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10 Things I Want My Piano Students To Know Before They Quit Lessons

The following letter was written by a piano teacher who said that It’s the time of year when we find ourselves saying “goodbye” to some of our teen piano students as they graduate or move to private schools for their last years in high school. They are making decisions about whether or not they will continue with their piano studies in their new locations.

As she listened to one of her beloved students explain to her that university sports conflicts and the threat of increased homework meant that she was likely not going to continue piano lessons, she found herself composing a letter to her in her mind… a letter filled with all of the things she wanted to tell her… all of the reasons that she wanted her to continue playing… all of the reasons she was so glad that many of her past teen students had continued on with piano when faced with similar “life moments”.

When she left, she sat down and wrote that letter out… and she plans on giving it to all of her future teens as they head out her studio door and into the first phase of “adulthood”. 

She has given permission to other piano teachers, like myself, to use and adapt her letter. Here it is as she wrote it:

Dear Student,

Did you know we’ve spent almost 200 hours together since you started piano lessons? Did you also know that those 200 hours were some of the most enjoyable times I’ve ever spent teaching? I feel fortunate to have been your teacher and I am so excited for what the future holds for you.

You’re at a moment in your life when you’re making some big decisions… where you’re going to go to school, where you’ll live, which program you’re going to pursue… and I know you’ll also be deciding whether or not you’re going to continue with piano lessons. I know life feels overwhelming at the moment.

But before you do what feels easiest and choose to simply move on from piano, I’d love to share some thoughts on why I would be so happy to see you continue to take piano lessons in your new location.

  1. I’ve seen the piano provide an escape for you from the pressures of friends and school and work and homework. Your piano was something you could rely on as a break from all of that… a few moments in your day when you could just make beautiful music. Not everyone has the ability to escape into something like that and those who don’t, certainly wish they did. When life tries to take over, you can hold it at bay… even just for a few minutes… by playing the piano. Your heart will thank you.
  2. All of the hours you’ve spent at the piano are just about to pay off. You’ve worked your way through the “beginner phase”, you’ve pushed through the “When will I be good enough to play…” stage and now you’re at the doorstep of having the ability to play whatever you want. You’re an advanced pianist and very few people in this world can say that. You’ve invested so much time in honing your abilities that it seems a shame to stop at the very moment when you’ve reached the goal you had in mind when you started lessons 10 years ago.
  3. School is expensive. Part-time jobs don’t pay that well. But your piano skills have the ability to put you ahead of the game in the work world. If you keep up your piano playing you’ll be able to accompany, teach, join a band, play for weddings… you name it! All of these things pay better than most student jobs. You’ve worked hard at the piano… now let it work for you!
  4. Being a pianist means you’ll meet the most amazing people that you would have likely never connected with otherwise. The music world is filled with wonderfully creative people and your piano skills are your ticket into that world. Don’t miss out on the soul-food that collaborative music-making provides. The friendships you’ll make because of your piano will be the ones you will cherish for years.
  5. Continuing with your piano studies doesn’t mean you have to practice every day for the rest of your life; you’re an adult now… you make the rules. But setting a goal for yourself to continue with lessons and to continue to use your piano skills will mean you will keep progressing. It’s so hard to re-start… it’s so much easier to keep on going!
  6. And… continuing with your piano also doesn’t mean you need to continue to play Sonatinas and Minuets. Explore pop, jazz… join a techno funk band. Surprise me, I dare you 🙂
  7. High-level piano skills looks great on a resume. Put yourself in the shoes of your future employer. What does 10+ years of commitment to learning the piano tell you about the person whose resume you are holding? That they are determined? Diligent? Creative? Tenacious? Can you think of better words to describe a valuable employee? Nope! Plus, your ability to make connections between music, art, architecture and history will mean you’ll be an interesting and educated conversationalist in any setting.
  8. The moment that you start university you’ll likely feel like a very little fish in a great big pond. It’s at times like these when you really need to feel as though you make a difference, and sharing music with others is a meaningful way of doing this. You will feel the need to reach out and connect, to help others, to bring a smile to a stranger’s face. Sit down at the piano and I promise all of these things will happen.
  9. The world is changing rapidly. Jobs that were once imperative are now done by computers. We have no idea what the future holds, but what we do know is that music will stand the test of time. The world will always need musicians. Your piano skills are the one thing you can take with you that will always be applicable and will never become redundant.
  10. There is more beautiful music in this world than you could ever play in a lifetime. Cutting your time at the piano short mean thats you will miss so much of that wonderful music. Life is short… fill it with things that are marvellous and that make you happy.

