Since the start of this website, I have been receiving a lot of enquiries and questions concerning piano lessons, piano technique, examination preparation and even topics not related to piano (but music-related). I have taken in students not only locally but also those whose families are relocated from abroad. I have taken up the offers to record for other musicians and even invitation to potential collaboration of concerts. I have met so many people and even made friends with some of them through this channel that I would never have imagined happened.
But today I want to answer one question and one question only: What are the benefits of piano learning, regardless for a child or an adult?
For that I would like to give you a variety of perspectives from different angles.
One would argue, “you are a professionally trained pianist and a piano teacher, of course you would suggest everyone to take piano lessons.” Quite on the contrary, I have told off some people to not take lessons from me, and I do think there are some who should not take piano lessons at all, including those who absolutely hate playing the piano and the sound of it, who would never want to put any time and effort to practice the piano, and who do not enjoy music of any style. These people should never learn to play any instruments at all, because for them it would be of utmost misery as well as waste of time and effort to do so and I would suggest them spending their valuable time elsewhere enjoyable.
Now then, what are the advantages of learning to play the piano?
Let’s look at it from the purely non-musical point of view. Taking piano lessons builds strict self-discipline out of the learner, who is solely responsible for his/her own success and failure. Say piano practice. Certainly one can have others – for example the parents or the teacher- to force and nag him/her to practice, but the result would not be as great as when done on own will. That’s why I always, always stress the importance of building such discipline especially on the young students. I want them to want to get better on their own free will but not forced upon by anyone else, not by their parents or me.
There are so many aspects of piano practice that needs self-discipline. The most obvious one is having the diligence to practice regularly. One needs to establish a schedule and stick with it, keeping him/herself from temptation of using the scheduled time to do other things. During my undergraduate years as a piano performance major student, I practiced every single day every summer holiday unless I was travelling to music festivals outside Kong Kong. Even for my students who are just preparing for exams or performance, they would make a schedule to practice regularly or else they know they would not be prepared well enough for the goals they have to achieve. That calls for good time management. With my students, I would discuss and make plans with them on the schedule about when they have to be prepared on certain pieces so that they would be ready for the whole program of exam, so there is goal setting involved as well.
Speaking of goal setting, I always say to my students, “once you have a goal set in mind, you have to work hard and smart towards it.” The effectiveness and efficiency of the planning towards reaching the goal calls for either success and failure. And such effectiveness and efficiency includes how to practice. A lot of learners simply have no clue on how to practice, they just think if they put in certain amount of time to do the act they would be able to improve. It’s absolutely wrong notion. Mindless practice with no specific planning and focus only leads to confusion, frustration and eventually failure.
Already I have presented quite a few skills one can acquire in piano learning: self-discipline, self-control (including focus on the goal at the same time resistance to distraction), diligence, goal setting, time management, smart planning, quick reflex, persistence and resilience to achieving the goal, reflection on one’s own failure and change of plan to success, and, sense of responsibility for own failure and success (that means not blaming anyone for it, because, when you are on stage or in exam, you are totally on your own and no one can ever help you, so you are solely responsible for your own playing, and you just have to deal with it).
Certainly, the best benefit of having a proper piano training is the immense enjoyment of music for many years to come. Let me stress the word “proper” here. I know and see and have also experienced personally what improper training can do to a learner who unfortunately did not receive the right kind of piano education and does not enjoy or even detests playing the piano. It is a shame that I want to avoid first and foremost when training my students. I believe by now my readers should understand learning to play the piano is similar to taking up a sports. One needs precise skills and precise ways to practice to get good at a sports (and enjoy it). The same goes for piano playing. One needs to acquire certain and enough skills to practice and drill them in a certain way so that these skills become automatic to him/her. There are countless notes in even one short piece, and the action required – which is a combination of various movements and techniques – is to be executed in a millisecond, differently in left hand and right hand, in the right foot and sometimes even the left foot. Therefore, not only the action has to be executed fast and precise, it has to be done right, which is acquired correctly with lots of hours drilled in automatically also in reflex. I would say it is like doing Kung-Fu or fighting for your life. This reflex action is missing in a lot of players who do not understand why they are so slow in sight reading. The reason for such slow reading is the lack of speed to process all the information on the score presented and react to it as well as reflect in the playing in a split second simultaneously. However, without the foundation of real solid music knowledge and the correct reading and quick analysis of the data (that is the harmony, the structure, and the meaning behind them, and that’s what we call music theory in general, combined further with understanding of the musical style and background, and the rendition of everything, which we call music history, and performance practice and music interpretation), one would never be able to read and play quickly and well. So deeper understanding of every aspect is called for better success in learning, playing and enjoyment of the piano, and this truly reflects why a lot of students especially the kids find piano lessons boring, because they don’t really know what they are doing except moving their fingers along the keyboard and striking the keys down without understanding what is going on in the music! Would you read a book through without understanding the language and what the story is about? Would you play a sports but do not know about the rules and how to score and win? Then why would anyone in the world want to play the piano without understanding what the music is about but making some sound out of the instrument?
Another thing is that I see a lot of students (including myself) were trained in the negative kind of way, being pushed and forced to play and getting blame and guilt for not working hard or playing well enough. They built up all these years of negativity towards practice and playing that even when they find out much later in their lives that they indeed enjoy piano and music, all this guilt and negative mentality towards themselves and their playing affect their mind to learn and slow them down to progress forward. What I try to do in every single lesson for these students is to provide them with total (sometimes overflowing) positivity and constructive encouragement, to make them see how the right mindset and focus can drastically change the way they play. It is not an easy task for both me to do and my students to swallow, since they had been fed with all the destructive criticism (from others then themselves) and negativity in the past years before they came to me. But we still try, and we are doing it every single day to move forward and be positive of ourselves and the journey together. I am a huge believer in positivity, and I truly think only positive reinforcement counts for the best optimal result in every single thing we do.
With the right kind of piano training, one can learn so very much from it and apply these benefits to other aspects of life, be it career and personal life (health-physical, emotional and mental and relationships – intrapersonal and interpersonal) .
Until next time,
Teresa Wing-Yin Wong
P.S. I cannot stress further how important it is to have the right kind of instrument when one learns to play the piano – yes, a piano, not an electric keyboard, no matter how close it seems to be resemble and sound like a real piano (it really does not), or a poorly maintained piano, especially for the beginners of any age (of course not good for any player of any age or level at all).
P.P.S. As I promised before, I will discuss about techniques in my next post. But this post just cannot wait. So in the next post, I shall record a video and talk further about the basic fundamental techniques that we all need to acquire. Stay tuned.