Just a quick post today about a quote that has caught my attention recently. A quote about happiness as I am preparing for the new school year.

When we look back at our assessments for the year, we look at progress – how well they played their scales & arpeggios, whether or not they finished another method book level, how many superior +’s were received during competitions/festivals, and so on. We discuss and set new goals each semester, we plan our repertoire pieces for important auditions way in advance, and we are set on achieving the next “level” with our students.

Reading this quote the first time, I noticed the “creative efforts” part. It stuck with me all summer as I’ve been out of town in California for 2 months. And I decided that all too often, I’m focused on the “achievement” part. Yes, achievements bring joy.  We all know this – just look at the pictures of diplomas we display proudly or the trophies our students love to collect.

However, I worry that too often I focus on that achievement part instead of the creative part. Yes, we need parents to see the value in lessons so they will continue to encourage and support their students in the learning process. Because it does take work and sacrifice from both parents and children to grow in this skill. And students know how great it feels when they play that piece for the judge and receive the best rating or the top trophy. They know that achievement has joy!

However are we pushing through for progress in every lesson a bit too much sometimes? Do we make sure to emphasize the joy found in creating music? Whether it’s a performance of a piece that they learned just for themselves or playing a fun duet with a friend or composing something that expresses a feeling they can’t quite say out loud, are we showing them how to enjoy making music in each lesson? And do we share this example of enjoying creating music ourselves?

Too often, I fall into this trap too – where I teach and plan lessons around this beautiful instrument but forget to take the time to play daily and feed my own happiness with creative time on the piano. And I am guilty of resisting the chance to play for others because it wouldn’t be perfect and only perfection is achieving something. I will admit, I will hardly ever improvise in front of anyone but my students!! So I know my example of finding happiness in the “thrill of creative effort” is a bit lacking.

So back to this quote, I’m using it as my reminder and goal for teaching this semester. I don’t want my students to grow up and 10 or 20 years from now say, “Oh I took piano growing up but now I can’t really play.” My goal is to leave them with the instinctual knowledge that they can get that joy and that thrill every time they sit at the piano. They don’t have to perform fancy repertoire or have trophies to prove that they find happiness in this instrument.

Chances are that very few of my students will become concert pianists. I’d rather know that each of them loves to play and never holds back from a chance to play the piano. I hope they’ll sight read duets often at their own level with friends, that they’ll pull out music for that song they love and never hesitate to learn something new just for fun.

It may take some adjusting on my “expectations” in every lesson. We’ll try not to push through every book each week so we make sure there are thrilling moments throughout. But I really hope that these wonderful students I get to work with will remember how enjoyable lessons and (dare I say) practice were! I hope you’ll consider this quote and see where it leads you too.

Looking for more on creativity for yourself, the piano teacher?

Read this article for a few ideas we’ve used.

Author: Whitney

Whitney Hawker, NCTM, teaches group and private piano at Weber State University, Utah. She loves surprising students with the perfect piece or a new exciting game! After graduate school, she missed sharing ideas and resources daily with colleagues so she and her friend, Spring, began blogging together at 4DPianoTeaching.com

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