Armen's Teaching Approach

Click Book List to Download a printable PDF about Armen's books.

“Teaching taught me to analyze my own learning process in order to help others understand theirs,” says pianist Armen Donelian.

“I started teaching music at 14 as a way to support my professional musical career," he goes on. "Teaching came easily to me. I enjoy it because I’m motivated by my love for music and the joy and clarity it has brought to my life and to others.”

Teaching History

Armen Donelian is an internationally active Jazz workshop clinician in Ensemble Improvisation, Piano, Composition, Theory, Aural and Rhythmic Training, History and  Accompaniment.

Privately, Armen teaches Jazz and Classical Piano, Schoenberg Harmony, Counterpoint, Theory, Improvisation and Composition.

• Private Instructor, 1964-present
• Co-FounderHudson Jazz Workshop, with Marc Mommaas (2007-present)
• Adjunct Professor, New School Jazz Program (1986-present)
• Adjunct Professor, William Paterson University (1993-present)
• Adjunct Professor, Manhattan School of Music (1989-2000)
• Instructor, Westchester Conservatory of Music, 1972-85

In his academic work at The New School Jazz Program, William Paterson University, The Manhattan School of Music and elsewhere, Armen Donelian has developed and teaches courses in Aural Training, Piano, Theory, Improvisation, Accompaniment and Species Counterpoint.

Donelian’s administrative responsibilities at The New School and William Paterson University have included: Leading the Aural Training programs, including Curriculum Development, Teacher Training, Evaluation and Placement of new students; Sophomore Performance Juries; Composition Curriculum Development; Advisement and Instruction of Piano students; Private Instruction in Composition; Graduate Thesis Advisement; Service on the Executive, Curriculum and  Faculty Review Committees; and, Service on the NS/Local 802 Faculty Negotiating Committee.

Click Full C.V. to download Armen's Curriculum Vitae as a printable PDF.

While realizing a successful performing career as a bandleader, composer, solo pianist and sideman with many noted Jazz artists, Donelian's  work as a teacher has increased over time. With with saxophonist Marc Mommaas, he co-directs the Hudson Jazz Workshop, a four day immersion in improvisation and composition.

“My approach to individual and classroom teaching begins with assessing a student’s current interest and true condition,” Donelian explains. He leads the student to the next steps in his/her musical development by helping the student to clearly articulate the details of his/her agenda. “It’s all based on the student’s present condition and chosen objectives.” Then, together he and the student chart a course of workable gradients that, supported with regular practice, will lead to his/her desired educational (and professional) outcomes.

Donelian goes on: “It’s urgent that the student grasps the connection between what s/he practices on a daily basis and what s/he truly aspires to become. In addition, how the student practices or studies is as important as the what.” The teacher's role, he says, is to show the student how to encounter and use challenges with skill and optimism, and turn them into opportunities to grow. 

Proceeding in this way, Donelian maintains that when the student participates in important decisions about outcomes and methods, s/he will be empowered to create, and energized to commit to, the manifestation of his/her aspirations. In this way, the student is also enabled to avoid both the idle dreaming that lacks accomplishment, as well as the discouragement that prevents it.

“I emphasize a gentle attitude of self-acceptance,” Donelian continues, “coupled with an alert awareness of, and scrupulous attention to, details."

This gradual, steady and mindful approach enables the student to attain concrete musical goals. As the student perceives curricular progress and notices a tangible improvement of his/her skill set, his/her confidence is bolstered as a by-product of skillful effort. Momentum is increased. This approach also supports the student’s pursuit of peripheral interests often leading to joyful self-initiated discoveries.

“Increasingly,” Donelian laments, “The trend in institutional learning is to prioritize mandated standards, where schooling is reduced to a dry and sometimes pointless exercise in discipline and little attention is given to the student’s own process of learning.” Donelian is also wary of commercial pressures in arts education, as curriculum is influenced or even dominated by market-based imperatives. “Essentially,” he says, “when forces outside the student’s choosing determine learning outcomes, her/his learning experience is less than satisfying and productive.”

While some may say that a process-oriented approach is a personal luxury that cannot be implemented in an institutional setting, Donelian feels that enabling students to embrace this approach is, and must be, the point of education, not a fortuitous by-product of it. “As schools inculcate prescribed curricula," Donelian urges, “they must not forget their primary mission of showing the student how to use information to better his or her own life.”

Donelian repeatedly reexamines his teaching methods and style to foster student interest and maintain academic relevance to students’ personal goals. “I regularly reevaluate my initial motivation for teaching,” Donelian affirms. “For me, teaching is and has always been about the music - about reconnecting to my original reasons for playing it, appreciating the benefits it has brought to my life and sharing it with others.”