Why We Learn Hymns at Piano Lessons
Hymns are an important part of what we do here at Piano Academy! Our piano students start learning hymns usually about 12-18 months after they begin piano lessons. Although the first hymn takes a while to learn, each successive one learned takes a little less time. After a few years of learning hymns, students can sightread new ones!
As someone recently pointed out to me, hymns aren’t particularly “pianistic;” that is, they’re pretty different from most solo piano music. So why is it that UPC has chosen to include hymns in our curriculum? For me, it comes down to three specific things:
- Developing talent and testimony. The preface to the LDS hymnbook includes this thought: “Hymns can lift our spirits, give us courage, and move us to righteous action. They can fill our souls with heavenly thoughts and bring us a spirit of peace.” Learning to play the hymns gives students the opportunity to study the words and be reminded of them in difficult moments. (Check out more of my favorite music quotes by LDS general authorities here.)
- Improving specific musical skills. While hymns are really written for singers more than for pianists, our teachers use the hymns to teach concepts such as voicing, phrasing, pedaling, tone, and much more. Students who can read and play hymns proficiently are also much better prepared to accompany instrumentalists or choirs (which, for me, is one of the most fun things about being a pianist!).
- Serving others through music. This can happen in a myriad of different settings – Sacrament meeting, Primary/Young Men/Young Women meetings, weekly activities, seminary, community performances… you name it. Learning to play hymns prepares our students to serve others for a lifetime.
As much as we talk about using our talents to serve others in group settings such accompanying congregations or playing for meetings, I think it’s equally important to recognize the power that hymns can have in more personal relationships. One experience from my teenage years stands out to me:
One evening, I had finished my practicing and decided to play through a few hymns for fun, including one of my favorites, “Be Still, My Soul.” It was a nice day and the windows were open in the front room. What I didn’t know was that a friend of mine was on the front porch, talking to my mom (who was serving in the Young Women’s organization at church at the time) about his recent struggles with depression. Later that night, my friend sent me a message and let me know how much comfort it had brought him to hear that particular hymn. It seems like a small thing, but I’ve never forgotten how it felt to know that my playing the hymns had helped my friend deal with a difficult challenge.
The more I play the hymns, the more I realize how powerful they can be. There’s so much in music to be grateful for, but hymns will always have a special place in my heart – and my teaching!