This has been weighing on my mind for quite some time, and I would like to share this with all of you.
First, let me preface this by saying that I am beyond grateful for my 12+ years of becoming a musician and falling in love with music. I am grateful for the sacrifice that my parents have made to put me and my sisters through piano lessons and always telling ups to do our best. I am grateful for the many music mentors and teachers that I have had over the years that have given me their patience and shared their love of music with me. I am also grateful for the opportunity that I have had to be a music educator myself, sharing my love and knowledge of music with a younger generation.
For the past four years I have been tutoring and teaching piano lessons privately and through my old piano studio (which is another blessing). All of the kids that I have had the privilege of teaching have been, without a doubt, blessings in my life. Yes, it would be dishonest of me to say that every child is a cakewalk and that every situation is an easy one. But the reality is, sometimes teaching can get difficult, whether it is a musical skill, instrument, or even something not music-related such as sports, languages or concepts.
As am music educator, I want to make it clear what my role is.
I am just what the job description says. I am a music educator, and not a magician. My job as an educator is to bring music into your life, give you tips and pointers on how to improve and go the extra mile and to motivate you to do the best that you can and be the best that you can be. I want students to put in the hard work and see the results that way, instead of just giving them the “easy” way out and cheap praise.
However, this is easier said than done. People want to see quick and immediate results. They do not want to wait 5 or 10 years before they see results. This is not a realistic of feasible goal. You cannot expect to go from music-less to Mozart over night. It would be unrealistic of me to push this goal onto my students. My job is not to give students a magic pill so that they can become a virtuoso musician. That has to be earned and worked at.
As it happens, students are often frustrated with their slow progress. A discussion I had with a parent had brought a lot of doubt into my mind, hence this post and a heavy heart. I questioned whether or not I was adequate enough to even begin to teach kids piano. I questioned whether or not I fully understood what I was getting myself into, and whether or not I fully understood the role of my job.
This discussion reminded me that piano, like many other activities, requires dedication and hard work. The relationship between a teacher and a student is not a one way street. Students need to practice – it is their job! You cannot expect progress with practice. With practice, you will go upwards and improve, little by little. The progress is not great to start with, but over time you grow in your craft and earn mastery over it. It is with this practice that a teacher can supplement the hard work that you have put in. I say ‘supplement’ because the critiques that teachers give should not replace the work that is already put in.
It works the same way with being a member of a sports team. You need to train and go to practice to improve. Without going to practice and demonstrating your technique and skills, how will your coach know whether or not you can handle a game? How will they know that you are dedicated? Coaches put their best players out on the field in order to create favourable situations for a win.
With music, your “win” is the mastery of your skill.
Let me mention that I see both sides of the relationship equally. Currently, I am still a music student working at a goal that I have been dreaming over for a few years now, and that is a Diploma in Piano Pedagogy with the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. I feel the pains of finding time to practice, the feeling of discontent when I cannot get a piece right and also the feeling when I have disappointed my teacher. However, I also have experienced the great joys that come out of playing a piece with finesse, making my teacher proud and being able to demonstrate a clear understanding of what I have learned over the years. Music is one of those things in life where determination and discipline is crucial in order to succeed, and it is a lesson that I have brought with me everywhere to this day.
I would be lying to you if I told you that this path was easy. In fact, there have been times when I felt like dropping out and not playing anymore. Piano has taught me to never give up and to practice even harder when you feel like you are not getting anywhere. Because if anything, you are progressing even when you feel like you are regressing. Mastery is a slippery slope – you need to keep going up, because the minute you plateau, it is difficult (but not impossible) to continue upwards.
They say that “practice makes perfect”, and in this respect, it is so true. Find the drive and the discipline to practice and give your teacher a reason to praise you. Remember that this relationship, like so many others, is a two way street. Music educators cannot give you their hands and brains for you to play the perfect piece. Instead, we can only give you a critique of what you have done well and what you can improve on. The rest is up to the student: practice, endure, and excel.
I feel that this concept can apply to anything that you wish to excel in. Without discipline and hard work, we would take our talents and gifts for granted. Push yourself to improve and never accept just mediocrity.
Oh, and show some love to your fellow mentors and teachers too. 🙂
Your fellow music educator and ink spiller,
(PS – here is a #tbt of me in Banff with a super nice Steinway)