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David Cutter

Episode 018

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Finding Self Expression

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About David Cutter

David Cutter comes from a lineage of great teachers and brings the artistry of playing the piano to his students. After years of formal instruction, performance experience, and hard work, he has learned many of the secrets to playing the piano, and he shares this rich oral tradition with his students.

Over the last seven years, David has gone back to studying classical music, working from the Well Prepared Pianist Curriculum. For almost three years, he studied privately with Well Prepared Pianist author, composer, and Steinway Artist, N. Jane Tan.

After concluding their study with Professor Tan, David has been practicing to assimilate and perfect the techniques learned. Performing, teaching, and directing multi-piano ensembles, David is dedicated to preserving the knowledge of how to play the piano and the oral tradition that’s come down from many teachers to the present.

David’s twenty years of classroom teaching gives him the experience to know how to listen to a student, how to assess what is needed and how to quickly respond to the learning opportunity.

He has also written educational courses during his career, most recently, a piano appreciation course for the Pasadena Senior Center.

In his private piano teaching practice, David uses his creative problem-solving skills to motivate students, particularly when they hit roadblocks. He is open and flexible about how to work with each person, always starting with where the student is at. That way, he discovers what works for a particular student and customizes lessons accordingly. David teaches out of his studio in Pasadena and is a member of the Pasadena Branch of the Music Teachers Association of California.

 

Website: davidcutterpiano.com
Phone: (626) 260-1615
Email: mrdavid@davidcutterpiano.com

 

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David Cutter Quotes

  • “When I was 18, I came back to music but refused to take lessons, so I learned it by ear.”
  • “Music is a universal language. Everyone relates to music. How fluent you are in that language is where the training comes in.”
  • “In total, I have 9 pianos, plus a mobile piano on a cart that I drive around town with. I pull it with a bicycle and play it in public.”
  • “I want to be able to create a lifetime of enjoyment for them.”
  • David Cutter comes from a lineage of great teachers and brings the artistry of playing the piano to his students.
  • Over the last seven years, David has gone back to studying classical music, working from the Well Prepared Pianist Curriculum. For almost three years, he studied privately with Well Prepared Pianist author, composer, and Steinway Artist N. Jane Tan.
  • David has been practicing to assimilate and perfect the techniques he has learned. Performing, teaching, and directing multi-piano ensembles, David is dedicated to preserving the knowledge of how to play the piano and the oral tradition that’s come down from many teachers to the present.

ARE YOU FROM PASADENA?

Not originally, I’m a transplant from San Luis Bispo, but I have been here for 25 years. It’s really beautiful in Morro Bay, and people often ask me why I’ve left.

WHY DID YOU LEAVE MORRO BAY?

I went to Cal Poly, and when I graduated, there weren’t any jobs unless you wanted to work in retail or start a business.

ARE YOU A FULL-TIME PIANO TEACHER?

I am a full-time piano teacher, as well as a performer. But it’s funny because I didn’t want to play the piano. I lasted about six months with my teacher.

When I was 18, I came back to music but refused to take lessons, so I learned it by ear.

WHAT TURNED YOU OFF FROM MUSIC?

I was young and stubborn and didn’t want to do it.

WHAT CAUSED YOU TO GET BACK INTO MUSIC?

I had a friend working for a top 40 band, and I was helping him by running the soundboard. That experience got me back into music. I even got to play the harmonica with them for one song.

YOU WORKED WITH A SOUNDBOARD, WHICH SOUNDS NOT MUSICAL. HOW DID THAT BRING YOU BACK INTO MUSIC?

It wasn’t very musical, but I was creating effects, using reverb and a couple of other tools, and I was able to add to their performances. While it wasn’t playing an instrument, it was the event that allowed me to catch the bug for music again.

I started practicing 6 hours a day by playing it by ear. Part of reading music is by being able to hear what is on the page. So, hearing is really the essential element.

DO YOU THINK EVERYONE HAS SOME KIND OF MUSICAL SKILL?

Absolutely, music is a universal language. Everyone relates to music. How fluent you are in that language is where the training comes in.

