"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
September 26, 2012
Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Piano Lessons, Part 1
by Emily S. Jorgensen

If I had a dollar for every excuse I have heard about why a piano student didn’t practice this week, I think I could quit teaching and retire on the interest.

Whenever a student starts the lesson with, “Well, this week I didn’t really practice because…” I listen respectfully and wait for him to finish. Then I respond, “Ok, so are you ready to repent this week?”

We have a little chuckle and discuss strategies to do a better job this week.

I have taught well over 20,000 piano lessons at this point in my career. In that time I have learned that some of the most important of life’s lessons can be learned in the course of piano study. One of them is indeed repentance.

Lesson 1: Repent Now or Repent More Later

I make it a point to preview a new piece with students in each lesson. I point out the parts that will be more difficult. I offer practice strategies and hints to help them do their best this week. I may even have them try a passage or two with me by their side so I can further guide them.

Amanda Vick Lethco, a late famous piano teacher called this “preparing their success.” The idea is that we can prevent difficult passages from becoming problematic bad habits if we approach them correctly the first time.

However, it inevitably happens that a student will come back with a problem or two because he mislearned something or approached a passage in a way that seemed easier to him at the time but in fact has bred a bad habit that will cause problems later. At this point, I outline a plan to fix the problem. This usually involves drilling the passage several times, very slowly, perhaps in pieces, and then gradually working it back up to speed. (This is very boring. But, it is also very effective.)

Here’s the rub: if the student is willing to fix the problem right away, in the second week of learning the passage, it will take just a few days to relearn it correctly. However, if he comes back to the next lesson (and perhaps even the next) with the same problem because he didn’t want to do the boring, monotonous drilling, then it becomes a problem that will take possibly hours to relearn.

Eventually, if he has avoided fixing the problem on his own for a substantial amount of time, I will take our lesson time and we will drill it together. This is my least favorite type of lesson. The student hates it; I hate it. It is boring. It is tedious. It means we don’t get to the fun stuff.

But, usually, I only have to do this once with a student for them to learn. If he fixes it right away next time, if he just sucks it up and does the 10 times a day for 3 days that I recommend, he will never have to endure this again.

Likewise, if we face our temptations and our life’s mistakes right away, repenting and turning from them, we can live a happier, freer life. Bad habits won’t become addictions. Hurt feelings won’t become a festering grudge. A misunderstanding won’t destroy a relationship.

Why don’t we face our problems right away? Because just like drilling the same two measures of a piano piece ad nauseam, the work of repentance is rather unpleasant.

Recently, my nine-year-old daughter came to me to confess that she had inadvertently lied to me about some such thing a while ago. It was clear as she talked to me that she felt nervous and that this was a difficult thing for her to say. Of course, I couldn’t even remember the situation to which she was referring; it was easy to forgive her.

I realized this was a golden teaching moment.

I asked her how she felt now that she had told me and apologized, and she said with a big sigh and smile, “really good.”

I’ve seen that same smile on students’ faces after they face that difficult passage and invest the necessary work. Alternatively, the student who avoids the unpleasantness just feels worse and worse about it every week, making lame excuses and claiming to not like piano anymore.

The peace a pianist feels once a difficult passage is mastered is just a microcosm of the peace to our soul that comes from repenting from sin. And just like on the piano bench, it is much easier to get to that peaceful place right now than it will be two weeks, two months, or even a year from now.


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About Emily S. Jorgensen

Emily Jorgensen received her bachelor's degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. She earned her master's degree in elementary music education, also at BYU. She holds a Kodaly certificate in choral education, as well as permanent certification in piano from Music Teacher’s National Association.

She has taught piano, solfege, and children’s music classes for 17 years in her own studio. She has also taught group piano classes at BYU.

She is an active adjudicator throughout the Wasatch Front and has served in local, regional, and state positions Utah Music Teachers' Association, as well as the Inspirations arts contest chair at Freedom Academy.

She gets a lot of her inspiration for her column by parenting her own rambunctious four children, aged from “in diapers” to “into Harry Potter.” She is still married to her high school sweetheart and serves in her ward’s Primary.

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