Why Enjoyment Matters A LOT when Learning to Play the Piano
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
Learning any new skill can be frustrating. This is especially true when it comes to learning musical instruments. It takes a while before students begin to sound musical and gain their first burst of confidence. As a result many give up too early before they get to experience the joy and satisfaction of playing an instrument.
As a piano teacher with more than 40 years of experience, I witnessed first hand these early struggles of students to keep motivation going and not give up. There was a clear correlation between how fun the student was having and how much they wanted to practice and study, and improve. Everyone likes to improve, but no one enjoys it if it's "a chore".
Enjoyment has a primary role in learning how to play a musical instrument, especially in the first stages. It's is a driving force that propels the will power to practice daily and as a result effects the progress of the student.
This is exactly why I designed this method (To the Piano with Love) to be enjoyable for students early on. I discovered that if a piece sounds like real music and not just a soulless technical drill, it significantly improves the chance of enjoying the process, and keeps the motivation going.
But of course there is much more to improvement and motivational drive than just sounding good.
What creates enjoyment for students when playing and practicing the piano?
The natural emotional impact of the music itself which resonates with the student. If early pieces sound too technical and not musical enough, this emotional connection is lost.
The feeling of “understanding the music” – understanding it intuitively and in the sense of understanding the story or context that is associated with a certain piece.
The technical development of the player – every time a student manages to play a piece they found difficult at first they feel a sense of achievement. This positive feedback drives the student foreword, creating the desire to keep playing until the next achievement.
The development of musical expression in a student; discovering the possibility of emotionally moving themselves and others when playing a musical piece.
The basic principles which make this method fun and easy to get into for beginners and kids
Students often face various playing challenges which can make getting into the groove of things harder (i.e. the challenges of reading music notes, improving coordination etc.). The first volumes of To the Piano with Love were made specifically to help overcome these hurdles.
1. Easy note reading The piano sheet music was made to be easily understandable, inviting and approachable by design from the ground up. A fun learning process followed by satisfaction and success requires easy to read musical texts in the first few years. When the notes are easy to read – the music becomes approachable and inviting. The easy to read piano sheet music allows the student to learn 3-4 pieces in different techniques in a short period of time, leading to a sense of quick improvement.
2. Easy playing When it is convenient to put the fingers on the keyboard – it creates a sense of control, a desire to play, and develops the courage to approach more difficult stuff in the future. Many early pieces that look difficult on paper are actually quite easy to play, and this positive "surprise" further helps build the student's confidence.
3. Easy memorization Easy to memorize pieces are also very important in the first stages. When the music is easy to remember there is more freedom to develop interpretive skills and lowers the reliance on the piano sheet music. The first two volumes put a special emphasis on pieces that are simple and easy to memorize while not sacrificing sounding musical and melodic. The easy memorization principle is also evident in later volumes although the challenges are also increasing as the level goes up.
4. Rich performance-worthy music from the very first volume Students will discover that learning and performing music on the piano can be be easy and fun from the very first stages, and you don't need to grind for years before you begin to enjoy the fruits of your labor! The purpose of my music is to create a link to the player, to touch their soul and give them pleasure from performing the piece again and again while improving their abilities and acquiring new skills. Music that sounds melodic and not like a boring exercise, can touch the heart of the player, make them feel and express a wide range of emotions trough the piano. In my music I wanted students to have room for the full depth of emotions, moods and expressions. A melody can be very simple and yet still hold within it interesting musical content and be REAL music. This principle is particularly important in volumes one and two, since these are the crucial stages that will establish the piano as a positive part of a student's life.
5. Illustrations that add an extra depth
If you teach piano to kids, you know that sometimes they need that extra magic to entice them to take up a piece and practice.
To produce the TTPWL series from an angle of enjoinment for the younger students I have decided to include colorful illustrations in the first two volumes meant to draw attention, create imagery, and develop the child’s imagination. Kids would often come up with a story fitting the illustration or imagine a scene from life and experience a wide array of moods and emotions.
Evoking the state of 'flow'
According to the field of positive psychology a state of 'flow' is described as the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
As such, the pieces are structured in gradual raising difficulty and are designed to help keep students in this state of flow throughout their learning process. The pieces are never too hard or too easy for their respective level. They always sound musical and are fun to practice from the first 2 volumes to the the last 2 volumes which is aimed at developing high level piano playing skills.
As students progress to the more advance pieces they will face new technical and musical challenges, but having already faced challenges early on successfully and experienced 'flow', they will approach these challenges as a fun experience that they can overcome grow from.
Ultimately for me, the real test of my music begins after the official lesson have ended. When the student wants to play a certain piece simply because he loves it and not just to complete a goal, or make anyone proud, or because “the teacher said so”, I feel that my music have justified its existence. This in turn is also very satisfying and joyful for me as a teacher and a composer.
Because enjoinment is a driving force for all of us – students, teachers and people as a whole.