October marks the six month anniversary of setting up my Teaching Practice. I have been incredibly fortunate in that I now have a Practice full of wonderful students, aging from 3 up to – well, I won’t say. And as I reach this (albeit small) milestone, I reflect on my new life as a Piano teacher and how it differs from my previous life in the corporate world – and, in particular, how glad I am that I made that career change earlier this year.
I have a wonderful mix of students – from my early years’ children of 3 and 4-year olds, through to my adult beginners –and lots in between! There’s the 5-year old girl who can’t stop giggling every time we play the note ’goose’ (or ‘gooooooose’ as we have tended to pronounce it); the 4-year old fidgety boy who needs to spend at least 15 seconds rubbing his hands before setting his fingers into a playing position (and then proceeds to play very nicely); the 3-year old (and 1 month!) girl who – I admit – I thought was probably a bit too young to start, but is already, after just a few weeks, reading and playing pieces with 3 notes very fluently as well as demonstrating a strong inner ear and singing voice. There’s also the 15-year old girl who used to bang through every piece but is now learning how to include phrasing, and contrasting dynamics and really developing a musical ear; the 9-year old girl who plays with real sensitivity and maturity; and the 5-year old boy who plays as if he was born to play the piano. Oh, and my adult student who was born to play the Beethoven Bagatelles!
Every student is unique; and all have their different strengths. Some pick up certain concepts very easily – e.g. notation and interval reading – but may struggle with a good hand position and relaxed posture when playing. Others struggle with the notation but are still able to improvise and play with some real musical ability. For example, I have recently taken on a 10-year old girl who has been playing for a couple of years. Her note reading needs a lot of work, but when I showed her the classic ‘four chords’ (on which all popular music is based- see this great YouTube video) – she was able to write her own pieces which showed some real musical talent and a great ear.
In just a few months I have noticed how each of my child students are developing and maturing – not just as musicians but also as part of their natural growing-up. As me and my students get to know each other, it is great to see them develop not only their ability to sing, listen and play – but also to focus and concentrate in the lessons for longer periods of time. I often post links on my Facebook page to articles extolling the values of music education to improve all areas of life (academically, emotionally, creatively) and I really do believe that regular music lessons can benefit a student in so many ways.
This time last year I was still working in the corporate world; travelling extensively, permanently jet-lagged and getting ground down by constant demands and office politics. Friends tell me I looked a lot older then than I do now. Much about my job was good – I liked the Company I worked for, I made some great friends and I was lucky that it allowed me to see many parts of the world. However, enough was enough. Now my life is immeasurably different – I spend 30 or 60 minutes once a week with each of my students. In the case of my child students I am possibly one of the few adults, other than close family, who has this one-to-one time with them. And I realise that – if I notice how they grow and develop in just a few short months – then I really want to see how they will continue to do so over the next few years, if I have the privilege to keep working with them. Fifteen years in the corporate world bought me some great rewards (and handbags). The next fifteen / twenty (or more!) years in teaching will – I am sure – bring even greater ones – and I can’t wait!