600 W. 169th St., Apt. 2, New York NY, 10032
Instruments:Piano, Theory

Styles:Classical, Jazz
Levels:Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced
Experience:15 years
Rate:$50 / hr

Personal Statement

I have been teaching piano for over 15 years. My students are both young people and adults, beginners and advanced. I work with students in developing long term goals to structure our lesson time. Thus each student’s work with me varies depending on their goals and interests. I have an extensive background in classical and jazz piano and am able to work with students toward a wide variety of goals. I will often incorporate a good deal of theory and ear training into lessons.

My teaching is informed first and foremost by my 11 years of study with Robert Durso, a leading practitioner in the Taubman Approach to Coordinate Technique. I came to the Taubman Approach after developing a rather crippling case of tendonitis upon graduating from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. The Taubman work, named after Dorothy Taubman, develops a science of body movement that allows pianists to play virtuosically without pain. After yeas of retraining with Robert Durso I found that not only could I play without pain, but that I had achieved a level of technical fluency that far surpassed my former abilities, opening up vast new aspects of the piano to me.

This influences my teaching in many ways. I am able to help students avoid all sorts of technical common pitfalls that can cripple a technique and make playing a lot harder than it should be. Students learn to sit at the correct bench height, to avoid sinking wrists, twisting and curling. I incorporate the Taubman work into my teaching to different degrees depending on the needs, attention span, and interests of my students. Even without a detailed retraining of a student, many basic Taubman concepts can be applied to make passages easier to play and increase a student’s coordination.

The Taubman work also influences how I teach practicing. Practicing is an art to itself, often not addressed by teachers. Often we are told “go home and practice this”. But what does it mean to practice? I give students very detailed instructions on how to practice. I find this makes practicing less stressful and nebulous and, in the long run, helps students become more self-reliant practicers.

Though often associated with classical music, the Taubman Approach has influenced my jazz playing and teaching tremendously. In addition to helping jazz pianists avoid twisting, curling and other pitfalls that stymy their playing, the Taubman work has greatly influenced my approach to teaching improvisation by revealing how much of our physical intelligence is bound-up in the improvisatory process.

I have also worked with injured pianists in retraining their technique. Becoming a licensed Taubman teacher is a long process which I have not completed (I am currently enrolled in the teacher-training program with the Golandsky Institute). However, under the supervision of Robert Durso, I have worked through the retraining process with injured pianists. I find this fascinating work and am very interested in continuing it.

Education / Training

It is quite common for pianists to experience injury. Sometimes these are passing discomforts that come and go. Such discomfort is not accidental or random. It results from improper playing. When these dis-coordinate motions are repeated over and over again, say in a conservatory practice room, they result in more severe injury, injuries that can cripple the hands and arms and stop one from playing. The following is my short story of injury and recovery.

I graduated from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music with a degree in Jazz Piano Performance and a serious case of tendonitis. I had talked to many of my teachers, both classical and jazz, about my injury but nobody had been able to help me. One teacher suggested I practice while wearing rubber gloves to strengthen my hands. A doctor gave me Ibuprofin and had me submerge my arms in buckets of ice twice a day. A chiropractor gave me arm braces to wear while I slept and gave me hand strengthening exercises. An athletic trainer showed me some stretches. An accu-puncturist darted 40 needles in my arm and gave me a little bottle of pills to take. None of these things helped. A month after graduating the only way I could play was to rub Icy-Hot over my entire arms and neck prior to playing which permitted me to play for half an hour or so. By the end of the summer I had to stop playing altogether. I could barley drive a car, open a door or lift a pencil without pain.

Sadly, this description of failed attempts to overcome a playing injury will sound familiar to many musicians. Chronic pain is an unfortunate fact of life for many players, especially conservatory students who often force themselves to play for 5-6 hours a day despite their pain. But unlike weight-lifting or running where “feeling the burn” means that you are getting stronger, playing through the pain always makes the playing injury worse, makes your playing worse, and can permanently end one’s playing career.

I have met musicians who had to give up playing music because of their injuries. Some even underwent tendon surgery which limited the movement of their fingers. I was quite fortunate that my downward spiral into injury was halted by my discovery of the Taubman Approach to Coordinate Technique.

By total luck new friends referred me to Bob Durso, a leading Taubman teacher in Philadelphia. My first lesson with Bob was a real eye-opener. He told me something that none of my teachers, doctors, therapists or chiropractors were willing to tell me: that it was my playing that was the problem and that until I addressed this no amount of pills, exercises, stretches or braces were going to help me. In fact, many of the exercises and stretches I had been doing were actually making the problem worse.

So began my long journey through the world of the Taubman Approach, a detailed body of knowledge about the motions underlying a coordinate, virtuoso piano technique. The approach is named after its originator Dorothy Taubman who began her study of coordinate piano technique with a radical question: Why is it that some very musical, intelligent and dedicated pianists can’t play without pain while others can play quite virtuosically without pain? It was apparent to her that, contrary to common misconception, finger strength had nothing to do with it (there are small children who play virtuosically and 23 year-old conservatory students who do finger exercises everyday until they can’t play the piano at all so obviously the myriad technical approaches that emphasize finger strength must be wrong.) It was also not a question of ‘dedication’ or ‘talent.’ Rather, there were specific complexes of motions that virtuosic players used. Dorothy Taubman discovered that these motions could be systematically understood and taught to others.

Often in my conservatory training I had run against mystical explanations for why some people could play virtuosically and I couldn’t. It seemed like some people were just talented and I wasn’t and there was nothing I could do about it. What I found empowering about the Taubman work was that all of the mysticism was taken out of the question of virtuosity. Through my studies with Bob Durso I became aware that in the Taubman Approach there was a real science of motion. With a proper understanding of the relation of all the different motions within a healthy technique any passage of music, no matter how difficult, can be analyzed, practiced and mastered. There is no mystery. There is no beating one’s head against a wall bemoaning the fates that one was not born talented enough. There is just the careful application of Taubman principles to the choreography of a passage.

My path to recovery was slow at first. I spent the first 6 months learning to play a C Major scale correctly with all the proper motions in the proper proportions. You would think that, after 5 years of training at Oberlin, playing a C Major scale would be no problem. But this was not just about playing the notes. It was about the choreography of motions that go into playing a scale: single and double forearm rotations, in and out forearm movement, shaping, timing of finger movement to forearm rotation, etc. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. I was relearning to play the piano from scratch, starting over again after all that work I’d done in school.


Brendan Cooney playing some jazz standards

Brendan Cooney