The 6 best ways to disappoint your piano teacher

Lady disappointed with the piano

My love for amateur pianists

As a master piano teacher and artistic director of the London Piano Institute, I have met hundreds of amateur pianists and shared my experience with several colleagues who are themselves terrific pianists.

We have all taught and we are still teaching wonderful people who make teaching an extremely enjoyable occupation. We can also, at times, experience lots of pain with students who do not seem to understand both piano playing and piano education.

For some unknown reasons, some people treat their instructors with little respect and tend to forget that their piano teacher is likely to have a level of expertise similar to top lawyers or brain surgeons.

Instead of looking down on them, some individuals should reconsider their views and be full of admiration for the exceptional pianist who is giving up some of his precious time to guide them through their musical journey.

Man playing on a grand piano

Mistake 1 - have outrageous expectations

Some piano students start their course with the wrong mindset. They do not understand what piano playing is all about nor comprehend the enormous amount of work needed to succeed. Some see it as a task that must be completed as soon as possible. Others expect to play Rachmaninov 2nd concerto within a few weeks and show little interest in the basics that cannot be skipped.

These misconceptions often lead to tension and frustration and make the lessons painful for both the teacher and the student.

If you decide to learn how to play the piano, you must keep in mind that becoming a proficient pianist takes years and that rushing the process is not the solution.

Let me share my experience with two of my former students.

Student A was very nervous. At his first lesson, he told me that he was taking a break from work for a year and that it was the perfect opportunity for him to learn how to play the piano. As I have a huge experience in adult piano education, I immediately understood that he was planning to master piano playing within this year. He was quite a good student at first. He was very dedicated and I was quite impressed with his progress. He always completed his homework and even exceeded my expectations. No wonder why! He wanted to succeed so badly and so quickly that he was extremely motivated. As expected, he experienced his first setback after a few weeks of studies and the atmosphere changed entirely. He became extremely nervous and turned each session into a nightmare. He would kick the floor and the keyboard repeatedly at each mistake he was making. As defeat was not acceptable to him, he ended up playing altogether after a few months of studies. Is it not ironic?

Student B was also extremely motivated at first. He was practising much more than required to propel himself to the moon. He was doing very well but he was still at a very early stage when he came to his lesson informing me that the beginner book we were working from was uninteresting and that he would much rather study his favourite piece by Maurice Ravel. I do not need to add that it was one of the most difficult pieces ever written for the piano.

At this moment, I knew that the lessons would turn into an unpleasant experience. Fortunately, he quickly realised that this piece of the repertoire was far too hard for him and he stopped attending his piano lessons.

You might think I am making these stories up. Sadly, I am not.

Lady looking at the piano score

Mistake 2 - Criticising the advice given by your piano teacher

Piano teachers are usually excellent pianists who have vast experience in adult piano education. They know what should be studied at each stage of your development and what technical exercises or pieces of the repertoire are best for you. If you are a beginner, please keep in mind that your teacher was probably playing the pieces you are practising at 4 years old and that they are extremely straightforward to him. He knows exactly what he is doing. Criticizing his advice while you can barely synchronise your both hands is not the way forward.

Once again, you might be surprised to hear that some people with no or very little experience in piano playing argue the advice given by their instructor...

I can understand that interpretation can be subjective and I have no problem with that but arguing when you can hardly play is not acceptable.

I have always been baffled when students seek my help to resolve technical difficulties and come to their lesson the following week telling me that the advice given made things worse.

How can it be?

As piano teachers and concert pianists, we have practised hundreds of pieces of the repertoire and we have probably encountered all the possible technical issues. We know how to resolve them. There is no doubt about that.

Keep in mind: If it looks like your playing is getting worse from a week to another, it is not because your piano teacher has given you the wrong advice. It is because you have either not practised enough or practised in the wrong way.

lady playing the piano

Mistake 3 - Inversing the role of student and teacher

In the category of the worse piano students ever, there is a certain type of people who likes inverting the role between teacher and student. They are usually intermediate or advanced players but they can also be beginners.

One of my former students was a fairly known person in his profession. For this reason, he thought that he had it all and that he could conduct the lessons better than I would.

I could not give him any advice, even if there was a lot to say. He would systematically say “I know this but it is not the issue”. Or he would close the book to perform another piece as soon as I would open my mouth to give my feedback on his performance. Unbelievable but true.

Man having fun at the piano

Mistake 4 - Jump around and inform your piano teacher about your latest discoveries

You might think that I have a lot of imagination but I can assure you that all these anecdotes are true.

Some amateur pianists think higher of themselves than they are. They tend to copy the performances of world-class pianists without understanding them fully and it results in inconsistent incoherent playing.

I have rarely met such people but I still have. They would not listen to my advice but defend their poor interpretation believing that it was what Maurizio Pollini or Alfred Brendel were doing. Copying another pianist does not work, especially if you do not understand the reasons behind their variations of the text.

It made it impossible for me to express myself as a pianist and piano teacher.

Piano student struggling to practice

Mistake 5 - Being lazy with your piano practice

The worst insult is to come to your piano lesson and claim proudly that you haven’t had any time to practice. I have always been amazed by piano students who are not ashamed to attend lessons without sitting at the piano once during the week. How is it possible? How is it possible not to find a few minutes each day to do your homework? Are these people actually interested in piano playing? Don’t they want to make any progress?

We have all watched Groundhog Day so make sure to practice in between your lessons if you don’t want to torture your piano teacher!

Grand piano in an atmospheric room

Mistake 6 - Skip or reschedule lessons regularly

Do you ever skip work or reschedule a shopping trip with your best friend? I believe that it only happens when you are truly unwell and unable to leave your bed.

One of the best ways to show your piano teacher that his lessons are not important to you is to reschedule or skip them regularly.

In addition to showing a lack of interest in your piano lessons, you must also realise that rescheduling your lessons means that you are throwing around the weekly organisation of your instructor.

I am not saying that students should attend religiously every single week of the year on the set day and time and never have any impediment but some people seem to think that their piano teacher is available at any time to suit their availability.

Remember that your piano instructor is possibly as busy as you are. He must manage a demanding schedule and balance his life equally between teaching, practising and performing.

Even if you must juggle between various activities, try and stick to your appointments as often as you can for the benefits of both your teacher and yourself.

I am sure that you are a wonderful person and that you are not intending to disappoint your piano teacher. I just wanted to share my experience with difficult students and show you that acting oppositely will surely please your instructor.

Now that you know the 6 best ways to disappoint him, I am sure that you will try your best to be a “perfect” student. You will carefully listen to his advice and ensure that you practice diligently. You will also attend your piano lessons regularly and appreciate that it is a blessing to spend some time weekly with a fantastic pianist!

Not being a good piano student is not beneficial neither for you nor your teacher so I encourage you to ensure that you can be a fantastic pupil before starting your piano course!

Article by Celine Gaurier-Joubert

Celine Gaurier-Joubert is a master pianist and educator specialising in adult music education.

She is also the founder and director of S & C, The London Piano Institute and Institut de Musique de Paris. Thanks to her outstanding knowledge and experience, she is a reference in terms of music education for adults.