As I piano teacher I hear “I wish I hadn’t stopped piano lessons” all the time. It would make me so happy to hear the opposite from you when we meet years from now. You are so talented and you’ve worked so hard. Congratulations on everything you have achieved.

With all of my best wishes for your future and with immense gratitude for the times we’ve shared. Please do keep in touch.

Your Piano Teacher

RESEARCH BRIEFS: DID YOU KNOW?

Music training in childhood “fundamentally alters the nervous system such that neural changes persist in adulthood after auditory training has ceased.”
Skoe, E. & N. Kraus.  (2012).  A little goes a long way: How the Adult Brain Is Shaped by Musical Training in Childhood.  The Journal of Neuroscience, 32(34):11507–11510.

Scientific American’s (2010) board of editors asserted, “Studies have shown that assiduous instrument training from an early age can help the brain to process sounds better, making it easier to stay focused when absorbing other subjects, from literature to tensor calculus.”
Hearing the music, honing the mind.  (2010). Scientific American, 303(5), 16.

The cognitive structures developed through music instruction “exposed and illuminated more general organizing structures relevant for multiple disciplines.”
Portowitz,P., Lichtenstein, O., Egorova, L., & Brand, E. (2009).  Underlying mechanisms linking music education and cognitive modifiability.  Research Studies in Music Education, 31, 107–29.

On the 2012 SAT, students who participated in music scored an average of 31 points above average in reading, 23 points above average in math, and 31 points above average in writing.
College Board SAT, 2012 College-Bound Seniors: Total Group Profile Report.  (See table 18.)

Researchers have demonstrated a strong relationship between individuals who participated in school arts experiences and higher academic success as demonstrated by grade point averages, scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and math and verbal portions of the SAT exam.
Kelly, S. N.  (2012).  Fine Arts-Related Instruction’s Influence on Academic Success.

Students in high-quality school music programs score higher on standardized tests compared to students in schools with deficient music education programs, regardless of the socioeconomic level of the school or school district.
Johnson, C. M. & Memmott, J. E. (2007). Examination of relationships between participation in school music programs of differing quality and standardized test results. Journal of Research in Music Education, 54(4), 293-307.

After assigning 144 children to keyboard lessons, voice lessons, drama lessons, or no lessons, researchers found that children in the music groups exhibited greater increases on an IQ test than students in the drama lessons or those without lessons.
Schellenberg, E. G. (2004). Music lessons enhance IQ. Psychological Science, 15(8), 511-514.

An analysis of data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 demonstrated a significant correlation between participation in school music groups and achievement in math and English.
Broh, B. A. (2002). Linking extracurricular programming to academic achievement: Who benefits and why? Sociology of Education, 75(1), 69-95.

First- graders who participated in special music classes as part of an arts study saw their reading skills and math proficiency increase dramatically.
Gardiner, M. F., Fox, A., Knowles, F., & Jeffrey, D. (1996). Learning improved by arts training. Nature, 381(6580), 284-284.

Schools that have music programs have significantly higher attendance rates than do those without programs (93.3 percent as compared to 84.9 percent).
Harris Interactive Inc. (2006).  Understanding the Linkages Between Music Education and Educational Outcomes. 

With music in schools, students connect to each other better-greater camaraderie, few fights, less racism and reduced use of hurtful sarcasm. Jensen, E., Arts with the Brain in Mind, Association for Supervision and Currciculum Development, (2001).

“How Often Should I Tune My Piano?”

