Why I Teach Piano


Being a traveling piano teacher, as a valued guest in lovely homes, is a lucrative and noble profession.

But money and honor are not my motivation.

Strangely enough, after many years of doing this, it is the children’s faces that make me do it. Essentially, I am an adult paid to play with children, for if it isn’t play, it is work, soon to be drudgery.

Just the pure, un-adult look of a child, happily engaged with the piano or me, is reward enough. Their eyes, even when impatient, frustrated and tired, are clear pools. I’m a father, too, and it’s not quite like the feeling of father-child. It is more like collaborating with a pure genius, a new brain with a slate wiped clean.

I find it more refreshing than anything else to interact with such a fresh being and try to guide them toward my favorite object, the piano.

The key is to enter the child’s space. You cannot force them to enter yours unless they do so willingly and knowingly. By this I mean that you cannot expect a child to understand the tremendous effort that is needed to master even a small part of the piano, so do not make them go there until they are older, when they understand what work is.

The beginning of piano lessons is the time for students to be seduced by the music itself, by the “ear candy” aspect of musical experience.

To enter the child’s space, you have to be still, and calm. Forget your agenda. What is their mood today? Ask. Children usually are very honest, and if they say, “I’m tired from soccer,” you have been fairly warned.

Some kids are in a mental space so far from piano lessons that you might as well be on the moon. This mood or type of child forces the creative piano teacher to find ways of presenting subjects that are completely unique.

For example, let’s take the child who was tired from soccer.

I might have them put their heads on the piano quietly while I play “Rockabye Baby” somewhat mockingly, an act that makes them laugh. Now, they may be tired but they are laughing.

Next, we’d yawn while I casually played something that sounded like a yawn. A slow, down glissando might work here.

Notice I’m not fretting about the lesson time, or the lesson plan and agenda. The real lesson plan is the child on this day, at this time, and the piano, not something written in a book or log.

Maybe this hypothetical post-soccer piano lesson is turning to ear training, an activity that exhausted kids find appealing and has many benefits for their musical training, even at this very early stage.

On another day, this same child may be bright, perky and ready for action, but you must be ready for whatever situation may arise, and teach accordingly.

Kids are constantly worried that you, the piano teacher, are going to turn authoritarian, like an angry parent, and they dread it. So never be that way. Prove to them through experience that you are absurdly patient and friendly, and they will relax and you can enter their space to teach them.

Have the wisdom to avoid negative feelings at all costs. The time “wasted” in friendly but directed interaction is more than paid for by the short spurt of real attention that you’ll be rewarded with.

Keep the child calm by never being negative and they will make a good effort.

Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press

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