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Doniell Cushman loves to use her teaching experiences to inspire ways to improve music, teaching, and learning.
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Written by Doniell Cushman
It might seem very clear that you need a set of books, and a willingness to learn. While these are great tools anyone must have, these are just the tip of the iceberg so to speak. So what do you really need?
1. A teacher you are comfortable with. If the person you've hired seems distant, disengaged, unenthusiastic, overly strict, or really awkward, chances are you may have picked the wrong person for the job. Don't be afraid to establish a cordial relationship where you ask each other how your day was, and to engage in small talk about anything exciting that has happened, or is going to happen. Whomever you hire, make sure that after a good solid 2 months of lessons, you feel confident in that teacher's skill, and charm. If you can't name 3 positives that will keep you happy and connected, find a new teacher.
2. Discipline. It takes a lot of focus and concentration to do everything you need to do. You must be able to sit correctly, hold your arms/hands in the right way, read the music without watching your hands, and so on. Self-control is the core of learning your instrument. If you are indulgent and lazy, you will not make the best student, and teachers will spend countless time correcting you - which in turn could make you less likely to enjoy lessons and more likely to quit at some point. Think hard about what you want to achieve, and make that goal a reality with perseverance. Don't give up.
3. A voice. When you don't understand something, speak up! If you love a song, tell your teacher. If you really enjoyed an activity or exercise, express that enthusiasm. If something is difficult, explain why. You are the one who is benefitting from the music, not the teacher. Be vocal about your needs, and your feelings and your teacher will know what you need.
4. Encouragement. Whether it's mom, dad, sister, cousin, aunt, grandma, or friend, have a support system in place. They should be willing and able to give you constructive feedback, and help set boundaries. If you have no one who is supporting you, it will be more difficult to be the star in your show.
5. A reward system. Clearly, learning something new can be difficult. Especially music, which is like learning another language. Be upfront with yourself on the time you have available to devote to music, and stick to a plan. If you have a favorite TV show to watch as an example, practice for 30 minutes, and then watch your television show. Make getting your music done less of a hassle through gifting yourself an indulgence. Finish practicing 1 song that felt like it took 3 hours? Eat a dessert of your choice. Feel stressed out and without enough time in your day? Practice after getting up in the morning, and then take a relaxing shower/bath. Make music work for your lifestyle and hobbies with a reward system.
6. An attitude of humility. No one is perfect. You are going to make mistakes, and that is part of learning. Don't let your mistakes tether you. Let them happen, and then work through them. Everyone is capable of a break through. Think of it as if you were a 5 year old learning their alphabet in kindergarten: everyone has to do it, and some take longer than others. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Be gracious when you do something correct as the feedback will always be more useful. Don't let a bad attitude spoil your education. You could miss out on a great experience or learning opportunity you might not otherwise have had.
7. Be honest. Never try to hide the fact that you didn't practice, or didn't complete an assignment. Learning music should always be at YOUR pace. If you have a super busy week, there are still things you can accomplish during the lesson even if you weren't able to practice. If you never practice, then you have to be honest with yourself. Maybe you need a better incentive to practice, or maybe you need to make the time for music in your day, and learn to cut other things out. Or maybe, music just isn't for you. And that's okay (and rare).
Knowing these things can make you or break you in your success as a student of piano. Getting the job done well should be part of everyone's goal when learning music. If you want to enjoy music, you must come willing to commit to these. Anyone can love music, but it takes an exceptional person to learn it. Let that be you!