Piano Playing Covid

The Post-Pandemic Piano Player

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over.
But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” 

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

As I write this, we are starting to consider and look forward to the relaxation of lockdown rules in the coming weeks, with a hope that schools will resume in March and most other activities by Easter. Being cautious, I had anticipated the probability of a return of face-to-face lessons by mid-summer, but it now seems possible that life will begin returning to some-kind-of-normal sooner. Hooray!

But what will we all have learnt in the last year?
How will we have changed in general, and as piano players?
And in what ways will the teaching and learning of the piano have been fundamentally and permanently altered?

Let’s consider the “Post-Pandemic Piano Player”…


The Piano Playing Boom

One of the too-few positives in the piano world over the last year has been that apparently (and I’ve heard this from several industry sources) piano sales have boomed, at least here in the UK.

One reason for the increased demand for pianos is that teachers have seen the value of investing in a second instrument, often digital, and recognised that this can be one of the keys to unlocking socially-distanced face-to-face lessons as we emerge from lockdown.

But another reason would seem to be the large numbers who, stuck inside their own four walls and working from home, have sought to return to or take up piano playing as a hobby.

Here are just some of the reasons that I have heard given by adults returning or starting the piano in the last 12 months:

“With so much else on pause,
I needed something new.”

“I want to use this time to do something useful.”

“I’ve always wanted to play,
but never had the time before”.

“I’m hoping it will take my mind off
everything else that’s going on.

Now seemed liked the right time to come back.”

Of course it remains to be seen how many of these players will actively continue with their piano journey once their lives start to get back to normal and their other routines kick back in. We must hope they find a way, and I believe that many will.

But one thing we can say for sure: as Murakami so eloquently puts it, once they come out of the storm they won’t be the same people that walked into it.

They will be piano players.

The Problem of Practice

One of the positives for many who have come to the piano in recent months is that they have the “space” in their lives to spend quality time practising.

In the best cases this has given them scope to develop a strong foundation, relearn the basics, or make progress learning repertoire more quickly than would typically be the case.

At the same time, however, some who previously had a positive piano routine have struggled to find time, maintain motivation, or perhaps haven’t adapted well to learning online.

For some players the lockdown period has posed additional challenges, such as:

  • other family members all working/studying from home.
  • consideration for neighbours stuck at home.
  • changes in workload from business or school.
  • increased isolation from extended family, friends, partners, co-workers and other acquaintances leading to mental health issues.
  • anxiety, stress, and/or depression triggered by the current global health crisis.
  • sickness with covid-19 or another health problem.

My Pre-Pandemic post Let’s Talk about Practice Expectations has been one of my most popular ever articles; in it I discuss the importance of teachers taking a broader interest in the lives of students, understanding their motivations, and in particular how complex modern lives can at times interrupt routine practice. With emotional intelligence, we can all be better teachers.

In the Pandemic Era it seems even more important to check in with our students at the beginning of every lesson, to ask how they are coping, what they have been up to, and whether piano has been a present reality of their lives since the last session.

For those who have struggled during lockdown, the Post-Pandemic era promises to be a time of renewal, in which they will make huge strides forward, again finding their feet with the return of a normal routine, of in-person lessons, live exams and concerts, piano events and socials.

But for those who have thrived in lockdown, the Post-Pandemic age will present its own challenges too, as we have seen. Establishing a new routine in which the piano plays an ongoing part will, we hope, bring fresh joy.

The Future: Diversity

If we’ve learnt one thing in the last year, it’s that it’s pointless trying to predict the future. So here goes….

While I don’t have a crystal ball, Daoist practice trains us to recognise the momentum and direction of travel. We can observe plenty of trends in this last, most challenging of years, which will have an impact on what comes next.

Above all, I believe we will see more diversity in piano approaches and playing than ever before:

LEARNING APPROACHES:

It is now beyond doubt that online tuition can work, that some students and teachers actually prefer it, but that others really don’t.

Many will be quick to return for face-to-face lessons, but others have settled into a routine of learning online. Still more will enjoy a mix of both. And there’s surely no doubt that learning apps, tuition videos and online courses and masterclasses will continue to grow in popularity.

In short, it seems likely that for many, the old approach of weekly lessons at a teacher’s house will never be the norm again.

PERFORMING APPROACHES:

Many of us have enjoyed having concerts streamed straight to our front rooms. And yet we’ve also missed the thrill of a live music experience, and of course performers have missed the buzz of playing to a live audience.

Expect both live and live-streamed music to feature prominently in artists’ and promoters’ agendas.

THESE MUSIC EXAMS:

Over the course of the last year, MTB have established themselves as leaders in providing online piano exams, while other accredited boards have diversified to offer recorded exams in addition to their former provision.

All have said they plan to continue offering these permanently, and there are good reasons why in future some will choose to take their exam online while others will return to the live exam room.

Meanwhile, others have discovered that they actually enjoy piano playing more without taking exams at all.

ONLINE NETWORKING:

Without live meet-ups and music sharing, growing numbers have discovered the benefits of healthy, supportive online networking.

The Piano Network UK group that I founded a few years back has in the last year almost doubled in size to 5,000 members, who frequently tell us they are grateful for the support, advice, and friendship they have found.

Certainly there is ongoing scope for such networks to improve. But let’s be in no doubt. Online networks are not only here to stay: they will become increasingly important alongside, and to some extent replacing, the traditional networks of the past. It is incumbent on community leaders with vision to do all we can to ensure our platforms are as positive as possible for all.

We have found that where our members are frustrated by a lack of answers, a negative spiral quickly follows. That’s why ace piano teacher Megan Skinner and I have initiated an ongoing process of inviting the most significant organisations in our sector to add their voices to our new Advice Panel, from which they can disseminate accurate, up-to-the-minute information to members.


And for those looking for a more intimate online community, remember that I also run the Pianodao Tea Room for supporters of this site!

Closing Thoughts…

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over.

The trauma, loss, grief and tears of the last 12 months have ushered in changes that were unimaginable. And that is scary.

For so many of us, 2020 was the most terrifying and truly heartbreaking of years.

But this is 2021. And before we know it, it will be 2022. None of us can predict exactly what the future holds. There will certainly be more storms.

But every storm WILL pass. Always. There will be clear skies again.

And as the bright sun once again shines upon our lives and into our hearts, it will reveal not only the scars, but illuminate the path we trod, and show us the map of our resilience at meeting the challenges of our times.

We must hope that the future is one in which more of us than ever before can find great joy in music.

The Joy of Freedom: to explore piano playing in a wonderful variety of ways, around the world, in our cities and towns, in our homes, and online.

The Joy of Flexibility: to learn and grow at our own pace, supported by a glorious rainbow of universal opportunity.

The Joy of Friendship: sharing our piano journey with acquaintances old and new, without the stuffiness of the olden days.

The Joy of the Future. It’s coming…

“And one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” 


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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs Keyquest Music - his successful independent music education business, private teaching practice and creative outlet.

One thought on “The Post-Pandemic Piano Player”

  1. Yes, we are all changed.
    I feel as though I have been forced to adapt – through using technology so that there is always a plan B. I am happy with plan B.
    I have rethought my priorities – development in playing is not always, or even often, about exams. It is all about the development of the individual.
    It has made me see how fragile the music profession is – we need people contact – and how many of us are struggling., both emotionally and financially.
    I am looking at exam boards in a new light……………
    I am cherishing the links I have made through Pianodao, EPTA .
    Life will never be the same again – but what does not kill you makes you stonger

    Liked by 2 people

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