The Creative Piano Teacher

Sam Holland
Sam Holland


Something amazing happened last week at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Thanks to the visionary planning of Dr. Samuel Holland, director of the division of music and Leila Viss (author of The iPad Piano Studio), forty-eight private piano teachers signed up for a multi-day workshop to learn to teach creativity both on and off the printed page at the Institute for Piano Teachers .


Leila Viss, Bradley Sowash, Forrest Kinney
Leila Viss, Bradley Sowash, Forrest Kinney

What exactly did we do?
In a variety of settings including lectures, hands-on piano labs and simulated private lessons, my esteemed colleague, Forrest Kinney (author of the Pattern Play series) and I explained and demonstrated topics such as Understanding Chord Symbols, The Four Arts of Music, Going Further with Lead Sheets, Creative Group Teaching and many more. In addition, Leila Viss presented several tech-savvy sessions such as Apps to Spark Creativity and Kristin Yost demonstrated how playing and arranging pop tunes by ear ignites student interest levels.  Along the way, we squeezed in a solo piano concert (thank you teachers for two standing ovations), an evening of stories of the masters with Forrest, a drum circle, and a jam session.


Drumming for Teachers session
Drumming for Teachers session

Believe me, this event was jam-packed.  Teachers went home, with tons of new ideas spinning in their heads and the presenters were happy but totally spent.  I, for one, all but lost my voice and promptly fell asleep at the first unscheduled opportunity, which turned out to be at the airport gate – I’m grateful to the squirmy four-year old who accidentally bumped into me thereby waking me in time to board the plane.


Leila leads Wendy Steven’s cup games.

Creative piano pedagogy is here to stay.
What does it mean for the future of piano teaching when the top music school in the country embraces creative pedagogy at a prestigious conference? I think it sends a signal to piano educators everywhere that the cycle of read-only teachers teaching read-only students who go on to become read-only teachers is finally unraveling. The future of piano pedagogy is already here as more and more teachers adapt a comprehensive philosophy that balances interpreting music written by others with music that is creatively embellished, improvised and composed by students.


If you were there, share your thoughts about the institute below. Or even if you weren’t, what are your thoughts on creative piano pedagogy?

Until next time, enjoy your creative music-making journey,

autographsmallBradley Sowash


IMG_4849Even if you missed SMU-IPT, there’s still time to enrich your creative teaching skills this summer. Join Leila Viss and myself at 88 Creative Keys in Denver July, 31 – August 2, 2014, 9:00 – 2:00 for 3 five-hour days of immersive hands-on instruction with a keyboard at your fingertips plus lunch.

10 thoughts on “The Creative Piano Teacher

  1. Thanks for a terrific re-cap of the event Bradley. Sleep is good but catching your plane is even better! 🙂 Thank you for ALL you did to make SMU-IPT 2014 unforgettable.

  2. Bradley: You, Leila and Forrest did such an amazing job. I knew there was something missing from my approach, but I didn’t know how to fix it. Now I do. I, my studio, and most importantly, my students, will never be the same. Thank you so much. I feel absolutely privileged to have been at this event. Other teachers: Nobody is more “page dependent” than I am, but thanks to the inherent elasticity of pianist brains, I know that from what I learned at the IPT, I can develop enough off-the-page skill to launch my students into becoming more balanced, more free, musicians.

  3. Well stated, Bradley! The Institute was a major game changer for me. I will be teaching differently. Already other teachers have asked me to share about what I learned at our Independent Music Teachers Forum in September. Yesterday, to the delight of my students we began Scaling our Chords 😉

    Thank you, Bradley, Leila, Forrest, Sam, Richard, Kristen, Carol (Penders Music) and all my fellow Institute teachers. I attended, I was engaged, I learned, I grew, I was enriched and my creative juices were revived!

  4. What a wonderful 4 days! I was reminded of many things I already do and teach, but challenged to take them to the next level. It was great to have the ‘mixed’ approach of off-the-page playing presented by Bradley and Forrest. The reminders from Kristin Yost on how to arrange a pop tune for students, and the use of iPad and apps in teaching from Leila added to the fun.

    It was great making new like-minded musician friends, and seeing ‘old’ ones too. My favorite part was Friday during the drum circle and the jam session – would be great to have more ‘hands on’ time. Communication by musical means is magical and SO POWERFUL. Hopefully I’ll be able to inspire my students – and my musical colleagues – to experience it.

  5. Thank you so much for an informative and inspiring week! I feel like those present were witnessing a paradigm shift that can have huge ramifications to not only ourselves, but our students as well. I also appreciate the practical nuts and bolts activities. These are really helping in my practicing. Thanks again for coming and presenting to us.

  6. What a joy and a privilege to have been in the company of such talented and inspiring musician leaders. Thank you Leila, Bradley and Forrest for sharing your music and philosophy with us. Even though I missed the first day, the remaining days were “jam” packed with inspiration to take every day forward into my own music and into my the lives of my students.

  7. Thank you, Bradley, for an amazing and inspirational experience! I learned so much, and am challenged by what I still have to learn. Getting off the page will really be difficult for me, but you gave such practical ways to develop those skills that hopefully even I can improve! I can’t wait to use what I learned with my students – what a difference it will make. And your concert on Tuesday night was truly a highlight. Many, many thanks for what you are offering to the world of piano teaching that has the potential to have such an impact on so many.

  8. SMU-IPT was so amazing. I have done some improvising since I was in Junior High but never knew what to call it as it didn’t really fit into a neat little package like all my other training (voice and piano). So, I kept it to myself and never really explored it further. I am SO excited to expand on this part of my music making! Bradley, you say it best in your article above, “the cycle of read-only teachers teaching read-only students who go on to become read-only teachers is finally unraveling”! So incredibly excited to be a part of this shift. Thank you Bradley for your work:-)

  9. Unfortunately I was not at this conference. But, I can feel the electricity and life changing excitement through the recap and comments. Amazing what happens as we open ourselves to learning and sharing ideas with each other. I am inspired and encouraged! Thank you 😉

  10. This was an incredible week! I learned so much from each of the presenters and sessions and have already started implementing them in my studio. Leila, your ideas provided some extra kick for my summer rhythm camp. Bradley, you have inspired me to actually take the plunge on furthering my personal improvisation, making me more confident to lead my students in creativity. Forrest, besides leading me to the next step in teaching improvisation, you have freed me to view music without the constraints of perfectionism.

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