What Learning to Knit Taught Me About Teaching Piano
I recently wrote a post about learning to play the ukulele and how that has influenced my piano teaching. This post has a similar feel to it. Since graduating with my Master’s degree last April, I’ve taken up several new hobbies because I now have time for such things, and it is interesting how these new hobbies have helped me be a better and more understanding piano teacher. This post is all about how learning to knit has helped me influence my piano teaching.
I learned some basics about knitting when I was a young teenager, but I never really got very far on my first project, and I had basically forgotten even the small amount I had learned. However, my older sister is a very accomplished knitter, and she was determined that I should give knitting another try. As soon as I walked across the stage and was handed my diploma last April, and she knew I had more time on my hands, my sister began planning my first knitting lesson. And I am grateful she did because I have really enjoyed knitting (this second attempt has been much more successful than that first one). I’ve made several projects in the months since first learning, and I’ve also discovered lots of applications to learning and teaching piano.
First, you may recall from my similar post about the ukulele, that my hands felt so awkward when first playing the ukulele. It was the same with knitting. My sister demonstrated how to hold the needles and the yarn, and then she showed me how to create a knit stitch. It all looked so elegant, beautiful, and easy. But when I tried it, my hands felt incredibly awkward and incompetent. Not to mention clumsy. It took quite awhile before the motions of knitting and purling felt natural to me. And even now, I still don’t look like my sister when I knit. Her motions are almost like that of a machine: fast, even, and seemingly effortless. This has again made me realize that when I start a new piano student, of course their hands and fingers are going to feel and look awkward! That is completely natural and expected, and I need to be conscious and understanding of that. I need to help them understand that it’s perfectly normal to feel that way at first and that with time and practice, they will begin to feel natural at the keyboard.
Knitting has also taught me how important it is to have variety both in knitting and in piano lessons. If I get stuck on the same knitting project for awhile or on a project without interesting techniques that challenge me, I get bored! The same is true for piano lessons. If I have a student that is not being challenged by their current pieces, I need to help them find new music that will fulfill that criteria.
The opposite is also true: if a piece is too long or too hard for a student’s current abilities, we need to move on from that piece and may even need to do a few shorter pieces to regain motivation. I recently learned this same principle in my knitting. I had done several shortish projects and felt ready to try something longer and harder: a sweater. Well, it did prove to be longer and harder. It actually went pretty well for quite awhile until I finally made a few mistakes. I began taking out stitches to fix the sweater, but as I ripped out stitches, I just seemed to be making more errors. I soon realized that the only thing for me to do was to totally start over. So I did. But I kept making mistakes, and so soon I had started over four or five times. I found myself unmotivated to knit, and I didn’t even touch my needles for about a month or so.
But my sister came to the rescue. She gave me a skein of beautiful yarn and told me it was enough to make a hat. That seemed to be a hint that I should try a smaller project. I really wanted to try working with that yarn, so I found a new pattern for a hat that I wanted to try and cast on that very day. This project proved to be exactly what I needed. It was shorter and less-challenging than the sweater I’d become frustrated with. I soon finished the hat and then, to my surprise, felt totally capable of starting my sweater again. I’m currently still in the process of knitting my sweater, but my motivation for it has definitely been renewed.
Yesterday, while teaching piano, the lesson of the sweater and the hat was fresh in my mind and influenced a choice I made while teaching. One of my students has been on her solo for quite some time. To be honest, I think it is just a tiny bit too hard for her. She always has a good attitude about it, but she hasn’t made much progress in some time, and I realized that she was probably feeling exactly like I had been feeling about knitting. I asked her if she wanted to move on from this piece and try a shorter and more manageable one. She gratefully said yes, and we were able to choose a new piece that she is very excited about. I think this new piece will be like my hat was for me: a chance to try something a little shorter and easier to regain motivation to again try harder projects.
And that is how knitting, something totally unrelated to music, is helping me become a better piano teacher.