Piano Lessons · Piano Teaching

Rethinking Piano Teaching

“Teaching is such a noble work!”, a student recently said to me. I never thought about it in that way.

Certainly, when one picked teaching as his or her career, one would not expect to make a fortune out of it. Some might choose it simply because of its stability (if he or she works at a government school), while others did have the desire to teach and educate the next generations, only found out later all the extra administration work and personnel issues unrelated to teaching they had to deal with, whether they liked it or not.

To be honest, I did not know I wanted to teach when I started. When I was 17 or 18, I taught for a year “involuntarily” (arranged by my dear Mother) at a tiny piano studio (in Hong Kong) in the middle of a municipal building in which there was a wet market. The piano room was so tiny that I sat with my back against the wall and could not turn myself around inside it (When I started teaching seriously after I finished my studies in Indiana (IUB) I swore I would have a very spacious place for my students to learn in). When I was studying for my first degree, I had a student who did not want to learn so bad that he hid every time I went to his place for lessons, and during the last lesson he “fell asleep” and dropped his head on the piano in the middle of his playing.

After I graduated from my second degree and was studying for my third, I also had some experience teaching at schools, universities and choirs. While some of these experiences were wonderful in terms of the learning environment and atmosphere, too many factors were out of my control that eventually I decided to set up my own place and teach on my own terms.

Having great teachers later in my life completely changed the way I viewed teaching and education. To me, a real teacher is someone who is thoroughly knowledgeable in the subject s/he teaches. S/he is devoted and caring to every single one of the students s/he has. S/he has a unique and systematic way of teaching but adjusts it to accommodate the different learning style of each student whom s/he tries to understand and has good relationship with in an ongoing basis and with mutual respect. I completely sympathize with those who teach at a school: they have to handle over thirty students in a class at the same time, and on top of that all the extra administrative work and extracurricular activities they have to take care outside the teaching hours. So when I hear some of them telling me about the genuine concern about their students after classes and the frustration with the limited time with them due to overload with administrative matters, I feel there might still be hope in the education system here, that we still have educators who truly cares about their students, our future generations.

Teaching on my own without a framework of a school or an organization is a completely different story. It requires tremendous self-discipline. No one tells me what to do and what not to do; I am completely on my own for my (and my students’!) success and failure. It is all-in-one work, meaning I do everything from administrative work to preparing teaching materials to scheduling students’ classes and monitoring their progress, writing reports, communicating with the students and parents through emails/messaging/phone calls/meetings, to writing my blog (and now maintaining three websites and one YouTube channel!), and arranging concerts, exams, performance opportunities and competitions etc.

Luckily for the last few years, I have been having someone to help take care of part of the administrative work, so that I could focus more on the teaching part. As I expand my teaching locally to online, more administrative and management work is required and therefore, balance must be made in order that the quality of my teaching is maintained at and always improving to the highest level as much as I can afford to.

Teaching is simultaneously a constant thinking and learning progress. When I teach my students, I always observe how they can learn and play better, and in return, I learn something new on how to instruct them and help them progress. When I teach my teachers, I give them new information and I guide them to see teaching and learning through different perspectives, and during my preparation of each class and through our interaction and discussion, I gain new insights as well.

As I always say, music is the communication channel, and piano, the tool. A successful teacher must help the student understand the language of music in various ways through firstly, basic fundamentals and then, creative means. Such understanding of the language facilitates communication, whether within one self or with others. A successful teacher must also master the means of verbal and physical (gestures and demonstration) communication in order to maintain an open and effective channel between the teacher and the student.

Music learning and teaching is a long-term process, we as teachers must not rush for short-term goals only to sacrifice the current learning of as well as the life-time enjoyment for our students. There must be a balance between near-sighted achievement and life-long pursuit, as in music or in life.

Teresa Wong

Preparing for the next piano pedagogy class.
Preparing for the next piano pedagogy class.