I’ll come clean: when my parents signed me up for piano lessons at the age of seven, I hated it. I loved music and my teacher was great; however, I didn’t practice and only lasted a year. When an older family friend heard I had quit, he sternly rebuked me with shaky finger-pointing and words which haunt me to this day: “That was very foolish…verrry foolish!”
I later asked my parents to start piano again at the age of ten — and supremely enjoyed it. I had the same teacher, with whom I studied until I traveled away for college. To this day, I am not quite sure what had changed. But it was much more interesting to me and I was self-motivated to practice more. Perhaps I was just not ready before then.
I seek to reassure parents of beginning students by telling them, “If a student can survive the first year with me, they’ll be okay.” This is due to all of the initial knowledge required to play an instrument: understanding rhythm, learning the notes of the treble and bass clefs, figuring out where the notes on the keyboard are, etc. Following the initial learning curve, lessons later become more about forming a system of both learnings, interpreting, and enjoying repertoire.
Some of my current students have been studying with me for a number of years, and while they pursue a variety of extracurricular activities, I can confidently say they love music. They appreciate working on pieces together, performing, and listening. If I follow the logic, my long-term goal as a teacher is to ultimately impart one thing to students: a compelling sense of vision, and a sense of belief.
Fostering this belief in something is extremely validating for each student: it bears witness to their artistic instincts, personality, imagination, and hope - in a word, their spirit. I have observed that the more my students mature through experience, the more I sense that I sense they understand and treasure this mindset.
It’s true, at times there are lulls - this is quite common. They may occur due to the repetitive nature of lesson books, or busyness with school and athletic activities (I am constantly amazed at my student's sports schedules, year-round!). They could be experiencing adolescence and shifts in attitudes. Whatever the reason, when enthusiasm fades, I try a few ideas:
Pick a different type of music apart from the lesson book, whether it’s movie music, pop, jazz, etc. Sometimes it can be just one song - whatever the student enjoys listening to!
Review a couple of old songs the student likes to help refresh their confidence
Watch a clip of a beautiful performance, whether it’s piano, orchestra, or something the student enjoys.
Play duets with the student.
Many times, students stop lessons because parents may be uncertain how to support them. As someone who has taught piano to people of all ages, a recurring theme I hear from adult students is, “I studied when I was younger, and always regretted quitting. I’d like to get back into music again!”
That being said, I would caution teachers, parents, and students that there is no “quick fix” to constantly motivate. A teacher needs to be consistent and patient, willing to repeat and encourage often to allow the student time to let things sink in. Parents should feel free to discuss this with teachers, and also methods of practice to help keep young musicians on track. The students will understand the investment and appreciate it more with their experience: trust the process and don’t give up the ship!