Confessions 1: How many continue to play

Guest Author: Simon Reich   “Confessions Series

Following on from his warmly received guest post “Confessions of a Piano Student”, Simon Reich invited teachers from around the world to answer 8 Questions. In this series he shares their answers…

In my previous article “Confessions of a piano student”, I stepped through my personal journey growing up learning music, which led me to believe I was mismanaged by my teacher, who possibly didn’t have a grasp of the natural musical gift I already had, or how to assist in its growth.

So it was with great interest that I conducted an open interview with today’s piano teachers to see how the prevailing thought in musical education has changed since my childhood.

I’d like to sincerely thank Ioana Andreea Boanca, Nikolas Sideris, Jenny Walker, Jimmy Rotheram, Donal Gormley, Alex Bowen, Sarah Martin, Naomi Craddock, Alison Mathews and Frances Magdalene Wilson, for their fantastic responses to my questions. This is a worldwide cross-section of piano teachers, so I can really trust these results as a “finger on the pulse” regarding modern piano teacher mindsets.

Question 1

In your own personal experience, what would be the percentage of students, who, once finishing lessons, go on to continue to play music for the rest of their lives?
If this figure is low or high – Why do you think this is so?

Ioana Andreea Boancă : I am not that experienced, only 7 years of teaching, but in my case probably only 20-30 percent of students continue playing music. And it’s because most of my students start piano lessons as an extra activity to challenge themselves and build discipline, because it’s a well-known fact that music can improve thinking processes, so parents want to have it covered. 🙂

Nikolas Sideris : I’d say that it’s indeed about 20-30%… A lot of factors play into this, not limiting the influence of a good/bad teacher.

Jenny Walker : 20% but it’s not that straightforward. Several people take it up again, often in their 60s and 70s. A lot don’t see an ‘opening’ in music but many play for pleasure.

Jimmy Rotheram : I don’t teach a lot of private students, and haven’t been doing it for years, so I only have a handful of ex students who have gone on to university, but as far as I know they are all still making music. So 100% for me so far but who knows 10 years down the line what my current students will be doing.

Donal Gormley : I haven’t been teaching long enough to decide on “rest of their lives,” but does seem to be 20-30% are continuing to study for double figure years, which could result in a lot less playing for life. I think it’s low for a number of reasons, maybe different for different people. For me it seems to be a lack of vision or passion for the future. Sometimes pushed into by parents, sometimes just trying it out.

Alex Bowen : Am I allowed to say I don’t like this question? I’ll explain why…
I don’t like to feel at any stage in a pupil’s education, that I have any ownership of their personal connection to music. I facilitate and I guide, even with the youngest of children. Sometimes I provide a bit of fuel when motivation is low. But still, I feel that their experience of music is their own.

Some people quit because they go to University, or move away, or can’t afford lessons. Others quit because other things in life become more important or because life circumstances prevent them continuing at that point.

Very few quit because they actively dislike piano playing, or music in general. But I guess some might…

I feel it would be a bit audacious of me to assume that if a pupil quits lessons, this means they’ll never play piano again. Contrariwise, if I finish lessons with a pupil who is going to study music at University or with a ‘higher level’ teacher, that doesn’t mean they’ll continue forever. Having a relationship with music is the same as with another human being. It requires active commitment…

I’m guessing the question wasn’t meant to be interpreted this way, but I hope my answer is useful! 🙂

Sarah Martin : Impossible to answer! From what many adults who come to me wanting to take it up again after learning as a child I like to think that actually the percentage is a lot higher than people think.

Naomi Craddock : I am really not sure, but I know some play for relaxation, some in community groups . . .

Alison Mathews : This is a really hard one to answer! I’d estimate the figure to be fairly low, perhaps 30 percent. Over the years I’ve had pupils who have had lessons for many years until leaving for university. I think it’s highly likely they will continue to play as they have reached a good level, are independent and have been motivated enough to continue with lessons.But who really knows – there are many reasons why pupils give up and although I do have adult returnees I’m not over-run by them.

Frances Magdalene Wilson : Probably about 20%.

Conclusions

I asked this question, because having played piano all my life, I often have people come up to me after concerts and express how they wished they had continued to play.

As you have seen from the varied answers this question elicits, there are many reasons why people give up playing (not to be confused with attending lessons) but from my own experience (an intrinsic love of music that compels me to play each day) playing regularly brings joy, healing, cathartic unloading after a difficult time and even just plain old studying to improve. So in my situation, it’s not a case of stopping that’s a problem, it’s the possibility of playing too often!!

If you really want to do something, you’ll find the way. If it’s only ever been a half-hearted attempt at a new skill or you were pushed into it, you’ll probably give it up.

But my own personal thought is that people who have “music within them” and have used lessons to awaken or educate the growing bud within them, will always find a way to continue their music making throughout their life.

Next: in Confessions 2, Simon asks “are teenagers difficult to teach?”…

Simon Reich

Simon is a pianist and award winning composer from Victoria, Australia.
Further information : Simon Reich Music
Simon is a regular contributor to Pianodao.

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