Sustainable Piano Lessons?

July 23, 2011 § 4 Comments

The other day I caught up with a mom I hadn’t seen in years. Last I heard, her oldest daughter was playing the cello in the local youth orchestra, taking part in competitions, having 2-hour lessons each week and practicing 4 hours a day.

Impressive? You bet. Parents and teachers  talk about this kind of kid with awe. Even other kids are impressed. There is magic in hard-working adolescents making music. We all wonder about the future-will she be the new Yo-Yo Ma?

The answer in this case is no. Her mom reports that, 10 years later, she won’t  touch the cello. She doesn’t even keep it with her-it is in a closet at her parents’ house. She and the cello have broken up, a common ending to the high-pressure music program she went through.

But, she does play the piano. Playing the piano was just a handy skill. It could pad her resume, help her learn her cello parts more thoroughly.  No one took it seriously: there were no competitions, no pressure to perform, no high-stakes lessons. She just learned to play some music that interested her, learned some skills she could use forever, learned how she and the piano could get along. Learned how music could belong to her and her alone.

This is what I mean by sustainable piano lessons. Piano study need not distort your life. It can fit into it, enhance it, comment on it, make it endurable, give it weight, give you a home to come back to. It doesn’t have to be all about making teachers look good  and preparing you for a career as a performer. It can be just about you and the piano. That’s enough.

You can sustain the study of the piano  for a lifetime. It can sustain you for a lifetime. I try to make my lessons sustainable for all the people out there who need the piano but don’t need the other stuff.

What sustains you? Leave a comment below.

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§ 4 Responses to Sustainable Piano Lessons?

  • Doug Smith says:

    Hey Megan,

    Thank you for sending this link. I love the blog!
    I hope you don’t mind if I jump in here with my own experience as a music teacher. The process of learning to play a musical instrument is only partly about proficiency. When we play music, we use it as a vehicle to express our humanity, vulnerability, joy, sorrow, excitement, youth, humor, or anger….
    Let me digress to a little story about an encounter I had with a past student and his mom.

    She called to inquire about drum lessons and explained that her son had been taking piano lessons for years but he hated them. I asked, “then why is he playing piano?”. She responded by saying that his father bought a piano, decided his children must study piano, and forced him to take lessons starting at 6 years of age. I told her that, in my opinion, they were ruining their son’s relationship to the piano and music, by forcing him to take these clearly unenjoyable lessons for seven years. I said we’d give the drums a try, and found myself with a very timid and tentative teenage boy, looking to his mother for approval when I offered that he sit down and just mess around on the drums. I later learned that this student’s father also once studied piano, no doubt in a similar, drudging fashion, and hardly touched the instrument anymore.

    In my studio I want my students to be excited and happy. I don’t want them to walk in the door with a sense of fear or sheepishness because they haven’t practiced enough. Don’t get me wrong, I do inform them that if they want to progress on the instrument it is a good idea to spend time playing it. With that said, I don’t demand that my students do anything. Making demands of daily practice can make students’ present experience with music and drumming a chore. This approach has, does and will stifle the original excitement that brought the student to the decision of studying music and drumming in the first place.

    Thank you for exploring this very important facet of the music learning experience.



    • Great to have another musician and teacher agreeing with me. Someday maybe we will stop meeting people who think that suffering and drudgery are an essential part of music study. Or that a teacher who makes lessons vital and compelling is somehow second-rate compared to the ones who make their students miserable.

  • rhonda says:

    Music lifts the spirit and soothes the soul. Through music we can uncover our deepest passions. One note at a time we can discover the beauty which is in each of us. Thanks to all great teachers!

  • artimentary says:

    This is wonderful stuff. Music is a wonderful companion through life when shortsighted teaching doesn’t drive it from the soul where it would otherwise take up residence. I hope everyone reads what you write so that, on teachet at a time, kids can grow strong musical bones! Well done!

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