Piano lesson myths are so ingrained into our culture and our consciousness that it almost seems silly to counter them. But on close examination, even the most “obvious” beliefs about piano study and piano practice are not only wrong, they are damaging to the individual who is bound by their chains. This material is an attempt to help pianists of all levels be liberated from such mental constraints, attitudes and assumptions regarding piano lessons, so that they might truly reach their goals.
“My teacher will drop me if I make a lot of mistakes.”
Reality: Most teachers enjoy teaching and are inspired when they see someone who really tries and is diligent with their practice. In fact, good teachers PREFER to witness your mistakes so they can help you not only fix the problem, but learn how to avoid the problem in the future. This could be in the realms of practicing suggestions, fingering, hand position, eye movements and more. If you have latent mistakes that you somehow are able to hide for the lesson, the teacher may not be able to help you fix these hidden problems, which means that they may appear later when you are performing. Also, fear of making mistakes tends to distract you from the music and will actually CAUSE the very mistakes you were trying to avoid! So, never be afraid to make mistakes for your teacher.
“I have to study classical music before I can play pop or jazz.”
Reality: If a student’s ultimate goal is to play popular music, or even to do it with classical on an equal footing, this idea that you must study classical music first is incorrect. In fact, even if one’s goal is to focus strictly on classical literature, there is great value in studying popular chord technique and improvisation. The best way to study music theory is through POPULAR music! This is because chords are presented in a straightforward manner, as chord symbols, without even having to read music! (These are sometimes called “guitar chords” and are printed above the music staff.) Theory knowledge can make you a better performer, a better sight-reader, a better memorizer, a better interpreter and a better overall musician! And, of course, these attributes are applicable to playing classical music. The easiest way to start a path towards music theory is to study popular music, with a teacher who knows how to explain chord-reading (not notation). So, one could study classical first and then popular, but considering that these are different skills that take time to master, why not do them concurrently? To avoid popular music till classical music is mastered will make it much harder to learn music theory and in turn to derive the benefits of this knowledge.
Realty: There is no difference. From my own personal experience of teaching both children and adults since 1975, this idea that a child’s brain is more receptive is incorrect. What may be true is that the child is less encumbered by the busy-ness of life and tends to have less mental clutter. This state results in a naturally-better focusing ability which creates the illusion that the child may be able to absorb new material faster than the adult. However, what the child often doesn’t have is desire. The adult really wants to study piano. And this great desire creates the same type of focus that is needed for quick learning. In fact, adults who have this intention, often from wanting to make up “for lost time,” often learn faster than children! The adult who is just a dabbler who doesn’t have the great desire is a typical hectic, frazzled adult. This type of adult is the adult who will tend to learn slower — not because they don’t practice enough, but because their energy is so distracted. Another cause of distraction is self-judgement and stress and impatience that is associated with learning. Adults have had their lifetimes to become familiar with music so they know how it is “supposed” to sound, whereas children usually have never heard the piece they are learning. As a result, adults do tend to become easily frustrated by comparing their current ability to play a piece with the way they know it should sound — and THIS comparison can cause enough stress and anxiety that the adult student will often lose interest or stop playing altogether. So adult students need to take caution about this unnecessary temptation to think they “should” sound like a professional pianist after only playing for three weeks. The adult student must learn to embrace his or her current ability with grace and appreciation. From this point improvement will occur.