Piano teachers: How to avoid burnout

Piano teaching can be one of the most fulfilling professions ever invented. But like any repetitive activity, there’s always a danger of it becoming the “same-old-same-old.” Here are a few ways you can use to keep things fresh and avoid becoming “burnt out.”

  1. Keep playing music yourself. I’m always surprised how many piano teachers eventually stop practicing and playing music themselves. Even if your full teaching schedule prevents you from pursuing a concert career, you can still live your own musical life to the fullest. Play at local venues, practice your favorite music at home, form a chamber music group, or learn music by a composer that you missed when you were in school. Anything you can do to stay musically active and inspired. Society won’t do it for you, like it may have in Mozart’s Vienna, but you really owe it to yourself to keep your musical spark alive. Your students will also benefit from your continued energy and vigor.

2. Piano teaching can become frustrating if you’re mostly focused on the music at hand and any preconceived notion of “progress” on your student’s part. Yes, we want them to improve. Yes, we want to share our love of certain pieces with them. Yes, we want them to experience the joy of playing the piano with a good degree of mastery. And yes, we want them to develop a certain type of self-discipline through practicing.

But if we’re are only focused on this aspect of teaching, we can become negative and discouraged if a student doesn’t meet these expectations. I often say, “I don’t teach the piano, I teach the student.” This keeps things extraordinarily fresh for me. Each and every time a piano student walks through the door, it’s an opportunity to connect on a human basis. Every student is unique and every lesson is different. Viewed in this way, how could it ever become stale?

3. Become interested learning more about the music your students are learning. Even though you’ve heard that same Beethoven piece a million times before, you can still hear it fresh each time. Maybe you hear the inversions differently this time, or discover a relation between the chord progression and another piece by the same composer. Or maybe you read a biography about a different composer each month and tell your students a little about what you’ve read each week.

You love music and your students are real people. The better you can connect these two ideas, the longer you’ll stay fresh, inspired, and emotionally fulfilled by your piano teaching career.

Here’s one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had while teaching piano.

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