There’s more to teaching piano than a degree. Play with fingers, think on your feet, yes – but hear with your heart.
Have you ever had the “other world” encroach on your lesson time with a student? I don’t mean the ringing of cell phones and the beeps of a new text. They shouldn’t be anywhere near the piano bench nor allowed on until after the lesson. This “world” is a more old fashioned disruption. It is daily life brought into the lesson time or rearing it’s devious head in the middle of an important musical point you’re trying to make.
A similar incident happened when a nine year old started crying upon turning to the song “The Circus is Coming to Town.” I must be the most obtuse teacher around. I saw no reason for the tears. The obvious connection to her tears – “The teacher said we are all going to die because of global warming.” Those were her exact words in 1991. I was flabbergasted. Firstly, global warning wasn’t going to be allowed during my lesson time! But, secondly, seeing her real distress (and my tissues piling up beside her) I was glad I didn’t mention this. I told her that we all needed to be responsible for taking care of the world (resources may have been too big a word) and God will take care of us. This satisfied her, but now I had the problem. I was angry. Angry that a teacher would scare children with such topics when they had no concept of time and how true, natural science truly works. I had to explain this to the mother when she picked up her daughter a few minutes later, wondering why there were tears.
To cap my experiences off, a couple years later a young student and I were trying to make up words using the musical alphabet. Eventually, I chanced on the word D-A-D. A look of terror sprung up on her face and the tears started down her face. Tissues leaped into my fingers and I told her she was safe here and we could play a happy song to chase the sad thoughts away. To be truthful, I’m not sure why I actually got through the lesson as well as I did and the mother explained to me that the two of them don’t mention that word at home. And I thought I was having a bad week because a couple students didn’t pay up. This was a new level of perspective.
So, some schools do teach you how to handle the unruly students. They convince you that showing the unwilling out the door is better for you than a hard-earned paycheck. You develop a love for a beautiful medium of expression and nothing prepares you for the student and the tissue box event. That’s where you need to draw on your love, not just for music, but for the student. Pray for a caring response and guidance on how music can help the student cope with the disappointments and heartaches in life.
Music Therapy – ancient remedy
There were many students who had very hard lives and never showed it, but I could hear it through their fingers and see it on their faces as they lost themselves in the notes pouring from the antique Steinway. Sorrows as old as time, remedies just as tried through the ages. Just as the Psalms tell of men, overwhelmed by sorrows, find relief through music and faith their faith in a faithful God.
“But I will sing of thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning:
for thou hast been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble.
(17) Unto thee, O my strength, will I sing:
for God is my defense, and the God of my mercy. “ Ps 59:16
I teach improvisation to all my students so they can have a means of expressions and a skill to play new songs well past the years they were “made to take piano lessons.” But we must also give our students the skill to express their emotions through music as a form of therapy and expression. And, may the songs they require include many happy songs!