Your piano is an investment in your future. It can bring you and your family a lifetime of music, adding immeasurable joy and beauty to your home. Since it is also such a large investment, it should be maintained with the utmost care. Regular servicing by a qualified technician will preserve your instrument and help you avoid costly repairs in the future.

Because your piano contains materials such as wood and felt, it is subject to change with climatic conditions. Extreme swings from hot to cold or dry to wet cause its materials to swell and contract, affecting tone, pitch, and action response or touch. You can reduce the severity of these effects by placing your piano near a wall away from windows or doors that are opened frequently. Avoid heating and air conditioning vents, fireplaces and areas which receive direct sunlight. Your piano will perform best under consistent conditions neither too wet nor dry, optimally at a temperature of 68 degrees F and 42 percent relative humidity.

While pianos generally fall into vertical and grand model categories, each manufacturer selects its own materials and utilizes its own unique scale and furniture designs. Every piano requires a different level of maintenance, depending upon the quality of materials used and the design and level of craftsmanship. Manufacturers can provide general advice on tuning frequency but your technician can give specific recommendations based upon your usage and locale. Here’s what some of the major piano manufacturers recommend:

Baldwin Piano Company

(also Chickering, Wurlitzer) Professional service is the key. In the first year, the National Piano Manufacturers Association recommends that you have your piano tuned four times. This is a period of environmental adjustment for a new instrument, and proper attention is important.

After the first year, the piano should be tuned at least twice each year, depending upon the frequency of use and atmospheric conditions. Contact the Piano Technicians Guild for a list of qualified technicians to perform this service.

Yamaha Pianos

New pianos should be tuned a minimum of four times the first year to compensate for the normal settling that takes place. Subsequently, as a matter of standard maintenance, a piano should be tuned at least twice a year.

Kawai Piano Company

Quality pianos demand quality care. Fine pianos require regular maintenance in three areas: tuning, action regulation and voicing. Tuning is usually required more often than the other service areas, but all three should be a part of any fine piano’s maintenance.

Due to string stretching, settling, and the effects of climate, a new piano should receive at least four tunings in the first year. After that, the type of use and the location of the piano will dictate the number of tunings required, but Kawai recommends two tunings per year as a minimum.

(The preceding article is an excerpt of a brochure published by the Piano Technicians Guild, Inc. ©1993 Piano Technicians Guild)

“Sound Advice”

Don’t attempt any “home repairs” on your piano. Although it may appear easy to fix yourself and you think you are saving money by not calling a Piano Technician, an innocent mistake can be quite costly. Let a Piano Technician take care of it. We have the right tools, replacement parts and expertise to do the job right the first time. You will save money in the long run!

TIPS, HINTS & IDEAS TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR PIANO

First of all, have your piano tuned regularly. Twice a year minimum.

Ask your technician to do a minor “touch-up” regulation at each tuning. This will prevent most instances of unnecessary wear and breakage. Have a full regulation done every 2 to 5 years. You’d be surprised at how your piano should have sounded and responded to you playing all these years.

Keep plants, vases, drinks, or anything to do with liquid off the piano. Condensation can ruin the finish, and spillage of liquids into the inner mechanism can result in irreversible damage.

To prevent scratches on the finish, never place objects on your piano without a soft cloth or felt.

Don’t use furniture polish to clean your piano. It can soften the finish if overused, and the silicone & oils present in many household brands can even contaminate the wood, despite what the labels may say. Just feather-dust the piano first (dust is abrasive, so wiping it first can cause scratches), then wipe with a soft, damp cotton cloth, wiping in the direction of the grain. Then, wipe up any excess moisture with a similar dry cloth.

Do the same thing as above to clean your keys, or just a small amount of denatured alcohol, but use separate cloths for the blacks and the whites. Avoid any liquid running down the sides of the keys. This is fine for ivory or plastic key tops. Don’t use cleaning agents!

If more thorough cleaning and polishing is desired, special polishing products are available through piano technicians, and they are made specifically for piano finishes.

Check in next week for more tips, hints & ideas to take care of your piano!