Over almost 30 years I have taught over a hundred piano students. All of them were unique. Many made me smile with their diligent efforts, if not their music. And there were a few that made me conclude that it would have been much easier to stick with bookkeeping as a career. Making students laugh was great, making them cry, not so much. I am proud to say, at least one former student I know of became a piano teacher, and others have accomplished impressive things, both musically and otherwise.
My students mostly complied with my program, advancing their way methodically through their books with my guidance, rarely questioning my ability or knowledge. I adjusted to learning styles and abilities as needed, or so I thought, skipping a piece here, re-inforcing with extra material there. Along with reminders to practice more, I have tried to make it fun- games, masterclasses, supplemental Christmas music.
But by far, the biggest challenge has been trying to teach my own children to play the piano. To those who say I shouldn’t have tried, I have to answer perhaps they are right.
Due to the unique personalities and learning styles of my offspring they wouldn’t or couldn’t bend to my instruction, at least not the way I taught. Learn these scales, I would repeat week after week. Do this study, then you will have a good foundation for other music. Read these notes, I instruct, pointing slowly with a popsicle stick.
Instead of practicing, my children would noodle around on the piano, composing their own music or attempting pieces that were far too advanced for their technique and fingering ability. They played by ear or learned by rote, things I am not gifted in. With steel traps for memory, they only utilized the notes only once or twice before they had it, at least to their satisfaction. If I played it for them, there was little need for notes at all, so mostly I refused and so did they, at least to complete what I assigned them. Sometimes they would even improvise on the classics before properly learning them. Eeek. That was the sound of Beethoven rolling over in his grave.
Finally… true confessions.. . I regret to say, I had to give up. Too many fights, too many gray hairs. Two of them went on for a while to other teachers in my efforts to ensure the musical part of their education. Yes, I rank it right up there with learning to read and do math.
In spite of my abortive efforts they all play something- the oldest the drums, the second oldest classical guitar and piano, but almost exclusively Bach inventions and fugues, which I labour over and he delights in. The third plays saxophone and forayed briefly into jazz piano.
The fact is they were just too smart for me and my Piano Teacher Degree.
After a few years break, I am still working on teaching my daughter- trying to strike a balance between what she wants to learn- Legend of Zelda music, and how she wants to learn- by ear, and the foundational stuff I want her to know- note reading, correct technique. “I don’t want to play from lifeless notes,” she says. What success will eventually look like and how we will get there, I don’t know, but I hope she will love music as her brothers do.
If I am forced to give up for the sake of the music, I will have to face it. Or maybe just change my ideals.
The failure of this teacher may well be the road to success for the student.