I suspect that the piano is still in the dark ages when it comes to the way it’s perceived, and the methods which are used to teach.
I’ve often wondered why the piano isn’t as popular as it once was, and why instruments like the guitar have taken over. I’ve seen many bands over the years at local venues, and you very rarely see a pianist, but there are usually 3-4 guitarists filling the stage. You see a keyboard now and again, but I’m talking about a proper piano with 88 weighted keys and a sustain pedal, and someone actually sat down playing it properly rather than stood up dancing around.
I think that one reason why the piano isn’t as popular anymore is because the perception of how you learn hasn’t changed. Most people believe that when learning to play the piano you need to understand about posture and technique, and that if you get it wrong your fingers will be slapped with a ruler. Unfortunately this type of teaching is still out there today (apart from the ruler smacking I hope), and I’ve come across countless tutorial videos that bang on and on about how to sit properly at the piano, and how your hands and fingers rest on the keys. It frightens me to think that these people actually take the students hard earned cash and waste time on worrying about posture and how the fingers hit the keys, and the amount of pressure that needs to be applied, blah blah blah. To me, it’s just a waste of time and it sends out the wrong message to anyone wanting to learn.
I recently had someone come and see me about starting piano lessons, and we had a good chat to begin with about what they’d like to learn and how I would approach the lessons. The gentleman had only been playing the piano for a few weeks and had been watching YouTube videos to try and play a few things, and was struggling to get anywhere. He was very honest with me from the start and said he wasn’t interested in learning to read music, and just wanted to learn songs. My response to this was to explain how important and vital it is to learn to read music, and that my method of approach is very straight forward, and we will begin by working out the notes on the piano and where they sit on the sheet music. Within 10 minutes he was playing a song with his right hand, whilst reading from the music for the very first time. He couldn’t believe that within a few minutes he was reading and playing music, and also understood the note values and how long to play them for.
Like most people, he assumed it would take weeks and even months to read music, but I showed him how simple it was to begin with by only giving him a few notes and a simple melody. My method of teaching is based upon this very simple technique of starting off extremely small, and each week adding more and more notes. It sounds rather simple and obvious, but there are still some piano teachers out there that don’t do this. For me, there is no point in talking about posture and finger technique for 45 minutes. Just start simple and let the student play as soon as possible.
How to sit at a piano, posture, finger technique – this will all come naturally in time, and there is no point in boring people to death on the first lesson with all this nonsense. As a pianist I fully understand the importance of the above, but I prefer to just let people play and get them to understand that it’s not as difficult as they first thought.
There are a lot of piano tutors out there that just take things too seriously, and put theory and technique before anything else. The problem with this is that you will only get the hardcore students to buy into this, leaving the rest of them tired, bored and frustrated, and before we know it they will pick up a guitar and get their friends to show them a few chords that they can sit and amuse themselves for hours with.
Deep down I truly believe that there are lots of people out there that have always wanted to learn the piano, but have been afraid to take lessons because of the way it’s taught. We need to spread the word that learning the piano is fun, before it’s too late and these guitarists don’t leave us any room on the stage.