About My Teaching
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music….” (Psalm 98:4)
I believe the fundamental aim of all music is joy. If it’s not actually joyful, then it’s helping to comfort us in our sorrow so we can be joyful again. I do my best to keep this in mind in my teaching. The challenge is that music is not an easy thing to do.
Learning piano (or anything!) is like growing a tree. From a seed grows the root, the stem and the branches, and through out its life, the fruits of its growing will depend on the health of all three. The larger and longer lasting the tree, the slower is this process. Like such trees, the growth of anything that can last requires patience and an integrity in the process. I seek to help each student’s “musical tree” grow in this way. Attending to all parts with patience and love, their “tree” can become strong, stable and fruitful, and able to continue growing long after they’ve left the nurturing environment of lessons.
As there are many types of trees, there are many types of students. Some are at heart competitors, others are creators, improvisors, explorers, enjoyers or some combination. My musical friends all have different inclinations. Yet, whatever form it may take, whatever musical path they find most interesting, every one of them is driven by a joy in music. To paraphrase Emily Dickinson, if I can help one student’s joy to grow, “I shall not live in vain.”
But no one can grow on ideals alone! So in addition to aspiring to high ideals, I get down in the dirt, so to speak, and deal with the practicalities. Nothing zaps the fun out of something for a kid more than struggle. Piano is full of challenges that, if not made manageable, become chronic struggles. Usually when struggle becomes chronic, so do lack of joy and lack of motivation. I’ve devoted a lot of time to learning the challenges piano poses to students and ways to manage them effectively, and seek to provide students practical guidance, that their musical roots, stems and branches might grow strong together and produce wonderful, healthy fruits.
Yet, every student is different and it’s just not possible to predict and prepare for every circumstance. So I also seek to proceed with calm persistence when things with a student seem not to be going well. A very important life lesson students can learn through learning piano is that meaningful journeys are long, and reaching the destination is mostly about keeping going. The only failure, in the long run, is giving up. The process of teaching someone to play the piano—and ultimately to learn the language of music—is that kind of journey. If I don’t give up on a student, if I keep going, I’m more likely to keep them going, and to demonstrate that important lesson.
High ideals, practical guidance and calm persistence. Mix them together with fun, discovery, encouragement and lots of success, and I believe anyone can not just discover the joy of music, but also how to create it.