In today’s episode of PianoTV, I’m doing a Q&A session with my childhood piano teacher.
This is part 1 of a 2-part series – we had plenty to talk about!
ALLY: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Piano TV. I am Allysia, your host, and today I’m doing something that I’ve… Have I done this before? Have I interviewed anyone before?
KRISTINE: I don’t know.
ALLY: I don’t know why I’m asking you.
KRISTINE: You haven’t interviewed me.
ALLY: I’ve never interviewed you before. So we have a very special guest. This is my piano teacher from childhood. Her name is Kristine Beer. And how many years have you been teaching? Like 25?
ALLY: Okay. Well, it was in the bob.
ALLY: So Kristine is… I’ll let her tell you about herself a little bit, but I just want to say that when I was growing up as a kid, what I really liked about Kristine’s style, you can probably already tell, she’s not like the stereotypical cranky old lady piano teacher. She was more like the cool aunt piano teacher, if I could describe you like that. She always had fun hair, very vibrant personality, and she didn’t force me into doing lots of very regimented piano work like the Hanon and classical stuff. We did a lot of pop music and a lot of arranging. So in her classes, we would learn how to do things like create intros and endings for songs, or add different left-hand arrangements and things like that, and I think that was really valuable in developing my ear as a piano player. So I really enjoyed our lessons together.
KRISTINE: I’m so glad! I really enjoy our lessons, too, and I think that part of it, for me, is if I’m not having fun then you probably aren’t either.
ALLY: That’s totally fair. Why be cranky in class because then you’re just going to have a bad day?
ALLY: So, Kristine, the first question I want to ask you is just for you to kind of tell everyone a little bit about yourself. Why are you a piano teacher?
KRISTINE: Oh, boy.
ALLY: And we did kind of touched on this already when we were chatting but…
KRISTINE: A little bit, yeah. Well, I was an ear player so I was like four and I had a xylophone, and my mom says that I was figuring out songs on my xylophone. I was doing Elvis pieces and a bunch…
ALLY: [singing out notes]
KRISTINE: Yeah, right? I was doing Heart & Soul and I was doing a few other things. They said, “Hey, you should go on lessons.” My grandpa had a friend, Mrs. Hood. I don’t even know what her first name was. She was just Mrs. Hood, and I went to her for two years. I’d use the Leila Fletcher books and step-by-step books.
ALLY: Yeah, very old school.
KRISTINE: She tried to teach me to play, sight reading and stuff, and I hated it, and I… I don’t know. I don’t have a whole lot of joyful memories. I remember like it was whatever, I was playing piano. But I don’t remember having a whole lot of fun, right? And then Mrs. Hood said to my mom, “Send her to the Academy of Music. They’ll let her take pop.” She must have known Sharon Dyksman somehow.
ALLY: And that’s where I took piano lessons.
KRISTINE: Yeah. And so she sent me there and I got a teacher who made me go all the way back to the beginning, that struggle all over again. Probably because my sight reading was – because I just wanted to do everything by ear. And then I got this teacher that for a part of the year we would do classical and then part of the year I could do my pop stuff. And I learned how to arrange, I learned how to take chords and change them, and do intros and endings, and whatever. And then when I was 14, Sharon Dyksman, the owner, asked me to teach, if I wanted to train.
ALLY: You were 14? Just for like a summer.
KRISTINE: Well, I don’t think it meant that I was going to be teaching right away. It was going to be like a couple of years long, right? I was working on my Grade 8, get my Grade 8, finish my theory, and then I can have a few students, junior students. And I went home and I was like, “I don’t know anything. I’m an ear player. I don’t even know half of the stuff I’m sight reading. I could have my teacher play for me and then I would just figure it out, and that’s how I would learn most of my stuff.” And that was when I really felt that I needed to learn how to sight read. Because if I’m going to be responsible for showing people how to do stuff, I better make sure that I know what I’m doing. Right?
KRISTINE: You teach as well, so there are some things you kind of do flying by the seat of your pants.
ALLY: Oh, yes. Lots of sight reading.
KRISTINE: Right? But even just that, even just teaching different things. You know, you teach something your normal way and you have a student that goes, “I don’t get it.”
ALLY: That’s true.
KRISTINE: And you’re like, “You don’t get it. Well, umm… Okay, let’s try a different approach.”
KRISTINE: Right? And then we had the techniques program and [0:04:44.8], and he would come and give us all these workshops. And they were invaluable, right? I learned so much.
ALLY: Well, the techniques program, because I learned from these books… They were made in Saskatchewan, right?
KRISTINE: No, in Canada though.
ALLY: Oh, Canada? Okay. It was basically all kinds of pop songs, new and old.
KRISTINE: Mostly old.
ALLY: Yeah, like 60’s, 50’s, 40’s, that kind of stuff. But it would basically be almost like a lead sheet where you’d have the melody written out and then chords, and it was all learning how to arrange based on that.
KRISTINE: Yeah, how to do chord regressions, how to do chord substitutions and then you would have different levels. And so in the first level, you’d go from 1 to 17, to a 4, and then the next level, then you would do substituting the 4 – instead of going F minor or C, you’d go F B flat 9. Right?
