A love of music and teaching runs in the veins of Christie Skousen, a Mountain View mom and accomplished pianist.
Skousen, 35, who began taking lessons 30 years ago from her mother, Irene Peery-Fox, is now spreading her passion for piano to local students through a formalized curriculum inspired by her original teacher.
After seven years of perfecting the curriculum, Skousen is seeing results, including the use of her teaching methods at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She keeps students busy at her studio, the Peery Piano Academy on Dana Street -- and keeps herself busy by chasing after her own four children, two of whom are already following in the family tradition by taking up the piano (not that they had a choice in the matter).
"I knew that my strength excluded a lot of people," she said of her one-on-one teaching style, which is most effective with very serious students. She admitted that even her own children have a tough time keeping up with her expectations. "I love that high-intensity, get-it-perfect kind of thing."
To make piano accessible to all types of kids interested in learning the instrument, Skousen worked to develop a group-lesson format where several students were taught at once. The current curriculum is a rigorous combination of technique training, theory, sight-reading and song mastery. Four students are taught at a time, rotating between four stations. Two stations are one-on-one with teachers, and the other two are activities the kids can do on their own.
"It's very specific on how the student plays, not what the student plays," Skousen said. "Their hands have to look exactly the same way as if I were to play it."
Though the group lessons, called "Habits," are still intense, "we've tried to make a structure that's fun," Skousen said. "But the content is really high level."
Irene Peery-Fox developed the groundwork for the Habits classes during her lifelong career teaching and playing piano. Though she lives in Utah -- she is a music professor at Brigham Young University -- her influence on her daughter is apparent: Both are obsessed with the piano, both studied at the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University, and both are committed to teaching the instrument to others.
The mother-daughter connection also shines through in the strength of the curriculum.
"A combination of learning and taking all of the [techniques of the teachers I've had, and just experimenting and having experience, is how I came up with what I do," Peery-Fox said. She said her daughter "decided to write it all down. She's taken and added even more."
"I foresee that it's going to be a thing of the future," she added, noting that Skousen's use of new technology, such as computer games, is at the forefront of piano teaching.
But Skousen says there's only one method that guarantees success.
"The magic key is practice," she said. "Practice, practice, practice."
The mother-daughter duo still play together every now and then. In early July they played in the Milton and Peggy Salkind International Piano Duo Festival at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. They were the only Americans featured in the showcase.
"We got good reviews. That was a really sophisticated festival and quite an honor to be selected to perform," said Peery-Fox. "We play really well together."