Piano, vocal teacher turns pupils’ talents inside out


Everyone has musical potential within, believes piano and voice instructor Erin Roberts.

Unearthing that potential, bringing it to the surface, that’s her role: to teach students how to teach themselves.

“The lesson is ‘their’ lesson,” said Roberts, who recently opened a business, Key of Blue Music Studio, in Bird Rock Plaza above The French Pastry Shop at 5560 La Jolla Blvd., Suite A2. “When we start, I ask, ‘What are your goals? Why do you want to take lessons? What do you want to do with this?’ Then I cater their lesson to how they want it.”

Key of Blue Music Studio strives to discover and refine students’ innate abilities. To accomplish that, Roberts uses a little of the new, a little of the old, in her teaching methodology. On the traditional side, she’s a strong believer in developing discipline. “What you put into it, is what you’re going to get out of it,” she noted.

But she’s also not afraid to experiment, try something different, do whatever it takes to help people discover their inner artist.

“How do I get a concept across to a student when they’re not getting it, when I’ve tried all the typical ways of breaking through the barriers and come to this dead end?” asked Roberts, speaking of the challenge she confronts daily with her pupils, most of whom are between the ages of 5 and 12.

The answer, said Roberts, lies partly with strengthening the individual’s personal motivation. But sometimes, she added, they need some help from their families, too. “With a lot of my kids, motivation, practice time, can be a big struggle,” Roberts said. “I explain that the parent has to be pretty involved with the practicing, because otherwise, the kid is busy with homework, and school and friends. They need reinforcement.”

La Jollan Sue Moore has two children, ages 6 and 7, receiving piano instruction from Roberts. She said she’s impressed by Roberts’ methods. “She’s extremely skilled at working with them, understanding their level of development,” Moore said, adding Roberts finds ways to “get through” to children. “She really works with their strengths. She’s very patient. She also has a good sense of humor, which helps with little children. It’s a much more child-friendly, very engaging approach.”

Moore also likes Roberts’ professionalism. “Her paperwork, her contracts, the books she provides, it’s all a remarkably easy experience for everybody,” Moore said. “As a family, we’re just really happy she has her own studio. It’s great she’s got to the point where she can set up her own business.”

Roberts employs a multidisciplinary approach for a multi-dimensional subject. She’s old school in that she believes students need to be grounded in the basics. That includes instruction in music theory, the study of which benefits students immeasurably, she claims.

“Theory is vitally important, even for kids who take piano for two years and quit,” Roberts said. “If they get that theory, they will find it much easier to play another instrument later because they have that background. It gives them something a little more enriching because they’re getting world history and concepts, understanding how music came to be and all the genres, really a broader understanding.”

A Minnesota native, Roberts’ music schooling started at age 5 with classical piano instruction. She first became a vocalist during high school, performing in concert choirs, gospel choirs and a cappella jazz ensembles. She studied both piano and voice at the university level. Her performing career has included classical piano and voice competitions, opera roles, musical theater roles and jazz performances at clubs.

Roberts said piano and voice require different skill sets and different instructional approaches.

“Music theory is very similar to the study of math,” said Roberts. “It’s all about things adding up and lining up correctly. There’s always a right answer. It’s a discipline that’s very systematic.

“But vocals is a very abstract type of discipline. Vocal study is all about feeling. It’s a very different realm.”

But whether you’re talking about playing piano, another instrument, or vocals, success really boils down to the individual’s personal commitment. “It all comes from the love of the music,” Roberts said, offering an example to illustrate her point.

She’s taught a brother and sister in the same family who very close in age. Both take piano. One practices every day, loves it, doesn’t feel it’s a chore. The other doesn’t practice much - and it shows. Roberts’ answer to this problem: attempt to make practice more of a rule for the less-motivated person, so it perpetuates a positive habit pattern in them. “I can’t make them practice outside of our lesson,” she said. “But when it gets to our lesson, I drop as many hints as I can. I tell them, ‘We’ve had this song for the last three or four weeks, if you’d have practiced this more, we’d be able to move forward.’ You reap what you sow.”

Roberts never imagined she’d become a teacher. She felt she might not have the patience. And, she feared it was a profession that lacked spontaneity. But, after having done it, she admits her preconceptions were wrong. “It’s absolutely just as satisfying for me as performance,” she said. “It’s a challenge every day.

Performance is about being in the moment. But I’ve found teaching is, too. Every kid needs something different. Every student is at a different age, a different level. They need something to make it click in their brain. I see what the click is and I help them find that click. For every kid, it’s different.”

Call Key of Blue Music Studio at (858) 366-8902 or e-mail