ALLY: That is far fancier than what I remember I would do.
KRISTINE: Oh, yeah. But it was so great and we would get these workshops a couple times a year. And sometimes they were interprovincial and we’d have lots of… I mean, teachers get together from three different provinces, everybody bouncing ideas off each other. It was a very, very fortunate time. Like it was so great to be learning from everybody and having everybody else having different ways of doing things, too.
ALLY: Well, it sounds like all of these have kind of created your own hybrid approach. Because when I took lessons with Kristine – and I know you still teach like this – it’s pop and classical, kind of like you said.
KRISTINE: I kind of feel like you got your vegetables and then you’ve got your dessert, right?
ALLY: Okay. So classical music is the vegetables. That’s your musical broccoli.
ALLY: Well, really valuable as a player from a technical level to be able to learn classical music.
KRISTINE: And you know, we could be because that’s how I learned and I just think it’s so great to have different approaches and to see… Because the classical is what came first and then how – you know, what we do today, where all these came from.
ALLY: Yeah, that’s true.
KRISTINE: Right? And then also, like sometimes I have students that we just do pop, do pop, do pop, and then they get to a certain age. They hit 12, 13, going, “I have a friend who was at Grade 4. What grade do I have?”
ALLY: Yeah, I’ve had that, too.
KRISTINE: I was like, “Well, we don’t have a grade. We’re just playing.” He’s like, “Well, can I do a grade?” “Are you interested in classical music?” “Well, maybe?” “Let’s try some.” So then we’d find one that would kind of fit. So then we’d be working on this sonatina and he’s like, “Hey, see this [0:07:20.4] bass [0:07:19.1]” [singing out notes] “That’s what we did in this song. This is where it came from.” He’s like, “Whoa! I know how to do that!” Right? So instead of taking your classical piece and just playing exactly the notes on the page, it’s like, “Well, what if we break this down into chord progressions?” So now you got a C chord and now you got an F chord, and now you got… Here’s your 5 to 1 pattern and now you’ve got…
ALLY: Yes. Well, classical music is especially – like it’s all 1’s, 4’s, and 5’s.
KRISTINE: Mostly, yes.
ALLY: When you break it down.
KRISTINE: Right? So if you can have a jumping up point, “Oh, this is like this and this is like this.”
ALLY: Yeah, and make like a modern comparison.
KRISTINE: Right? And then it’s easier to memorize, too. Because if you’re memorizing a chord pattern…
ALLY: Right, that’s comprehension. Because if you’re going to look at the page, it would be like, “Oh! Okay, Beethoven’s using like an F major chord and a C major chord.” Yeah, it’ll make it stick in your brain.
ALLY: Yeah. So I want you to tell the people who are watching this video if you have any, I don’t know, memorable anecdotes of me as a student.
KRISTINE: Well, you were always a very hard worker. I loved our pieces that we did. And you know, interesting, you were more interested in making in the classical than the pop.
ALLY: Yes, I still am.
KRISTINE: But sometimes we would take the classical and do a pop approach, right? Like when we were learned Barber of Seville and we changed some of the left hand around, right?
KRISTINE: Or doing Yanni, which is contemporary classical, right? Because he’s, you know, like the 158 king.
KRISTINE: And so doing different variations with your 158’s and, you know, it’s not always 158 one, but doing different kinds of things patterned like. And so just doing different kinds of music like that, it was…
ALLY: Yeah. Barber of Seville. And I also learned Marching Season with her, as well. These were pieces that we would learn to a perfection level because they were for a music festival. So would those be like your most memorable pieces that we worked on together? Because I think they are, for me.
KRISTINE: Yeah. Oh, definitely, definitely. And then the other thing that was memorable for me was when you came to lessons with your pink hair. And I thought that was so fabulous and I got pink hair after that.
ALLY: Hair influenced.
KRISTINE: It was awesome. But you always had your own style and you weren’t afraid to be who you were and, you know, that’s… Being in a group, that was such a great thing for everybody else to see.
ALLY: And that’s one thing I never mentioned is I grew up taking group piano lessons instead of just private. So that was an interesting experience, too.
KRISTINE: Well, I have so many parents that say, “So when do you think we could go into private lessons?” I would say, “Why would you want to?”
KRISTINE: Like, yes, there are the hard-core teachers that, you know, private, private, private, and yes, there are many, many valuable things that you can learn in private.
ALLY: Yeah, pros and cons.
KRISTINE: Absolutely. And I do have some students who work best in the private. We’ve tried them in group and really, they just thrive in a private situation. However, for the most students, there’s just so many things that you can do in a group that you can’t do in a private. Like learning how to perform with others, learning how to…
ALLY: In front of others.
KRISTINE: In front of others, right? Because every time you play your… When we’re getting ready for a festival and you have to play them your piece, you’re performing.
KRISTINE: Right? And I’ve done senior students working on their Grade 8 and everybody plays their song for each other every week. And then sometimes you’ll hear some would go, “Oh, your Elise sounds way better than mine” and it will inspire the other kids to go home and practice.
