EXPLORING DIFFERENCES IN PIANO TEACHING
BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND CHINA
Ningbo University, China
Ningbo University, China
Citation: Liu, Xueli. 2021. "Exploring Differences In Piano Teaching Between The United States and China." Accelerando: Belgrade Journal of Music and Dance 6:4
Acknowledgments: This paper was the part of Doctoral Treatise at the University of Missouri Kansas City. The treatise was defended on September 9th, 2018. The author expresses her gratitude to the professors and supervisory committee Robert Weirich (professor directing treatise), Chen Yi (Committee Chair), and Zhou Long (Committee Member).
The purpose of this paper is to explore differences in piano teaching between the United States and China. This paper examines the differences through both broad and narrow perspectives. It first examines the history of the development of general music education in the United States and China respectively, providing a background to the differences in piano education. Then it discusses the dissimilarities in piano study from three outlooks: the parental influence, the students’ motivation, and how the study of music can improve one’s overall capacities. Additionally, I will compare the prevalent piano teaching theories of both countries, including teaching styles, materials, and syllabi. From the narrow side, I will contrast specific pedagogical diversities in private piano teaching between the USA and China. Finally, class piano and studio-class are examined to demonstrate the distinction between methods in the USA and China. I have analyzed the inconsistencies in piano teaching between these two countries. I hope that piano educators can efficiently identify the best teaching strategies by recognizing the essential ones and improving the inferior ones.
Keywords: music education, differences, USA and China, western music pedagogical approaches
Historical Summary of the Development of Music Education
a. In the United States
Musical education in the United States has a long history. Back in the 18th century, music training had already started to develop and flourish in the United States. It first appeared in church, teaching basic information about reading music and singing. Later music became a curricular subject in schools. Music training improved quickly and by the 20th century throughout the country, many public schools had music programs. Also, music education expanded to many levels, such as for preschool, elementary school, and high school. In higher education, Oberlin Conservatory, became the first college to offer the four-year Bachelor of Music Education degree in the United States. (Stanford 2018)
Furthermore, training in music became an increasingly significant component of human culture. Music education gradually became an equivalent field of study to such academic majors as economics and physics. It was not uncommon for students of all ages to pursue music study. Children learned singing or to play instruments by joining diverse types of ensemble activities from primary to secondary education, such as choir, school orchestra, and marching band. Moreover, music classes were offered as general music education for appreciating music. Students might have some opportunities to perform in music classes or activities. Hence, music is often important while they study in school.
Professional music education at advanced levels led to bachelor, master, and doctoral degrees. The Bachelor of Music degree emphasizes performance as a major on a specific instrument or singing; the Bachelor of Music Education emphasizes teaching music. Professional music curricula generally include courses in theory, history, literature, pedagogy, and so on. Students get academic credits for completing these classes. They focus not only on learning to identify the different musical styles, but also on music teaching methods. Piano education was historically popular and vital, because the piano played a fundamental role in understanding music theory, and because the piano could substitute for the full orchestra. The keyboard skills class is required for all non-piano major students in their first year at most universities.
Furthermore, physical facilities in American schools are more advanced than in many other countries. Take piano as an example. American schools mostly offer grand pianos for piano major students to use for individual practice. In China, grand pianos usually are offered only in teachers’ studios due to the shortage of resources and spaces.
In addition, many schools provide only Steinway pianos in the practice rooms for students in America. Almost every classroom has a piano and a computer with a projector and screen.
b. In China
Music education in other countries tends to become more common when their economics improve. This is true of South Korea, Japan, and China. However, the musical education in these countries is very different due to diverse politics and cultural backgrounds. China is an excellent example to fit this argument.
The development of education in China is complex. With over 1.3 billion people, the government faces a primary problem providing both food and education. As a consequence, improving agriculture and education are the most important tasks in China. In the educational area, the nine-year compulsory education system (from elementary school to junior high school) was approved by the Chinese government in the 1950s. (Su 2002, 36-38) Due to the large population, competitive awareness existed everywhere.
Thus, the curricula were very specific and intense to keep students’ academic pressure even in elementary school. Courses consisted of Chinese, mathematics, nature, history, geography, music, drawing, and physical education. Also, those courses will combine with practical activities, such as exercises for body and eyes relaxation, flag-raising ceremony, and marching band. The Chinese education was famous for its rigor, so the study burden was significant for students. There was a large amount of homework for two to four hours every day. At the end of a semester, non-academic classes, like music, drawing, and physical education, were usually usurped by academic review sessions. Music class had a lower position than academic classes at that time.
However, the Chinese government reduced the study burden in the 1990s, specifically for primary and secondary school students. It was thought important to provide reasonable time for students to strengthen various life experiences after school. As a result, literature and the arts have experienced a great increase since then.
c. The Introduction of Western Music to China
The introduction of Western music changed Chinese musical history. Before Western music was introduced to China, its musical world was completely different. The development of Chinese traditional music had an extremely long history and occupied a prominent cultural position. It focused on traditional instruments like the Erhu and Pipa, dances, folk songs, and Chinese operas until the early 19th century.
Although Western music formally arrived in China in 1601, when the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci presented a clavichord to the emperor of Ming dynasty, (Melvin 2018) it did not become familiar until the end of Cultural Revolution in 1976 (Bonadio 2018). In 1979, the famous violinist Isaac Stern was the first American musician to visit China and collaborate with a Chinese symphony orchestra. (Stern 1999, 255-256)
This historical musical collaboration opened a new vista in China. Conservatories in China were founded and expanded rapidly. At present, there are nine main conservatories, along the order of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and Sichuan Conservatory of Music. The Shanghai Conservatory of Music was the first music school to teach Western techniques. (Bonadio op.cit.)
In some ways, Western music overtook Chinese traditional music, as can be seen in the ratio of curricula in the educational system at music schools in China. Roughly, almost eighty percent of the curriculum is about Western music, which includes harmony, theory, counterpoint, orchestration, Western musical form, and music history. None of these subjects, however, existed in the traditional Chinese musical system. Composers began to write music that apply Western techniques, such as counterpoint to Chinese melodies. Representative works include the Yellow River Piano Concerto, based on the Yellow River Cantata by composer Xian Xinghai. (Ibid.). Composers like Chen Yi, Zhou Long, and Tan Dun are internationally famous.
Moreover, many people started to learn Western instruments such as piano, violin, cello, and flute, and some traveled and began to absorb influence abroad. The piano became the most popular instrument among other Western instruments. Not only are children interested in piano lessons, but keyboard-skills classes were started in the university in China recently. The famous Chinese pianists include Lang Lang and Yuja Wang.
Historically, Western music was studied earlier in the USA than in China since it was settled by European. However, the study of Western music in China has greatly expanded in the last half century. The ability to read music is now more widespread than in the past. In both America and China people attend concerts like in European countries. Many new concert halls are located in major cities, providing more opportunities to appreciate music. Two beautiful new halls are the Shanghai Opera House and the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing.