Adapting to each of your piano students

By lmt-editorJanuary 19, 2022
Est. Reading: 4 minutes

It is best as a piano teacher to adjust to each of your students rather than expecting them to conform to you. You can approach teaching anyway you feel appropriate, but teachers who adapt to their students rather than the other way around are usually much more successful and keep their students for much longer.

During my piano lessons, I had a teacher that acted like a tyrant, and the experience was awful. Attending his lessons was so scary that I dropped out after only a few weeks. It was forbidden to ask any questions. I couldn't pick the repertoire, and each piece of advice was an order. To be honest, it was horrifying.

I believe in allowing my students to express themselves, and I am continuously on the lookout for attributes in each individual. I believe that assisting people in improving based on their strengths is far more beneficial than focusing on their weaknesses.

Each student is unique, and I find it fascinating to try to figure out who is in front of me in order to educate this individual in the most appropriate manner based on his abilities and personality.

However, after many years of teaching and despite the fact that each student is unique, I have discovered that they may be classified into a few groups. With more than twenty years of piano teaching experience, I can now evaluate a new piano student in an instant. After a few minutes of talking and listening to his playing, I instantly know who is seated on the piano stool. If you teach for a long enough period of time, you will undoubtedly have the same experience. There are occasional outliers, but history appears to repeat itself in a piano studio.

The three types of beginners

For example, I have met three types of absolute beginners:

  1. Those who are very shy but practice diligently 
  2. Those who don’t have much confidence but rarely practice to improve the situation
  3. Those who are extremely confident and try to lead the lessons

People that fit into one of the aforementioned categories tend to behave in the same way, say the same things, and make the same mistakes. They all make the same comment about their piano experience.

Intermediate players have several characteristics as well. They either want to skip ahead without taking things slow and adopting the work that will help them progress, or they tend to limit themselves. The majority of them will have the same weaknesses in their playing. Their sense of interpretation would be non-existent, their technical skills would be mediocre, and their ability to sight-read would be poor. I have rarely met intermediate pianists who had it all, but it's always been a pleasure for me to identify and correct their flaws so they can progress to the next level.

Advanced amateur pianists are probably those who have developed the most originality in their approach. They have usually played for so long that they have fixed the majority of the problems that a pianist can confront. It still is fascinating to observe how people approach the compositions they are interested in.

Some people seem to bring the same piece to a lesson over and over until perfection is reached, whereas others appear to be content with a few suggestions. These are extreme cases, yet they should be mentioned. I had an advanced student who would come to each lesson with four or five new pieces. The speed with which he learned new pieces was astounding, but there was no continuity. Hence, it was difficult for me to help him improve.

Teaching is incredibly rewarding

As you can see, teaching is incredibly rewarding because you will meet numerous inspiring pianists, each with their own set of flaws and strengths. Your responsibility is to determine what needs to be improved and approach your pupils without patronising or judging them. Your students must feel comfortable with you in order to express themselves and improve. They should feel free to be themselves and interact in a safe environment free of negative criticism.

I've primarily described people I could comprehend, but I've also had students I couldn't read. For some reason, I couldn't 'click' with them, and I never found out whether they were enjoying their piano lessons during their studies!

It is critical to me that my pupils are happy and that they leave each lesson with a grin on their faces. I want them to be inspired, no matter what level they are at. I, too, want them to make improvements on a regular basis, but I believe it should come spontaneously and without pressure.

The majority of amateur pianists are fantastic people with whom I have always had a wonderful relationship. They are usually very sensitive people who have a strong interest in the instrument and are eager to learn more every week.

The piano is an exquisite instrument bringing joy to so many across the world!

As a pianist the key is adapting to your students

As a pianist, I believe it is critical to find a balance between teaching and performing. It is incredibly enlightening to have to answer some tough questions, solve some unique technical challenges that you did not necessarily encounter, or work on some pieces of repertoire that you have never performed yourself.

Working with other people also allows you to see the piano playing from a different perspective, which is very great!

Piano playing is a wonderful artistic expression that should be appreciated to the fullest, and it should never be converted into a painful or unpleasant activity!

It is for this reason that I feel becoming a chameleon and adjusting to your students will be far more enriching for both of you. They will learn a great deal from you, but you will also learn a great deal from them!

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