Piano Curriculum for Undergraduate

Traditional Conservatory Model

In the traditional conservatory model, the piano curriculum consists of the usual components of theory, history, ensemble, solo instruction, and non-music courses. Piano instruction moved to the center of the conservatory curriculum during the second half of the 19th century. Felix Mendelssohn, the first director of the conservatory, established a three-year curriculum that focused on theoretical and practical skills. All students developed knowledge of music history and theory as well basic keyboard and singing skills. Mendelssohn also created a group lesson system in which three to six students of comparable skill took lessons together. This allowed students to learn from their colleagues, and allowed instructors to earn a higher hourly fee while still keeping tuition costs low. This system of teaching piano and other instruments lasted until around the beginning of the twentieth century, when American schools began to favor private lessons (Parakilas, 2001, p. 125). Although the goal Mendelssohn had when creating the Conservatory curriculum was to instill a well-rounded education for students, conservatories came under criticism in the late nineteenth century for being known as virtuoso factories, and for being rigid and overly conservative (Fay, 1965, p. 264-266). Anecdotes of Franz Liszt’s classes in Weimar show that he was a strong opponent of the piano teaching in conservatories, and he often used the word ‘conservatory’ as synonymous with anything he considered unimaginative (Jerger, ed., 1996, p.22). The increasing globalization of musical life since 1945 has affected conservatories, performance styles, teaching staff, and the student body. In the postwar period, study overseas became more common, particularly at the postgraduate level. This exposed musicians to different national styles of performance and composition. The international musical community continues to reflect the impact of changing social patterns (Weber et al., 2013).

 Piano Curriculum at Middleton Conservatory

The main difference between the Middleton piano curriculum and a more traditional model is that about 25% of the coursework is sourced from a reputable liberal arts college. Theory, aural skills, music history and piano lessons are taken concurrently for four semesters, and students have a jury at the end of each year, as well as a junior and senior recital to complete (see Table 2). Piano performance majors also take a semester of Piano Literature. Many who would like to teach during their studies take a Piano Pedagogy course, as it is prerequisite for teaching beginning and intermediate students on-campus. In addition, a keyboard skills course is required, in which students learn how to read orchestral scores and figured bass realizations.

Middleton Conservatory: Issues with Curricular Change

The last change to the piano program was about twenty years ago – the requirement of four semesters of accompanying/collaboration, in addition to the chamber music electives. One of the reasons that there has been no change since then, a faculty member speculated, is because changing the curriculum is not often a priority within the administration, especially since their present formula is working for the most part. Middleton is currently working on developing a more practical approach to the theory curriculum. They are hoping to put more emphasis on listening and applying listening skills to various tasks, rather than just on formal analysis. According to some students, it is this rigorous training in theory and history that helps them with musicianship confidence.