What I Learned About the WHY of Piano Lessons

What I Learned About the WHY of Piano Lessons

by Laura Blanchard, Piano Academy Teacher






A couple weeks ago, I came home from school with an hour until I needed to go to work at Utah Piano Conservatory. Because I had just experienced another first week of school and my body was still used to being busy instead of sleeping in every day, I decided to take a quick nap so I wouldn’t have to worry about falling asleep in the middle of a piano lesson or something embarrassing like that. The next thing I was conscious of was seeing the clock and realizing that the little hand was on the five and the big hand was on the three–5:15 p.m.: fifteen minutes after my shift started! I grumpily got up, grumpily went to my car, and drove (grumpily and probably too fast) to work. Thankfully, the other piano teachers were very understanding and I was able to teach the students I needed to without any major problems. I listened to their pieces, talked about round fingers,  emphasized “louds” and “softs”, and then packed up and started to leave, just like any other day on the job as a piano teacher.

As I was leaving, I stopped at the solo room to ask the solo piano teacher about a couple students who were really struggling. I’ll call them the “A students”. At first I was expecting to get a few tips on discipline or child psychology, or maybe ways of tricking them into cooperation and submission besides threatening to take away music bucks. Ok, I’m definitely being a little facetious, but I think I honestly wanted an easy, one-size-fits-all solution. Which is not what I got.

Instead, the solo teacher and I talked with another teacher for a few minutes about the students’ family background (which was not ideal), their emotional needs, and different methods we could use to help each of them focus and be more productive. Much of what we discussed (actually, most of what we discussed) would involve thought and pondering (and even prayer) outside the studio. Outside the studio. Meaning it would take more effort than just showing up and dealing with the students as they came in. As I walked out the door and drove home, I experienced a series of light bulbs going off in my mind that changed my perspective of what piano lessons are all about.

It occurred to me that this job as a piano teacher is more than just teaching these struggling students how to play the piano. The “A students” would probably not benefit much from knowing large amounts of repertoire or having perfect technique, but maybe it would help them to know that their piano teachers care about them and that Utah Piano Conservatory is a place where they have friends and can feel happy. Maybe it would help them to feel accomplishment and confidence in themselves by passing off a piano piece. Maybe if I could help them enjoy practicing, they would learn about how to work towards goals and how to express their emotions in healthy ways. And this doesn’t just apply to the A family–what if there were other students who had challenges that I wasn’t aware of, but who could benefit from this environment? Well, of course they do.

Each student has a heart that needs lifting and talents (musical and not) that need developing. As all of these thoughts ran through my mind, I felt a change in my attitude toward working as a piano teacher. There is more to this job than going through a list of students and helping them with their scales. There is much more to be done! Of course building in them a love of music is important, and the skill of playing the piano is very valuable, but I think it’s also important for us to remember that as we effectively do our work, we are building a lot more. We are building people. I’m reminded of the portion of the Utah Piano Conservatory Teacher Handbook that suggests that we pray for our students, not just so we can know how to help them with their pieces, but that we can know what to say and do to lift their spirits and instill in them Christlike characteristics. What would change in our teaching if we were to focus more on the student than the piano? We have a special opportunity and a special purpose as music teachers, so let’s take advantage of that opportunity and better fulfill our purpose as we interact with these young people. Let’s try to care more, love more, and pray more in our teaching so we can change their lives.