)

You may wish to ask the teacher to perform a wee bit on his or her instrument. Some teachers are proud of the fact they never practice: See the notes on Ms. Bradley at a Master Class in Piano Technique, January 2006, JB Piano, San Rafael, This may prevent you from making both a financial and an artistic error.

One should probably avoid organizations with only local branches: their awards, etc., with the exception of monetary awards, have little influence outside of their immediate geographical area. They certainly do not affect college entrance the way being an Eagle Scout can!

CMEA, California Music Educators Association, part of the Music Educators National Congress, is largely active in schools. The Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) is devoted to the highest level of music teacher: one may be certain that if a teacher is certified by MTNA, that teacher knows his/her stuff. Certification by the Music Teachers National Association is NATIONAL Certification: In Caliifornia, at the time of this writing, there are only 6 Nationally Certified Teachers of Voice and 122 Nationally Certified Teachers of Piano, the majority of whom reside in San Francisco and south. The local affiliate is the California Association of Professional Music Teachers (CAPMT) at San Francisco State: members of this organization constantly perform in public. NATS, the National Association of Teachers of Singing, is another outstanding professional organization. (Indeed, Faber and Faber, the composers and authors of what may very well be the best selling beginning piano books of our time, are members and presented a duo-piano recital recently.)

5. What should a parent ask a prospective music teacher at an audition?

Please understand: The prospective student auditions the teacher! Additionally, one should be clear if other teachers are to be interviewed. For myself, I tell the student we will work together for three months and then evaluate the results to see if we might (should) continue.

Here are some of the many questions to ask a prospective teacher—

Do you charge for auditions? If so, how much? What will happen at the audition?

As a reference, The San Francisco Conservatory charges $100 for an audition/evaluation. If a prospective teacher charges for the audition, this ought not dissuade you from going to the audition: teachers, as well as lawyers and doctors, have only time to sell and are entitled to be compensated. However, find out in advance. You might also ask if the teacher takes checks or prefers cash. If you cancel the audition at the last minute, barring a true emergency, you should offer to pay for the teacher’s time. For the next audition, even if the teacher does not ordinarily charge for auditions, one should pay for the service.

At the audition, if a student has previous instrumental or vocal training, the teacher will ask to hear something. It is advisable for prospective students not to go crazy practicing before the audition. Expect the teacher to give the prospective student some sort of mini-lesson: a demonstration of some things the student and teacher will do to help the student achieve success. This will give the student a feel for what will happen at a regular lesson. Should the teacher not do the mini-lesson, ask why; there may be a legitimate reason for not doing so at the time—pending appointments, the new student is nervous, etc. However, this is the reason you tell the teacher you are going to try the program for a few weeks and then make an ultimate decision.

May we watch you teach? May we ask for references?

A superb teacher will always insist prospective students observe the teaching process and style. The teacher should try to arrange for a similar level of student and attempt to provide time at the end of the lesson to discuss what was observed and answer questions. For example, in the instance of vocal students one wants the story to be told: the singing student should not stand like a statue, but move with the music, act with body and arms and face.

What should a prospective student look for at the interview?

While I have experience in coaching many instruments, I am not expert enough on these others to provide sage advice. I refer you to those who can apprise a prospective student on what to look for at an audition. (I do play violin, viola, and orchestral percussion, but would never dream of teaching these instruments!) Therefore, it is important to ask the prospective teacher the following general questions:

What is your major instrument?

With whom and/or where did you study?

Piano Students:

First, observe whether the teacher allows a student to use the arm in an up/down motion rather than using fingers.

Second, try to see if the first finger joint is bent in (concave) towards the keyboard rather than smoothly curved (convex).

These are two gross pedagogical errors, which, if not corrected the instant they occur, haunt a student’s future control.

Third, and extremely important for a beginner of any age, request the teacher do a mini-lesson with some beginner’s music. Did the teacher first tell the student, “That note is C”? This has now created the situation whereby the student will always spell music before playing it! Better pedagogical technique would be to point to the note and then to the keyboard: “This note is this key. Please play it.” AFTER the student has gotten the idea of looking at the note and coordinating it with the keyboard, then one informs a student the note is named C or Do, etc. This is the way experts read; psychologists term this learning by gestalt. (When was the last time you read STOP on one of those red signs at the corner? Perhaps you reacted to the 8 sides and the red color to stop.)

Concomitant with learning to play a tone prior to spelling it, is the habit students acquire of calling a note on the keyboard a “1”, “That’s a 3”, etc. The teacher who knows something about teaching and learning has the student play that very first note with ALL the fingers, switching hands and playing the note with the fingers of the other hand: I, with a very young student, have the kid play the note with his nose! The child immediately internalizes the idea that ANY NOTE MAY BE PLAYED WITH ANY FINGER AND EITHER HAND.

Vocal Students:

First, observe if the lower abdomen moves in and out with the breath, similar to a puppy’s or baby’s when lying down. This is the highly desirable diaphragmatic breathing that is the basis for all vocal support.