Everyone has different levels of talent. So what you bring to it, you can hone and build it into something.

YOU SAID YOU ENDED UP TAKING LESSONS AGAIN FOR A LITTLE BIT. WHO WAS YOUR TEACHER?

Her name is N Jane Tan, but we all call her Jane. She was a child prodigy. Jane started college at 14 and was a college professor by 18.

And it wasn’t that she was so advanced, but she had a talent for drawing your musical ability out.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HARMONY AND MELODY?

Music has three basic elements: rhythm, harmony, and melody.

Rhythm is the steady pulse, like a heartbeat, and then you can do different things over that.

Melody is like a horizontal idea over time.

Harmony is more of a vertical thing. You’ve got notes placed on top of each other to create chords.

Think about a sheet of music reading across shows you the melody, and looking vertically shows you the chords.

HOW DO YOU COACH PEOPLE TO BRING THEIR MUSICAL TALENT OUT?

It’s hard. Some people know what they want to do, but with kids, most don’t know what they want to do.

I usually start with a question like “What’s your favorite song,” and then I use that to frame the lessons for them.

DO YOU HAVE A LOT OF STUDENTS ONLY THERE BECAUSE THEIR PARENTS WANT THEM TO BE?

Yeah, but I have had a lot of interested students, and part of that is coaching them and drawing their talent out. So you have to find out how to make them interested.

DO YOU TEACH PIANO IN YOUR HOME?

Yes, and what I do is I have a piano team where five students are playing at once, like a piano orchestra. It’s a very rich environment and teaches you how to blend into it and shape and create music. Also, it builds a lot of camaraderie.

WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A STUDENT WHO DOESN’T WANT TO BE THERE?

At a young age, kids will do whatever you tell them, which is why many teachers will grind through it because there is a lot to learn.

I try to get through as much of the learning with the students without destroying them. This is why I ask, “What’s your favorite song.” I try to build it around something they like. This helps them become self-expressive, which creates buy-in for them.

WHAT AGE IS THE BEST TO START MUSIC LESSONS?

I’d say age 3 is probably the best to start. The brain is still growing so fast; that’s when you want to start.

At this age, you can plant the seeds for music, and it has the chance to grow and develop. By age 6 or 7, your brain isn’t growing as fast, so it’s harder to pick it up.

DO YOU HAVE TO USE A SMALLER PIANO FOR YOUNGER STUDENTS?

No. Electronic instruments are very good, but they’re good at creating sounds that have never been heard before but are terrible for piano.

The reason is that you strike the key on a piano, you can get different timbers or tones, but you can’t get that on an electronic keyboard.

HOW MANY PIANOS DO YOU HAVE?

I have nine pianos, plus a mobile piano on a cart that I drive around town with. I pull it with a bicycle and play it in public.

Seven of the pianos are in the garage. This is where we do the ensemble style of lessons.

Then I have two pianos in the house. This way, I can play and show the students how to move and what it should sound like.

HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU SPEND WITH A STUDENT PER WEEK?

Usually just a little over an hour, but I ask them to practice every day.

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE AS A PIANO TEACHER?

I want to be able to create a lifetime of enjoyment for them.

WHAT DOES THE MOMENT LOOK LIKE WHEN YOUR STUDENT FINALLY GETS IT?

A lot of practice and lessons are rote. You’re going through and playing, and then there is this moment when the student creates something. And when I see that come out, it is exciting because it’s a part of them coming out in the music.

HOW HAS THE PANDEMIC AFFECTED YOUR BUSINESS?

Like most, I’m down by about 50%. I’ve been doing online lessons, but it isn’t as effective. I can’t play with them at the same time. It makes it harder to be able to transfer the skill and knowledge.

It has also affected me from landing gigs.

 

SGV III

  1. My Home. My first place is my home. My wife and I both work out of our house. The wood is so warm, and it’s just a great place.
  2. The Huntington Hotel. I’ve wanted to work in that lobby for a long time.
  3. The Mountains. I’m a hang glider pilot, so I glide over the mountains.