I’ve heard people say that teaching the piano is a natural talent a person either has or doesn’t have. They often point to a parent or some other member of the teacher’s family who is also a good teacher as proof for their theory.

While it may seem this way on the surface, nothing could be further from the truth!

While you might have a lesser aptitude for teaching than someone else, you can make up for that difference by dedicating yourself to becoming a better teacher. Teaching is a craft that can be developed and honed.

Unfortunately, this also means that there are things we can do that compromise the instruction we give.

My hope is that this post will prevent you from making these mistakes before it’s too late. Here are 4 practices that will immediately sabotage your piano teaching.

1. Attempting to take your students to a level that you have never been able to reach.

In his book called The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell talks about what he calls the Law of the Lid. The Law of the Lid states that the leader’s lid, their maximum ability to lead, determines the potential of the people he or she leads.

practicesIn other words, if a leader is a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10, he will not be able to bring any of his followers higher than a 6. In essence, the leader becomes the lid.

This picture attained from an article written by Maria Symeonidou MSc for LinkedIn demonstrates this principle perfectly. 

As piano teachers, we are leaders whether we call ourselves one or not. Leadership is simply influencing a person or group of people towards a better future. That better future for our students is one in which they can enjoy playing the piano skillfully.

While this law of leadership might cause some to be discouraged, there is good news that comes with it. With the help of someone who’s lid is higher than yours, you can grow in your teaching through reading, attending classes, performing, practice, and in so many other ways.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been working hard to get better at sightreading. With the help of a site called www.sightreadingfactory.com, I sit just about every day and play music I have never seen before. If you have never heard of it, I encourage you to check it out.

Another site that you can check out is www.tonedear.com. The site has all kinds of ear training exercises for teachers and for teachers to assign to their students. We live in a day and age where just about any type of teaching is available for teachers who want to better themselves.

2. Settling for students who exhibit mediocre practice habits and lack-luster playing.

I must admit. This is something I have struggled with the most. Why? To be honest, I think it’s because it’s logical to conclude that having high expectations leads to students wanting to quit because they aren’t able to meet them. 

While this seems true, the opposite is actually the case.

practicesThis is known to social scientists as the Pygmalion Effect. The Pygmalion Effect is the phenomenon whereby higher expectations lead to an increase in performance. This effect was first demonstrated in a study done by Robert Rosenthal in 1963. 

Wikipedia states that “All students in a single California elementary school were given a disguised IQ test at the beginning of the study. These scores were not disclosed to teachers.

Teachers were told that some of their students (about 20% of the school chosen at random) could be expected to be “intellectual bloomers” that year, doing better than expected in comparison to their classmates. The bloomers’ names were made known to the teachers.

practicesAt the end of the study, all students were again tested with the same IQ-test used at the beginning of the study. All six grades in both experimental and control groups showed a mean gain in IQ from before the test to after the test. However, First and Second Graders showed statistically significant gains favoring the experimental group of “intellectual bloomers”.

This led to the conclusion that teacher expectations, particularly for the youngest children, can influence student achievement. Rosenthal believed that even attitude or mood could positively affect the students when the teacher was made aware of the “bloomers”. The teacher may pay closer attention to and even treat the child differently in times of difficulty.”

In short, you get what you expect. Don’t sabotage your teaching by settling for mediocrity.

3. Expecting your students to get excited about learning the piano when you are not.

For those of you who are parents, you will know the saying that says, “Do as I say, not as I do.” For parents and for piano teachers alike, this may be the ultimate hypocrisy. 

practicesAre you excited about the music your students are playing? If not, it’s time for you to make a change.

You may need to explore and start using a different series of method books. I use the Alfred series and I like it enough that I don’t get distracted by anything I deem irrelevant. 

It may be time to try a new medium. I recently switched from teaching lessons face to face to teaching students through Skype. This excites me for so many reasons. First, I am not in anyway limited by how far my students live from me. In fact, I have a couple students right now in Asia. One is in Thailand and the other is in Bangladesh. 

And…I have to say it. It may be time for you to find a different career. Piano teaching can be difficult because many students want to study after school or work. Perhaps you need to find a 9 to 5 job.

You may be thinking that your students can’t really tell that you are going through the motions. The truth is that they do.

I am living proof of this. I had a piano teacher while I was in high school that was grumpy for much of the time she taught me. I made a decision to drop her for other reasons but found a different teacher and I began loving to play again.

4. Assuming that your students will be loyal to you because of your talent.

My first boss out of college used to say something that I still remember to this day. He’d say, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Think back for a minute to the teachers you had in school. Which ones do you remember? Do you remember any of them because of their caliber of teaching? 

We naturally remember the teachers that were kind to us and let us have a little fun in the learning process. We also remember the ones who were stern and didn’t seem to have a caring bone in their body! Again, we don’t remember anything about their teaching abilities.

Showing kindness and care to our students has a much bigger impact than when we talk about our degrees or the places we have performed.

For the most part, students don’t switch teachers because he or she is incompetent. Instead, they leave because they don’t feel like a teacher cares about them.

Showing our students that we care about them goes a long way. In fact, I would say it often opens their mind to want to learn more! As the saying goes, once a person sees how much you care, they will be interested in what you know.

Changing Your Practices

Take a minute and think through your teaching practices. Are you doing any of these things? If so, you can change today. Your students will sure see the difference and you will become a better piano teacher overall. 


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