Second, listen to the student perform. If the voice sounds tired, if you hear sharp inhalation (hyperventilation), if the mouth is a straight line across as opposed to “fish lips,” chances are the student is getting into bad habits. (Perhaps you saw the 10 y.o. blond girl on TV’s America’s Got Talent? Then you probably noticed that this singer had her lips closed over her teeth [“covered tone”] and you heard her breathe between each phrase [hyperventilation]. Who was responsible for these gross errors in vocal technique?)

Third, do not be surprised if the teacher asks to have the student’s vocal cords examined by an otolaryngologist, an MD who specializes in vocal disorders. Ask the teacher if he might recommend a competent MD who specializes in the singing voice, and not simply general vocal problems.

Do you practice your instrument? Would you mind playing something for us? Do you perform? If so, where? When is your next concert? Are there reviews? (See Christina Bradley, above.)

How many concerts have you attended recently? Do you listen to music?

Do you support performance examinations for students to indicate progress?

The only valid examinations I can recommend from personal experience are those from the Royal College of Music, London, England. Teachers who use these are trained in their use. If one wants this sort of examination program, one must seek certified teachers. These are very thorough and outstanding examinations; and to my knowledge, there are few qualified individuals who prepare students for them in our neighborhood, the counties of Marin, Sonoma, Solano. (But I may be wrong: I do hope so.)

Regrettably, often other examinations lack in several areas although they may very well be cash cows for the organizations sponsoring them. The syllabus of one such organization (Music Teachers Association of California) cites an extremely difficult work by French composer Olivier Messiaen: Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus, which they rate at level 9 or 10. While only three of the twenty parts are cited for adjudication, it is doubtful if many, let alone any, who belong to this organization play, or have experience with, this work.

What is your fee for a lesson?

A teacher has but one commodity to sell: time. Fees are contingent on various factors. Better teachers will charge more for reasons of education, experience, ability, etc. Think of it as buying a California wine: the better the bottle, the higher the price. Chances are, your prospective teacher will mention a number. If it is within your budget, the discussion is finished. Please be aware that fees DO rise with time. (Some teachers will provide data sheets to justify why less expensive is better as a sort of enticement to gain more students.)

NB: Sometimes parents go to a less expensive teacher to see if a child develops an interest in music. This seems an economical thing to do. This is a huge mistake! The DANGER here is that the inexpensive teacher is often inexpert; and, should the child develop an interest in playing, there will be so many corrections of what the student learned incorrectly that the cost of these inexpensive lessons was wasted money. In addition, the student may become discouraged no matter how politic the more expert teacher is. Think in terms of wine: one gets what one pays for.

What is your policy about missed lessons?

Most teachers require missed lessons be made up. If a student misses a lesson without informing the teacher in a timely manner, short of an actual emergency, the student should expect to pay for the lesson. This should be discussed with the prospective teacher before starting lessons. In general, lessons should be made up, whether missed by the student or the teacher: I add 10 or 15 minutes to a regular lesson which works very well and is better than adding large amounts of time. I also, within reason, ask that I be notified 48 hours in advance should a student need to change the lesson time: barring emergencies, of course.

Do you teach theory?

Teaching theory to students MUST be based upon the music they are studying. Many “so-called” theory books have little or no relationship to a student’s musical studies: why study the D-flat minor scale when the student is not playing a work in that key. Additionally, these theory books hold back a student’s sight reading ability by emphasizing the LETTER name of the note rather than the intervallic (DISTANCE) relationships from one note to another so necessary for outstanding sight-reading or sight singing.

A web site such as www.musictheory.com is extremely efficient in teaching students what they need to know. UNLIKE THEORY BOOKS PUT OUT BY SOME ASSOCIATIONS, THIS WEB SITE CORRECTS STUDENTS’ ANSWERS AT ONCE, PROVIDING IMMEDIATE FEEDBACK IN THE EVENT OF ERROR.

Can you demonstrate how a student should practice? How does one memorize music?

We are born without knowing how to practice or how to study. The art of practicing—and studying—is a learned skill. The teacher’s function is to provide incentive through the appropriate learning modality for the student. Practice techniques should be taught at each lesson: “Go home and practice” has no meaning to most students, except inane and mindless repetition. The same goes for memorization: practicing and memorizing occur at different times with different responsibilities. It is the greatest waste of a student’s time for him to first learn his piece and then memorize it. On the contrary, with correct teaching, a student will have the work memorized when he finishes learning its technical difficulties!

And while we are on this subject, parents should refrain from constantly nagging their kid to practice! As mentioned, we are not born knowing how to practice: but we teachers MUST TEACH THE STUDENT HOW TO PRACTICE. If we do not do so, the student will go over and over the work mindlessly. HINT: Ask the teacher, “How much do YOU practice each day?” AND “How long should my child practice?” (Parents should remember that kids have homework, athletics, chess, other activities, social life: if the teacher does not know how to practice, the teacher cannot teach this valuable skill. The mindless repetition of music is equivalent to the idiotic highlighting of a book: the student has found the important stuff but now must spend the same amount of time LEARNING the stuff.)

