What a 12-year old piano student taught me about learning

As I began a piano lesson with a 12-year old student yesterday, I asked him how his school day had been.  I already knew that all students in New York State had begun a 3-week period of extensive testing yesterday.  (These state-level tests are considered very difficult and not many students or their parents look forward to them.)

My student began by answering with the usual response: “They were OK.”  But then he surprised me by exclaiming how “Some of the essays were really interesting!”  He then went on to tell me, at length and in great detail, about a particular essay the students had to read about a certain plant.  He was especially fascinated by the fact that this plant’s leaves are eaten by some kind of caterpillar or something.  To protect itself, the plant emits a specific scent that attracts wasps, which then kill the plant’s enemies, thus enabling it to live longer.

I have to say that in all my years of teaching, I’ve never had a young student get so excited about a question on a standardized test like this.  He was so interested in the material that it never occurred to him that the test might be difficult.  He eagerly absorbed the data and answered the questions correctly.  You can’t study for the reading comprehension part of these tests since you don’t know what subjects will be discussed.  But his experience shows us that if you’re interested enough in what they’re discussing, then you’ll want to understand it enough to answer the questions.

Wow!  The implications for us pianists are mind-boggling!

Do you want to learn how to play the blues?  You can start anywhere you like.  How about listening to a blues recording?  Become interested in what the pianist is playing.  Hear a bluesy riff you like?  Try to learn it.  Figure it out on the piano. Too hard? Then find a blues piano teacher and ask them to show you the riff.  “Oh, there’s a whole blues scale?” ” Wow – let me now learn that!”  “And I can improvise over many different cool left hand patterns?” “Great, let me learn a few!”  “Now, which songs can I play these left hand patterns with?”  “This one fits with ‘Stormy Monday’ but this other one works better with ‘St. Louis Blues’.”  “How did the rock band Cream change and modernize the riff on the Robert Johnson song ‘Crossroads’?”  “That’s cool – let me try it for myself!”

See where this is going?  One casual remark by a 12-year old about the power of being interested, and we have a lifetime of musical excitement!

Get my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
You’ll also get my weekly jazz newsletter with practice tips and inspiration

Leave a Comment

Sign up for Blog Updates