Tonight I spent some time thinking through the history of my piano teaching. If you’re curious about it, you might find this post rather interesting.
I started playing the piano at the age of 5. It’s basically a must in Hong Kong for every child to learn a musical instrument. And piano is probably the most popular instrument (second should be violin)- even though ironically, the apartments are so small that one can barely fit an upright piano in.
I didn’t know I wanted to play piano for life until I was maybe around 18. I certainly didn’t know that I wanted to teach piano even after a first few years of teaching. I was taught by many, but few gave me the impression of how True Teachers were like. I was fortunate to have a couple very inspirational piano teachers in my life, prompting me to become one for my students in the future.
It was tough to get started in the piano teaching business, not because there were lack of students, but rather, I had a very different approach than most teachers out there. Everyone wanted to train the students to be the best in exams and competitions, so they drilled songs over and over again, leaving students learn very little over years of piano lessons. I resented that idea very much, especially I was one of the “victims” back in the days before I went to music schools.
It was tough to have few students while holding on to the ideal that learning should be enjoyable and teaching inspiring. I thought of giving up and just did the way every other teacher was doing. And then I went back to school thinking getting a doctorate would solve everything. It didn’t work out that way.
Here I like to add that in my earlier music career I was more of a performer. I performed internationally, collaborated with many fantastic musicians around the world. I was a juror in international piano competitions. I also taught music courses at college level in universities. I enjoyed that part of my career very much. But I never forgot how my Teachers inspired me and kept coming back to the idea that I wanted to focus on my teaching at the piano.
I realized I loved to teach piano and wanted to help struggled students like I was once to enjoy their playing and love music the way they want to. So I started the journey of building my own studio the second time. This time was wildly successful beyond my dreams. Eventually I went on to having a charity organization and then a private music school. I do remember the first few months of running the music school, I ran out of cash to pay rent beyond my belief because of all the money I had to put in to build the school at the start with no one’s financial help but my own money. It was a very rough start.
Eventually it was a success – my staff and I did some really awesome concerts and projects. Our students and their parents loved and supported us for what we did. We published a set of piano beginner books and a couple piano method books authored by yours truly.
After that I left Hong Kong and moved here to Colorado. I had to start all over again. I started teaching online. And then when I was ready to teach in person, I found the similar dilemma I had when I first started years ago. I couldn’t teach the way everyone else was teaching. I couldn’t stand the poor standard of how others run their teaching studio. I wanted to provide a nice environment for my students to learn in. I also was not sure if my way of teaching worked in a different culture/country.
The struggle trying to start all over in a different country was very real and painful for the first couple years. Luckily, students seemed to warm up to me very quickly and really enjoyed my teaching and lessons. I started my own studio again. Things finally started to look up. That was when Covid hit. Lessons came to a halt and some students had to stop lessons. What a crazy journey I was in!!
I was getting quite frustrated and really off put by the whole situation. But I bit my tongue and kept on going. I shifted to online completely for a while and gradually students started coming back in in person. New students started signing up. I did find that I had other work I had to spend time with so I knew I couldn’t take as many students as I could anymore. Still, I enjoyed every moment of my time with my students in lessons.
I still keep in touch with some of my former students, no matter where they are all over the world. Every now and then, they would send me messages to see how I’m doing, and I get updates from them as well. I have students who are piano teachers themselves, so it’s interesting to hear from them about their own teaching stories.
I always say, piano is a tool to connect with others. Through music, we bond. And what a wonderful way for us to connect via beautiful music and at the piano!!