Do you provide opportunities for your students to perform? What about contests and competitions?

Most teachers will encourage friendly competition and participation in contests for the experience. While it is possible for a career to be launched by the winning of an international competition, most are simply the opportunity to meet others in the same sport and enjoy camaraderie and music. I have made arrangements with an assisted living facility for my students to perform a recital for the residents. I perform, my voice students perform, my piano students perform: it is like performing for all your grandparents! Recently, my 11 y. o. prize winning student sang a half recital, and a seven y. o. pianist will present a complete 50 minute recital including the Mozart C Major Sonata.

6. What should a parent or an adult student be aware of and look for?

Watch out for teachers whose primary interest is your dollars. This is often hard to spot, but here is a hint—the “professional” organization cited in paragraph 3, above—the Music Teachers Association of California–makes its teachers demand four weeks notice should a student or a parent decide to change teachers! Immediately below is the quote from this association’s bylaws and a link to the website where it may be found and verified:

“3. In your studio policy, encourage parents to be open and honest . . . about intentions to transfer to new teachers. Be clear about requiring four weeks notice to terminate lessons.” http://www.mtacmarin.org/code.htm

There is no obvious reason for this practice except to gouge additional dollars from the student! If one decides to change instructors, a decision made solely by student or parent, it is often confusing to a student to receive contradictory instruction. (Nonetheless, it is extremely bad manners for the student changing teachers not to notify his/her present teacher in a courteous and timely manner.)

7. Are there specific teachers whom you know to be inept? Moreover, are there teachers whom you would recommend?

Let us take these questions in reverse order. The wonderful teaching staff at The Magic Flute (Marin County, CA) has my highest recommendation. In addition—and you can look these teachers up on the internet or email me for their telephone numbers–I would mention Jenny Bent for Vocal studies, Elizabeth Gaston for Flute, Debbie Dare for Violin and Viola, her internationally known husband Joe Gold for Violin, Michael Mendelson for Trombone and other low brass instruments, his wife Nina is a superb Violist and can also teach violin.

Concerning those who are inept, I suggest you email me for my views. However, Christina Bradley, former president, Marin Branch, Music Teachers Association of California, during her attendance at my Master Class in Piano Technique, January 2006, when coming to the piano to participate in a demonstration for at least 48 attendees, proudly, even gleefully, announced, “But I haven’t practiced in years!” Sad but true: I have inherited some of her pupils. However, it may be that because she did attend this Master Class, she is now practicing.

Another “teacher-wanna-be,” is Stephen Shen. Although Shen and I have never met officially, the way his students play indicates he lacks insight into all aspects of piano teaching and/or playing. He is possibly the worst teacher in Marin; he is certainly the worst pianist I have ever heard! Originally a voice major, he plays accordion. Perhaps the fact that an accordion has black and white keys on one side of the instrument persuaded him to think he possessed sufficient expertise to teach piano. When one plays a piano, the expressiveness of the music is caused by the combination of pedaling, as well as the finger controlling the descent of the key. You, I, and a brick–not to mentioned Mr. Shen–will make the same exact sound on an accordion, an electric piano or keyboard, and an organ. I suggest he only desired additional income. His students play extremely poorly and have little or no hand or finger strength or coordination. Those who have come to me had extremely bad habits when playing the piano, and much of our lesson time is spent repairing Shen’s inefficient pedagogy. Indeed, I must constantly remind them that their problems are not their fault. Lately, he has informed anyone who will listen, he is going to teach one of his students “a very long piece,” as if the length of the work is a guide to the quality of the learning and the pedagogy. What one may not realize is the piece to which he is refers has MANY repeats of the SAME music. (In my edition, this work, a Chopin waltz, is 9 pages; in Mr. Shen’s edition, perhaps it is expanded to 16 pages: same music, same performance length.) Please, if someone says something like this to you, ask the teacher to show you the piece and explain why there are so many repetitions of the same music. (I recently spoke with a long-time member of the Music Teachers Association of California who stated the following about Stephen Shen: “We all knew that Mr. Shen was an extremely poor teacher, but since we had admitted him to membership in the MTAC, we decided not to remove him from the organization.” Recently a parent told me her children would run and hide whenever Mr. Shen arrived at their house to give the kids their piano lesson!)

Statistically speaking, there should be some outstanding pedagogues in the MTAC. Certainly there are honest teachers in the MTAC: one stated to a student’s parent she could not prepare the student for a conservatory or a contest, but she would give him a love of music. This she certainly did. And for that she deserves high praise. I should state that I teach–at present–three teachers who are members of the Marin Chapter, MTAC: I had to promise not to mention their names.