02 March 2016

I teach more than just piano lessons

Today, I’ve been thinking about why I teach. I don’t teach many students now, as opposed to 45+ ten years ago. It may only ever be a hobby for me now, and sometimes I miss the controlled chaos of my bustling piano studio. I miss not having recitals and competitions to prepare for. But the mother of a former student was just telling me today how much she loves to hear her adult son come home and play the piano. And I love hearing this. I feel like a part of something greater than myself. Someone taught me and now I teach others who will someday teach as well. And it got me thinking…

I teach more than just piano lessons
I think anyone who teaches piano lessons would agree with me on this one. In the 30-60 minutes we spend with our students, we teach much more than musicianship and how to play the instrument. Which is one reason why I feel so sad when a parent informs me that their child will be discontinuing lessons. Maybe it’s due to lack of interest. Or maybe it’s due to a perceived lack of time or to competing interests. I have often shared with parents how important piano lessons are to their child’s development. To their musical development, certainly, but also to their character development. Can they learn these things elsewhere? Certainly. But can they learn these things elsewhere and at the same time develop neural pathways and connections that will help them in many other disciplines and leave them with a creative outlet and skill that they and others will enjoy for a lifetime? I am much less certain about this one.
Piano teachers teach perseverance. This is huge! How many times in a child’s life will they encounter challenges? Most likely, every day. Whether it is something small and insignificant or something important that will influence their lives for years to come, how they learn to deal with these difficulties will shape the person they are becoming. My 5-year-old is learning how to tie his shoes. He has by no means mastered this skill, but I want him to keep on trying, even if it takes him several more months to master. But one main difference between this and piano lessons is that piano is not a once and done like learning to tie your shoes. You master one challenge only to move immediately on to the next. Or you don’t master something completely and learn to be happy with improvement which does not include mastery. And you move on with the knowledge that you will return to it at some time in the future and either master it or not.  
But I think the open-endedness of the piano’s challenges teaches the student something very important. This is not a mountain to be climbed where success is measured by reaching the pinnacle. This is many small successes in a challenge where the ultimate goal may never be achieved. And where success does not always come from completion but from improving and learning to enjoy the challenge. And to learn along the way not to become complacent in the mastery of an individual piece or concept but to see it as a stepping stone to new and greater challenges. One of a piano teacher’s greatest challenges is to instill a love of rising to a challenge in their students. If a student can learn to love a challenge, the possibilities are endless.  
I started out listing all the things I teach in addition to piano lessons: persistence, perseverance, problem-solving, organization, prioritization, coordination, math and reading. But as I started writing, I found that I really didn’t want to enumerate how piano lessons teach each of these so much as I wanted to say that piano lessons teach so much in addition to music that it is hard to list all of the benefits. I’d love for someone else to write the next installment in this discussion! Many of you could add to what I’ve said and I’d love to hear how you use piano to teach other things. And if you took or are taking piano lessons, I’d love to hear what you feel you’ve learned in addition to how to play a wonderfully versatile instrument.





Lana Kihn
03 Mar 2016
I am teaching piano lessons too, and I totally agree with you. Thanks for sharing!

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