Online Piano Community

“If only I had known then…”

Tea Room Tips  from the  Pianodao Tea Room

As is often mentioned here on Pianodao, learning to play the piano is the journey of a lifetime! And the further we travel, the more insight we gain, and the deeper our skills develop. 

But… suppose you could turn the clock back to when you were a teenager… What do you really wish you had known and understood about piano playing back then?

This was the latest question I posed in the Pianodao Tea Room community, and as I suspected the answers given were many and varied. Each member contribution is, complete in itself, a heartwarming and insightful story…

Here for your interest are a selection of those contributions…

And please feel free to leave your own answer as a comment below!

It’s never too late to start and if you have an inner instinct that this is what you want to do – don’t give up.

I sooo wanted to learn piano, since I heard my grandmother playing when I was very young, but she moved away and died when I was 13. It took until I was 15 for my school music teacher to convince my parents into paying for piano lessons for me…

I had already self-taught to around grade 4 level by then, and although behind normal schedule still managed to get accepted to study music at Durham University .

Dawn Wakefield, Piano Teacher

That you learn a piece two bars or so at a time.

That you learn it, and start to hear the music inside it, by doing it very slowly, and letting yourself sink down into the intervals, felt as opening spaces.

These sound technical, but they have made practice for the older me so rapturous.

Theresa Krier, Adult Amateur Pianist

1. That perfectionism is an artificial construct.

2. It’s ok to be less than perfect.

3. Audiences, examiners and adjudicators are more concerned with communication, musicality and individuality in performance than 100% accuracy without emotion.

4. it’s ok to be “good enough”.

5. To set one’s standards and measure the value of what one does against the music rather than the acquisition of letters after one’s name or the flattering comments of others.

Frances Wilson, Pianist, Writer, Blogger & Music PR

Five Things I wish I knew when I was still an undergraduate:

1. The importance of knowing how to improvise and play by ear.
2. A working knowledge of jazz and pop
3. Songwriting and non-classical composition
4. How to market myself as a musician

And, perhaps most importantly…
5. That I could still be a successful professional pianist if I don’t make it as an “A-list” classical solo artist.

I spent my 20s filling in all these gaps, and then spent a good portion of my teaching career passing along these lessons to my students.

Rhonda Rizzo, Pianist, Novelist & Writer

Exams aren’t everything! There is a huge amount of beautiful music out there. Write a ‘bucket list’ of pieces you’d love to play, and then make a plan to learn them. Don’t just play exam pieces, have a break between the exams. Play a stunning piece below your grade alongside the exam pieces.

I was never taught phrasing – why not?

Don’t sit an exam when you have got the notes and rhythm correct; wait till you have developed musicality and can perform it beautifully and confidently. Perform the exam pieces often in public before the exam to gain confidence.

A concert pitch piano would have helped with aural in the advanced grades.

Theory is an essential part of learning piano, not just to pass Grade 6 ABRSM practical. Learn and retain theory, don’t just cram to pass the exam.

You can build a career with music – there are many vast career opportunities out there: examining, teaching, performing etc.

Don’t compare your own ability with anyone else .

Go to classical concerts often. Classic FM is cool! 

Never ever ever stop playing, always have a piano / digital piano, even when you are at University.

You never stop learning.

Music is a huge stress relief and fabulous for healthy esteem and good mental health.

Beth Bee, Piano Teacher

If only I had known then that developing an individual’s confidence in their unique musicianship is a process, equal in importance to developing their knowledge of history, conventions, theory, technique, etc.

It was liberating to move away from the play-as-I-say school my teacher subscribed to and explore my musical voice.

This is a big part of the work I do now; empower people to inform themselves and then to experiment, create and play from the heart…

If only I had known then that I had a compelling musical voice just waiting to be developed…that we all do.

Roberta Wolff, Piano Teacher

When I was running a successful piano teaching business from home it had its “ups and downs” that were tolerable at first, but then became insurmountable for me health wise. I became stressed and no longer had the ability or even wished to be the best piano teacher my students deserved.

If only I had known how disruptive these more pressing issues such as two close relatives dying, another becoming so ill it would lead to an extra person living in our house for several months. This caused massive chaos and a destruction to my whole family and piano lessons that I would never want to go through again.

We all learn from our experiences. We cannot dictate how another person is going to react in any given situations. Since then I have learned much about health and social care, people with dementia, and how music brings back important memories to them, a special quality of life returns and they sparkle in fleeting moments.

I take what I have learned and still move forward with my music!

Sherry Reidford, Piano Teacher & Music Discussion

I wish I’d known more composers.

I wish I’d known that other people compose for fun; I wish I’d known that composing /serious/ music could be fun; I wish I’d known that composing for fun does not equal worthless compositions.

I wish I’d known that composing is *Composing* regardless of whether you’re working on a symphony or a tune to whistle in the bath. Composing is composing is composing.

I wish I’d known it was OK not to be the next Bach; I wish I’d known it was OK not to give a damn about Bach (and that actually that might be an OK way to fall in love with him anyway).

I wish I’d known how fun it was to share my music with people (I also wish I’d known not to expect it to be fun more than about 50% of the time). I wish I’d known that some people would be willing to pay me for it. I wish I’d known how subjective “worth” is.

I wish I’d known that composing is a wonderful way to write your own narrative, to create and shape and reflect on your Self. I wish I’d known how valuable that was.

All that being said I feel extremely lucky that my late piano teacher was a composer!

Garreth Brooke, Composer, Pianist & Teacher

Well, I’m more of a composer than a pianist, but I think that what I’m about to say applies to pianists as well.

I’m 42 years old and Greek. This means that in grew up without internet, or many resources; with closed borders, an awful currency, and limited imports.

This resulted in me knowing nothing about googling until 2004 (!) and not knowing anything about any living composers, apart from the top 10: Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Dutileux, etc. All of whom had enormous careers, amazing works under their belts, and had recordings from the top orchestras, with the best labels, published by awesome publishers, etc.

It was only in 2004 that I moved in old Windsor and started my MMus in royal Holloway, that I found out that you can be very happy with a smaller career, teaching in the university, while getting a few of your works, perhaps not as grandiose as Turangalila (Messiaen), once in a while.

So I really wish my teenage self knew that there’s other priorities and goals in life, than being the absolutely best in the world, which admittedly is a pain in the *ahem* goal to accomplish.

Now I’m very very happy with who I am, my partner, my works and I’m aiming forward, as a composer and a publisher.

Nikolas Sideris, Composer, Music Publisher, Teacher

And let me ask you again:

What do you really wish you had known and understood about piano playing when you were younger? Please leave your comment below!

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator and writer based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs a successful private teaching studio. He is a published composer, author, and his original compositions and piano recordings have been streamed by more than a million listeners worldwide.

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