Bethany Cothern grew up in a family of five in Murfreesboro, Tenn. A delightful child, she began playing the piano at age 9, which was customary for her family.
Bethany exclaimed, “It was truly the best, most life-altering gift I have ever received! I always loved piano lessons, and at age 16, I decided I would be a pianist in some capacity when I was older. Although I was a dedicated piano student, my attention was divided at school in pursuit of other musical activities, such as voice and violin lessons and choir. I was also on the basketball team. In college, I began a more serious study of piano, where I was surrounded by others who also loved to make music! In graduate school at the University of Louisville, I found my love for [being a] piano teacher. My assistantship was to teach college students piano for 15 hours a week in group or private settings.”
As a self-proclaimed “school addict,” Bethany has always enjoyed studying, being in academic environments, writing papers, and mastering new things. To this day, once she has enjoyed about six weeks of summer, she craves an assignment! Therefore, two of her most rewarding summers were spent gaining international experience. She spent six weeks in a collaborative piano program in Graz, Austria, one summer. Later, she enjoyed a three-week exploration of piano teaching techniques in Brest and Quimper, both in France. Her vast studies led her to complete two masters degrees from the University of Louisville. She received a Master of Piano Performance in 2015, and a Master of Piano Pedagogy in 2016. She just completed a master of music in piano performance and pedagogy with an emphasis in injury-preventive keyboard technique at Salem College in Winston-Salem, N.C. Bethany continues to grow and learn as she pursues different degrees related to teaching piano.
Her love of learning is apparent with how she has spent the past several years. Bethany began a unique biomechanics-focused degree at Salem College in 2019. In the years 2016-2019, she served as an adjunct professor at the University of Louisville, and also ran a private piano studio where she taught students of all ages. As a piano teacher to a 12-year-old student, the direction of her career and her entire life were changed.
Bethany elaborated, “After working together for nearly three years, I randomly decided to ask my student about her specific questions about her practice habits. She was always well prepared for her lessons, so it had never occurred to me to ask her about her practice week since she appeared to have a great system that yielded the proper results. Her response to my question about her weekly practice time was, ‘Well, it hurts me too much to play for longer than 10 minutes at a time. Therefore, I make sure I do this six times a day in order to practice for an hour each day.’”
“I have no idea what I responded,” Bethany continued, “but I probably sputtered some follow-up questions. Her casual detailing of her pain hit me like a bus later. I realized I needed to further unpack this with my student, and I also felt internal feelings of shock and pain as her teacher! I couldn’t believe that my adolescent student of almost three years assumed that her pain was normal, and that she never even thought to mention that her daily practice routine was filled with discomfort. I wondered if some sort of cliche ‘no pain, no gain’ perspective had somehow seeped into her music making, and I wondered what I needed to do about it. Therefore, I began coaching her out of the pain she was feeling at the piano by trying alternate ways of moving the keyboard, using different wrist positions, and working on her alignment. Through movement experiments, as well as research into musicians’ injuries and healthy technique, we were able to get the pain out of her playing. Efficient movement patterns at the piano have always interested me.
“Dance choreographer Rudolf Laban’s concepts of expression motion as they apply to piano technique really changed my thinking about the mind-body connection and its impact on tone at the piano. I ultimately enrolled in a six-day workshop at Salem entitled “Injury-Preventative Keyboard Technique,” Bethany said, adding that what she learned became part of the professional development portion of her curriculum vitae.
Dr. Barbara Lister-Sink led the workshop and Bethany learned some physical and psychological answers to things that even limited her own playing. This workshop transformed her, and she called her parents on her way home and announced she was moving to North Carolina to continue her studies at Salem.
Bethany pursued her master’s degree focused on the Lister-Sink Method, which is an approach to the piano developed by Dr. Lister-Sink. This particular method aims to maximize musicality by removing physical obstacles to playing. During her time at Salem, Bethany re-trained her own piano technique through this method, which draws from neuroscience for brain-based learning, biomechanics for healthy body movement, and sports pedagogy for building a basic form for this lifelong motor skill. Therefore, Bethany’s teaching always prioritizes expression and the student’s personal connection to the piece being studied. She believes that this deeper understanding of how our brains and bodies work has forever changed the way she thinks about the piano.
She said, “I finally have a way to give clear physical instructions to serve artistic aims, and I look forward to passing these philosophies of compelling music-making with healthy physical coordination down to my students in Tennessee!”
For further professional development, Bethany studied the work of Edwin Gordon, who coined the Music Learning Theory. Bethany uses a piano method called Music Moves for Piano, which was developed by a student of Gordon’s, Marilyn Lowe. This method separates rhythm and pitch and teaches expressive movement of the whole body. Students build a bank of rhythmic and tonal patterns, and it is so much fun!
Bethany said that she enjoys using a healthy piano technique with a vast understanding of musical patterns, and she enjoys tailoring music choices to things students will enjoy. They have learned music from Minecraft and Pokémon, an array of film music, traditional Irish tunes, worship music, and music from different countries.
After her stint at Salem College from 2019-2021, Bethany was ready to live closer to family. Her parents live in Murfreesboro, while her brother Jeremy Cothern and sister-in-law Laura live on Lookout with their three children, Ward, McLean and Alec. The mountains and hiking were also a big draw for Bethany! She is now serving as an adjunct professor at Lee University, as well as serving as a collaborative pianist at Lee, University, Bryan College, and Covenant College. She is also the program director of the Performing Arts Academy of Bryan College. She runs BC Piano Studio for private piano lessons and is an enthusiastic musician wellness advocate and researcher. She has spent time presenting information at several universities, as well.
Bethany is excited to share her knowledge and experience with piano students while she continues to learn and share her knowledge. Those who want to take piano need a piano at home. She prefers an acoustic piano of some type or at least an electric keyboard with 88 weighted keys and a sustain pedal. She encourages parents to look at Facebook marketplace or craigslist for instruments.
A notebook for weekly assignments and a device for weekly listening of the assigned music are also required. Bethany teaches out of her studio on Princess Trail and offers both in-person and virtual lessons. She offers 30-, 45-, and 60-minute group and private lessons. Bethany enjoys teaching both children and adults. In fact, she is hosting an “adults only” virtual piano recital this December.
When she is not involved in her music, Bethany enjoys reading, hiking, drinking coffee, movies, and live concerts. Those interested in lessons may contact her at (615) 785-4060 or Bethany.firstname.lastname@example.org. We are thrilled to have her vast musical talent here on Lookout!
by Ann Henley Perry