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The Shocking Truth About Piano Lessons (by Stephen Simpson)

(Photo by Paul Cleveland)

I am a piano teacher.  By my calculations, I have taught almost 70 different students.  They have been of varying ages and abilities.  Some have taken lessons for a short time and others have taken for years.  In my experience, I have come to realize one shocking truth about piano lessons.

My job as a piano teacher is not to teach you how to play the piano.

This may seem scandalous to you given the significant amounts of money that parents have paid me over the years to teach their children.  But, the truth must come out – I am not ultimately trying to teach you how to play the piano.

My primary goal is much different.  Here is my secret.  I am trying to teach you how to practice.  Most people that I encounter do not know how to practice.  They know they should practice and they may think they know how to practice.  I have seen too many students spend hours practicing only to find that their practicing has accomplished very little.  They come to their lesson and tell me that they have practiced two hours over the previous week.  However, when I listen to them play their pieces, it becomes obvious that they did not know how to practice because their pieces have improved very little, if at all.

You see, when I teach a 10 year old boy to play the piano, I am thinking about his future.  I am thinking that some day he will be an adult.  I am thinking that someday he will be a member of a church who may need a pianist to play for their choir.  Even though he may work as a manager at Publix, I want to have taught him the skills necessary to be a useful accompanist at his church.  This is why it is so important for me to teach him how to practice.  If I simply teach him to play a piece of music, I have not necessarily taught him any of the skills required in learning new music.  I have not taught him to read music.  I have not taught him to identify the problems he is having with the music.  I have not taught him how to solve the problems he is encountering.

So, I firmly believe that if I can teach you how to practice, then I have taught you a useful skill that you can use for the rest of your life.  In my opinion, playing a piece of music is easy.  Understanding how to practice efficiently and effectively is very difficult – which is why I spend so much time trying to teach this skill.

There you have it, the shocking truth about piano lessons is that I am not actually trying to teach you to play the piano.  I am trying to teach you how to teach yourself!

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