ALLY: Well, some of my best memories of music lessons are of working on my CM Grade 8 with like, what, three or four other people? And that’s like accountability right there because other people are hearing you not improve if you don’t practice.
KRISTINE: Absolutely. And that was at an age when that was really important to you, right?
ALLY: Yeah, when you’re a teenager, for sure.
KRISTINE: Yeah. So there’s so many advantages and I teach my own son in a group, you know. I just think it’s a great thing. And even just learning how to play while there’s distractions, while there’s other things going on. Plus, we could learn – we could do ensemble work.
ALLY: Yeah, like do X and three O’s and all kinds of stuff like that.
ALLY: Yeah, very good for the ear.
KRISTINE: Oh, yeah.
ALLY: Now I should teach groups.
KRISTINE: I really love it.
ALLY: I should
KRISTINE: I really, really love it.
ALLY: So I get a lot of questions from piano teachers or aspiring piano teachers. Do you have any advice for, say, like a young person who wants to be a piano teacher?
KRISTINE: Yeah. So something you have to remember is if a student doesn’t understand, that’s on you. It’s a big burden. It is a big responsibility, but everybody learns differently. So you have to be able to adapt, to be able to not always feel like this is how I teach this so this is the only way I teach it. Everybody has to learn differently.
ALLY: So if little Timmy who’s 8-years-old and doesn’t learn how to read notes properly when you’re teaching him, it’s not his fault. It’s yours.
KRISTINE: I have a little Timmy who is 10-years-old and if you heard little Timmy play, your jaw would drop. And he has no desire to read notes right now.
ALLY: Yeah, that’ll come.
KRISTINE: And so I’m not making him. So there was an adjudicator that I had who adjudicated me when I was doing my techniques pop exams, and we had like a teacher thing that you could do. He didn’t read music. I was like, “You’re an examiner and you don’t know how to read music?!”
ALLY: That is very bizarre.
KRISTINE: And he looked at me and he said, “Music is a listening art.” I sat there for a minute and I thought, “You have a point.” He said, “When you go to a concert, are you watching them, you know, read their music? You’re listening to it.” You’re being engaged and that’s the whole point, and that you don’t need to be able to read music to do that. Now being an accompanist, to me, reading music is a very valuable skill. I could not do this, have this as a job, as another job, if I didn’t know how to read music. So I just explain, keep explaining to my little Timmy that, “Hey, if you want to do this as a living, you may want to learn how to do this.” So for the end of the year, I got my senior students, I bought them all a music book. And so I said, “So I’m going to buy you a book. Let’s go find a book of songs you like. Do you think you’ll read this?” He said, “Yeah, I think I might.”
KRISTINE: So now we start something worth reading.
ALLY: Something that he cares about.
KRISTINE: Right? Like I showed him how to follow, like it has a tab and it has a…
ALLY: Yeah, like a PVC.
KRISTINE: Right. I showed him how to find the melody line and how to follow that, and here’s your chords because he knows how to do lots of chords and lots of left hand stuff. And he played – we have a rock band program at Long & McQuade, and he plays in the band. So he knows how to play jump and he knows how to play a plethora of songs, and rock songs, and his dad is a musician in town, and it’s so…
ALLY: So he could be like a session musician.
KRISTINE: Absolutely. And they actually basked together at the Children’s Art Festival this year.
ALLY: Oh, cute!
KRISTINE: So does he read music? Not right now. But then he could if he wanted to, and you know, I figured, you know what, I’ll just keep engaging him in what he’s doing and then he’ll learn it when he’s ready.
ALLY: You know, I think you just like dropped a big jam of wisdom right there. Like music is a listening art.
KRISTINE: It is.
ALLY: And I forget about that. It’s such an obvious fact that…
KRISTINE: Right? So just because – and he used to be in a group and he would come to class, and he couldn’t play what everybody else played because they were playing out of the book, and he wasn’t interested in playing in the book. So he would come to class and he’d feel terrible. And so how is hat going to inspire him to play?
ALLY: Exactly, exactly.
KRISTINE: So if you want to be a teacher, you have to do what’s right for your student. And so for my student, what was right was taking him out of the group. And was right for him was to teach in a style and try and engage him that is going to inspire him.
ALLY: Yeah, so like an individualized approach.
ALLY: Instead of a one size fits all kind of thing.
KRISTINE: Absolutely. And that’s the biggest thing, right? Everybody is different and has a different style. I had a student with Down syndrome. I taught him completely different than I taught my other students. An adult student, my three and four-year-olds, right? Everybody learns different. You have students that just want to learn classical, students who just want to learn pops, students who – right? So you give everybody what they need and then you have to learn how to adapt.
ALLY: So we’ve been having a lot of fun talking and having wonderful conversations about piano and teaching, and stuff like that. We have many more conversations to share with you in the next video. We’re going to cut this off before it gets way too long. But thank you so much for watching. Give it a thumbs up if you enjoyed it, subscribe, if you haven’t already. Thank you for joining me, Kristine.
KRISTINE: Thanks for having me.
ALLY: Catch you next time.