I like to think that anyone who works in a leadership or teaching role with young people is in the business of making memories. In addition to helping our students develop skills, we provide experiences that we hope will make good memories for the rest of their lives. Exactly how does this happen in a piano lesson? Last week’s spring recital reminded me once again the real reasons to teach. Have you ever wondered exactly what parents receive for the lesson tuition paid to a piano teacher?
Certainly, we teach the elements of music. From melody and harmony, to rhythm, tempo, dynamics and music theory, we share an international form of communication with our students. Music notation is one of few things that is consistent worldwide. The notes our students learn will be the very same as those learned all around the world.
We teach techniques specific to mastery of our favorite instrument, the piano. With keyboard choreography (otherwise known as fingering) and articulation styles, we teach young fingers to dance on the keys. We help them coordinate foot pedaling techniques to achieve desired musical effects. But we teach so much more than this. A piano lesson is really a small lesson in life. We cover personality traits like dedication, commitment, perseverance and concentration. We help students learn the value of repetition in the mastery of a difficult task. (Play it again. And again. And yet again.) We help students learn the value of being flexible, and the satisfaction of a job well done. Nothing else can top that feeling.
We share other tidbits about life too. In just a minute or two at the beginning or end of a lesson, I have explained my collection of instruments from around the world, or my collection of rocks and how they were formed. I have discussed the direction of earth’s rotation with students and tiptoed with them to a nest of baby bunnies in my garden. I have even, on occasion, shared my favorite remedy for hiccups.
In return, the students share things with me as well. Through our weekly meetings, we come to know each other well. We develop a relationship that has the potential to become a lifelong friendship. After all, how many other teachers stick by their students season after season, year after year?
I hear about family celebrations. I know where families head for summer vacations, or for the holidays. I know who’s coming to visit and how long they will stay. I know what is planned for birthdays. I hear about good days at school, and bad days as well. I hear about contests won. And contests lost. I receive invitations to participate in the lives of my students. I am invited to school performances, church functions, and community performances. I am invited to participate in school fundraisers, youth club fundraisers, and symphony fundraisers.
I have helped prepare students to perform at weddings; I hold their hands as they deal with the loss of a grandparent—sometimes even the tragic loss of a close friend.
So, sure, we piano teachers serve as teachers. We teach music and the skills needed to play a piano. But relationships with our students, over the years, hold so much more—teacher, coach, cheerleader, confidante, and friend. For me there is no greater reward.