As a master piano teacher, I have met hundreds of amateur pianists and shared my experience with several colleagues who are terrific pianists.
We have all taught and are still teaching wonderful people who make teaching a delightful occupation. We can also, at times, experience lots of pain with students who do not seem to understand both piano playing and piano education.
Some people treat their instructors with little respect for unknown reasons and tend to forget that their piano teacher is likely to have expertise similar to top lawyers or brain surgeons.
Instead of looking down on them, some individuals should reconsider their views and admire the exceptional pianist for giving up some of his precious time to guide them through their musical journey.
Mistake 1 - have outrageous expectations
Some piano students start their courses with the wrong mindset. They do not understand what piano playing is all about nor comprehend the enormous amount of work needed to succeed. Some see it as a task that must be completed as soon as possible. Others expect to play Rachmaninov's 2nd concerto within a few weeks and show little interest in the basics that cannot be skipped.
These misconceptions often lead to tension and frustration and make the lessons painful for both the teacher and the student.
If you decide to learn how to play the piano, you must keep in mind that becoming a proficient pianist takes years and that rushing the process is not the solution.
Let me share my experience with two of my former students.
Student A was very nervous. At his first lesson, he told me that he was taking a break from work for a year and that it was the perfect opportunity for him to learn how to play the piano. As I have a considerable experience in adult piano education, I immediately understood that he plans to master piano playing this year. He was quite a good student at first. He was very dedicated, and I was pretty impressed with his progress. He always completed his homework and even exceeded my expectations. No wonder why! He wanted to succeed so badly and quickly that he was highly motivated. As expected, he experienced his first setback after a few weeks of studies and the atmosphere changed entirely. He became highly nervous and turned each session into a nightmare. He would repeatedly kick the floor and keyboard at each mistake he made. As defeat was not acceptable to him, he ended up stop playing altogether after a few months of studies. Is it not ironic?
Student B was also highly motivated at first. He was practising much more than required to propel himself to the moon. He was doing very well, but he was still at a very early stage when he came to his lesson, informing me that the beginner book we were working from was uninteresting and that he would much instead study his favourite piece by Maurice Ravel. I do not need to add that it was one of the most challenging pieces ever written for the piano.
At this moment, I knew that the lessons would turn into an unpleasant experience. Fortunately, he quickly realised that this piece of the repertoire was far too hard for him, and he stopped attending his piano lessons.
You might think I am making these stories up. Sadly, I am not.
Mistake 2 - Criticising the advice given by your piano teacher
Piano teachers are usually excellent pianists with vast adult piano education experience. They know what should be studied at each stage of your development and what technical exercises or repertoire pieces are best for you. If you are a beginner, please remember that your teacher was probably playing the pieces you are practising at four years old and that they are incredibly straightforward to him. He knows exactly what he is doing. Criticizing his advice while you can barely synchronise both hands is not the way forward.
Once again, you might be surprised to hear that some people with no or minimal experience in piano playing argue the advice their instructor gave...
I understand that interpretation can be subjective, and I have no problem with that, but arguing when you can hardly play is unacceptable.
I have always been baffled when students seek my help to resolve technical difficulties and come to their lesson the following week telling me that the advice given made things worse.
How can it be?
As piano teachers and concert pianists, we have practised hundreds of pieces of the repertoire and probably encountered all possible technical issues. We know how to resolve them. There is no doubt about that.
Remember: If your playing is getting worse from one week to another, it is not because your piano teacher has given you the wrong advice. It is because you have either not practised enough or practised in the wrong way.
Mistake 3 - Inversing the role of student and teacher
In the category of the worse piano students ever, there is a certain type of people who likes inverting the role between teacher and student. They are usually intermediate or advanced players but they can also be beginners.
One of my former students was a fairly known person in his profession. For this reason, he thought that he had it all and that he could conduct the lessons better than I would.
I could not give him any advice, even if there was a lot to say. He would systematically say “I know this but it is not the issue”. Or he would close the book to perform another piece as soon as I would open my mouth to give my feedback on his performance. Unbelievable but true.
Mistake 4 - Jump around and inform your piano teacher about your latest discoveries
You might think that I have a lot of imagination but I can assure you that all these anecdotes are true.
Some amateur pianists think higher of themselves than they are. They tend to copy the performances of world-class pianists without understanding them fully, resulting in inconsistent, incoherent playing.
I have rarely met such people but I still have. They would not listen to my advice but defend their poor interpretation believing that it was what Maurizio Pollini or Alfred Brendel were doing. Copying another pianist does not work, especially if you do not understand the reasons behind their variations of the text.
It made it impossible for me to express myself as a pianist and piano teacher.
Mistake 5 - Being lazy with your piano practice
The worst insult is to come to your piano lesson and proudly claim that you haven’t had time to practice. I have always been amazed by piano students who are not ashamed to attend lessons without sitting at the piano once during the week. How is it possible? How is it possible not to find a few minutes each day to do your homework? Are these people interested in piano playing? Don’t they want to make any progress?
We have all watched Groundhog Day, so practice in between your lessons if you don’t want to torture your piano teacher!
Mistake 6 - Skip or reschedule lessons regularly
Do you ever skip work or reschedule a shopping trip with your best friend? I believe that it only happens when you are truly unwell and unable to leave your bed.
One of the best ways to show your piano teacher that his lessons are not important to you is to reschedule or skip them regularly.
In addition to showing a lack of interest in your piano lessons, you must also realise that rescheduling your lessons means throwing around your instructor's weekly organisation.
I am not saying that students should attend religiously every single week of the year on a set day and time and never have any impediment. Still, some people seem to think that their piano teacher is available at any time to suit their availability.
Remember that your piano instructor is possibly as busy as you are. He must manage a demanding schedule and balance his life equally between teaching, practising and performing.
Even if you must juggle between various activities, try and stick to your appointments as often as you can for the benefit of both your teacher and yourself.
I am sure you are a wonderful person and do not intend to disappoint your piano teacher. I just wanted to share my experience with challenging students and show you that acting oppositely will surely please your instructor.
Now that you know the six best ways to disappoint him, you will try your best to be a “perfect” student. You will carefully listen to his advice and ensure that you practice diligently. You will also attend your piano lessons regularly and appreciate that it is a blessing to spend some time weekly with a fantastic pianist!
Not being a good piano student is not beneficial either for you or your teacher, so I encourage you to ensure that you can be a fantastic pupil before starting your piano course!