The Never-Ending I Want a New Piano Piece Continuum
It goes like this; I assign a piece and after two weeks my student doesn’t want to learn it. So, I assign something else, and a couple of weeks later something else again, wash rinse repeat.
“Ok, what would you like to play?”
“How about a Bach minuet?’ – “That sounds boring.”
“The Wild Horseman?” – “Too hard.”
“A pop song?” – “I can’t think of anything.”
Some students even tell me what they want to learn. Or, more specifically, what they don’t want to learn.
“I hate Chopin.”
“I only like Taylor Swift songs.”
“Scales are boring.”
“I don’t like jazz.”
“I want a piece that sounds hard, but easy to learn.”
I know some teachers have not engaged in this back-and-forth. I take my hat off to you.
I must admit that for a ‘New York Minute’ I fell into this rut. I call it “The never-ending I want a new piano piece continuum.”
But I wasn’t in it for long. Because it wasn’t long before I discovered this was bad. Bad for the students, bad for me, and bad for business.
Bad for the students because they aren’t learning what they should be learning.
Bad for me because it’s discouraging and mentally exhausting.
And bad for business.
Yep! Bad for business.
As of 2024, I have been teaching the piano for 40 years!
Through all kinds of crazy economic ups and downs, cultural changes, and everything else you can think of that’s gone on in the past 40 years on the national and global stage.
My family has picked up and moved five times. To totally new places where I had to start over and rebuild my entire studio. (And then there was COVID.)
One thing I have found to be true is that good students bring me more good students.
Sometimes it’s been a bit scary. Music is my full-time job. The thought of losing students is uncomfortable. At times, I have felt like I needed to do whatever I could to keep students signed up. I admit to having tried finding pieces students ‘like’ hoping that somehow the perfect piece would inspire a student, open the floodgates, and make them want to play.
But alas, that never happened. Being on the never-ending I want a new piano piece continuum only led to my own frustration and burnout. It didn’t help my students either.
Allowing my students to have so many choices, and so much control felt like the piano version of unschooling. Like a huge buffet where the sweets are presented alongside the salad. Just pick what you want, what you ‘like.’
The problem is that students don’t know what they don’t know.
Learning to play the piano (or any instrument) well. It is a complex process that takes discipline and a well-laid-out path from the very beginning. Which in my studio means a foundation in music fundamentals and classical repertoire.
Yes, of course, I want my students to play music that they enjoy. I think popular music, new music, jazz, and improvisation are essential to piano education.
But I know that I need to establish the curriculum. I know what results I want for my students, and I know how to get them there. Of course, I need their cooperation. In the end, they are the ones doing the heavy lifting.
Every teacher is different, and so is every student. We all have our musical strengths and specialties. But I believe that as a teacher it is my job to guide and direct.
In my studio that means, you may tell me you don’t like Bach, but I’ll tell you “That’s fine, you have a choice between the Invention in C Major or the Invention in F Major.”
Don’t like scales? “Neither do I, ‘Eat the frog’ and do them first.”
You don’t want to try playing by ear? “I know it’s out of your comfort zone, don’t worry, I’ll help you.”
Teaching the piano is hard work. But at least it’s not boring!
In the next few posts, I’ll talk more about what I am doing in my studio to get my kiddos where I want them to be.
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