“How did you do it? This is exactly why I am taking piano lessons, to be able to do this!” Frank, my piano student, after he watched me sight-read a piece that we downloaded from the internet.
It may seem obvious, we sign up for piano lessons to learn how to play the piano. Or is it?
Students sign up for piano lessons and invest in their time and money because they have a perceived vision of their future selves reaching a certain goal that only they know perfectly well.
They will continue their investment as long as they see that they are actually moving ahead towards their goals in measurable steps. In many cases what your student wants to achieve is not what you as a teacher have in mind. Successful teachers are able to visualize their students’ dreams and guide them towards their dreams and not their own dream for them. This is why every time I enroll a new student I ask both the parent and the student about their why, what inspired them to come and sign up for piano lessons, what is the end result that they have in their mind. Over the years I have heard many many different answers. Adult students' visions are almost always different from children's, and when adults come to sign up their children, their answers are even different from the answers they have for themselves and in many cases, children’s visions don’t necessarily line up with their parents.
If you start asking your own students you will be surprised at how many different answers you will get, you will be also surprised when you find out that most of what you took for granted was not true at all. In order to make my point more clear I will share with you the most common answers I have heard over the years:
When an adult student is signing up what I hear is something like: “I’ve just realized that I have no hobby and I want to cultivate one.”, sometimes I hear: “I’ve always wanted to play the piano but never got the chance.”, one student told me: “As a child, I always wanted to play the piano but my father didn’t agree because he hated the sound of the piano.”, another student told me that she is enrolling because she read about piano lessons helping her prevent brain problems such as Alzheimer’s when she is old, I don’t know whether she has the genetic inclination or not and I didn’t ask. Many other adult students said that they had piano lessons as children and regret quitting it. I even had an adult student signing up only to encourage her teenage daughter to practice.
Having heard all these answers from adults for themselves, this is what I hear from adults when they are coming to sign up their children for piano, the reasons are in most cases different. Many of them say that they are enrolling their children in many activities to check if their children have a predisposed talent. Some of them say that their children are spending too much time staring at their screens and they believe that the piano is going to solve this problem. Some of them are enrolling them simply to help with their school performance because they read or someone told them that piano lessons help with improving the ability to focus, to do math, to communicate, and many other reasons that have nothing to do with the piano itself. I also had a parent say that his kid will do piano only for a year and then he will move him to violin because the piano is the best instrument to start with. Another mother once told me that she wants her daughter to play the piano because it is classy. I also heard a lot of something that goes like this: “My child has so and so diagnoses and I read that piano lessons will help overcome many of the challenges.” Many parents bring their children simply for the fact that they themselves had the dream of being pianists but they never got the chance and now want to live their dreams through their children.
The purest and most straightforward answers always come from the children themselves and I always prepare myself for the most unusual answers. A girl told me once that everyone told her she had long fingers that were perfect for the piano and that is why she made her decision. Another child told me that he wanted to learn the piano because he liked to exercise his fingers. I also had a girl come in and tell me that she wants to sign up only to learn how to play the songs from the movie Frozen and she loves to sing and she wants to be able to sing and play simultaneously.
Never underestimate the power of peer pressure, I have had many children coming to sign up for piano lessons because a friend is taking piano lessons and they wanted to do the same. There are always the more passive children who will give you these answers: “My mom wants me to learn the piano.”, or “I don’t know.” In many cases, the answer is very simple such as: “ I love the piano and I want to play it”, or “I want to be able to play and sing.”
If you want to be a successful teacher and have a studio full of students who keep coming in year after year you have to figure out and see clearly in your mind's eye the perceived picture that these students and their parents hold in their minds which is the motivation that is giving them the internal push to keep practicing and investing their money and their time with you. Being clear on your objectives from the beginning will save everyone a very difficult tug of war. Where you will be pulling in a direction and your students in the other, when the students figure out that their perceived vision is unachievable, or is requires more work than they are willing to put in, they will lose their motivation and their interest and will quit.