About: Sarah's Piano Experience

When I was small, there was this McDonald’s commercial with a little girl in a red velvet dress playing Fur Elise at a piano recital. For reasons that likely involved food and clothing as much as anything else lol, I wanted to be that kid and started asking for piano lessons.

But when I actually started my lessons, the experience wasn’t at all what I’d expected. I asked early on if I could learn Fur Elise and my teacher had me stretch my 6 yr old hands across the keys to measure them. She told me that until they reached an octave easily, we wouldn’t be playing Fur Elise. (note: I still have small hands and wasn’t able to comfortably reach an octave until a teacher guided me gently into extended hand positions)

Instead she guided me through a method book that I liked well enough and chose piece after piece for me, none of which I was particularly interested in. Playing with metronome was a requirement throughout, and when I struggled with that, she held it close to my ear while I played.

- which was the opposite of helpful.

I managed to get out of piano lessons with that teacher by around age 9, but my parents were determined that my brother and I have a good music education and that included piano. So there were more piano teachers, and even though I have a remarkable memory for people, I don’t remember anything about those teachers.

I picked up more instruments during that time: cello for a year, recorder during that one year at school when we all played recorder, clarinet first in concert band then also in marching band, guitar… and I found that I loved each one. Every instrument gives a different glimpse into music, and the journey from beginner to intermediate, etc is so very worth it.

Then came college. I’d been taking voice lessons for years at this point, sang in my varsity and show choirs at school and was excited to pursue a BFA in Musical Theater. I met with the counselor to talk through my courses and found out I would need:


For Musical Theater?!

But my college piano professors were a turning point. One of my professors had five fingers total and you better believe she didn’t care about the size of my fingers! She showed me at the first lesson how to leap from key to key to play through any extended hand position. Doors were opening.

At University, I got to be the Assistant Musical Director for a Sondheim show and that ended up including a fair amount of Vocal Coaching. …which meant I needed to play a fair amount of piano.

After graduation, still determined to be a musical theater actress, I started doing shows professionally in Austin. The Musical Director of the company I was working with, Broadway Texas, asked if he could send a couple of voice students my way. When I told him I didn’t teach he replied with a smile, “you should.”

Voice lessons require the teacher to play a good bit of piano ...so deeper I went.

I moved to Portland in 2006, got a part time job teaching preschool at Childswork Learning Center, and started getting a real education about what it meant to teach. I loved it. I taught 3-5 year olds for three years at that school in Portland and during that time I’m pretty sure I learned more than I did in college. I did a music class with them each day and that was easily my favorite part of it all. So as I looked at next steps, a colleague recommended teaching piano to small children.

He met with me, gave me advice, and I incredulously jumped in. That was 2010.

By 2011, I had a full studio and had never been happier in any job.

These days, I have a deep, hard-earned love for piano.  The piano is sturdy and strong and holds all of your feelings no matter how big they may be. It vibrates as you play and if you push the pedals, your whole body vibrates with it. You can make an astonishing number of sounds with it’s 88 keys and the work you put into getting the sound you want becomes part of the joy of finding that sound. It has roots with Western Europeans but has been played at least as much by BIPOC folks from all over the world. It’s the heart of some of our coolest musical genres, like Ragtime. And it allows you to stretch and strengthen your whole body while you play.

So much of my love for piano comes from getting to watch kids and adults develop the skills and find the sounds they’ve been seeking. And I especially love to teach folks whose first piano experiences were nothing like what they thought they’d be.

image from an old 1980's McDonald's commercial with a little girl playing the piano at a piano recital wearing a red dress with a big red bow in her hair

About: Sarah's Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is rooted in my extensive experience in both early childhood education and musical performance. I value skills like teamwork, communication, and problem-solving. I believe in the importance of honoring and developing a player's individual music and style preferences as well as exposing them to music from all over the world.

The overall intent of my teaching is to guide students toward music as a means of expression, to teach students fundamental learning strategies and to give students a solid foundation in piano and music theory.

I find that when we keep things fun and expressive and equip people with effective strategies, students have the momentum and skills to learn everything they want to know. 

I use Nancy and Randall Faber's Piano Adventures series with most of my students. These books have been a great fit for my teaching priorities. The pieces selected for each level represent a variety of musical genres from all over the world and allow students to select additional pieces from genres that interest them most. After a relatively short time, students are often able to teach themselves new pieces, which gives them an increasing sense of empowerment.

The books also offer consistent opportunities for composition, improvisation and ear-training, three skills which lay a terrific foundation for composition by developing the player's creativity and voice. The Faber series is also a favorite of mine because it entices students to practice with it's multitude of styles and song choices. 

We'll also toss those books aside from time to time to dive in to whatever music the student is most excited about and learn it in whatever way feels best to them.

Projects outside the Faber books may include sheet music, YouTube tutorials and/or rote teaching.  

As a reflection of my philosophy, my lessons are more student-directed than many other teachers. I find this to be a very important component in teaching young students in particular, but it is definitely not the traditional, classical approach. 

teacher Sarah Collins smiling and playing piano with a teenage student who is also smiling with two kids behind us, both laughing while playing small percussion instruments

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