It’s been five weeks now since I saw my students face to face.
It’s been a rollercoaster! I’ve learned that for some students things have needed to change a great deal and for others they haven’t. I’m thrilled that almost all of my pupils has been able to make the transition to video lessons.
My lessons with adult students are productive and fun. For them, the different medium poses few problems because they can adapt to the changes with understanding. I have five
adult pupils, three of whom are front-line key workers, one who is self-employed and one who is retired. Piano lessons provide a cheerful diversion and, when there is time to practise, a way to relax. The social element of these lessons feels important. The retired student has lessons in music theory and these are going really well, using the screen share feature on Zoom.
For teenagers, lessons are fun, focussed and productive. They are at ease with the technology and piano lessons fit in with their school day nicely. They are motivated to learn and the lockdown gives them more time to practise. Each of my teenaged students has made excellent progress and has a good idea of what they want to learn. More than before, they are bringing queries to lessons. They are able to tell me exactly what they’ve worked on, how it’s gone and what they’d like to cover in the lesson. This age group are also discovering music that they want to play for their own pleasure and relaxation and it’s so exciting to see piano playing as a real hobby. For my teen students this is a time of broadening rather than advancing and I’m excited to see this time of enrichment.
Similarly, junior school aged pupils are benefitting from the increased practice time. More than any other age group, the 8 to 11 year olds tended to be very busy with an array of activities, of which piano was just one. Suddenly, many of these activities have stopped and the activities which continue have more time available to be spent on them. Parents are supervising schoolwork and time spent practising the piano fits beautifully in each day. I have found that a large part of lessons with children in this age group is spent reviewing how to practise constructively (most of them had forgotten!). More than any other age group the 8-11s have progressed in leaps and bounds. Gaps in knowledge have come to light and been addressed. They are spending more time practising and are practising constructively.
This time of video lessons is hardest for the youngest pupils - those in the 5-8 age group. Children of this age really benefit from direct social interaction - they need it! These beginner students need lots of guidance to set secure foundations in technique and they don’t have the base of knowledge that more advanced students have to draw upon. Young children need lots of varied musical experience before they can make progress on any instrument and I have realised that whilst video piano lessons are difficult for this age group, this is an ideal opportunity to enjoy learning musical skills through songs, rhymes and listening to music. This is great as it is these are skills that can be neglected in the haste to sit at the piano and play.
I feel that this has been a time of crystallisation for some families who have chosen to put lessons on hold or even stop lessons altogether. I have floundered at times - I didn’t ‘sign up’ for lessons in this format. How do you help a 7 year old learn to play notes with a relaxed wrist and firm fingers when you can’t demonstrate in person or help them position their hands? How do you help a 13 year old develop musical nuance and phrasing when the sound quality isn’t great and keeps cutting out and it’s almost impossible to hear pedalling? Online teaching is really tiring! And so is online learning! There are numerous articles out there explaining why the lack of non-verbal communication and countless other factors make Zoom lessons exhausting. I feel worn out after teaching for a couple of hours!
There have been lots of positives... I’m aware that piano lessons ‘bring the normal back’ and give a (sometimes rare) sense of rhythm to the day. Daily practice does this too. It’s so lovely to say “Hi,” and meet up with you each week - I believe it gives us both a healthy sense of community at this time when everything is topsy-turvy. It’s been enlightening seeing that some of my students are sitting too low or too close to the piano at home ( never too high or too far away - why’s that?!) and good to be able to help them put that right. I have been reminded of the importance of teaching basic musicianship skills to young children who don’t necessarily hear the piano or any other instrument being played, and who don’t sing regularly or have other meaningful musical experiences. This is an area I would like to learn more about moving forwards.
For those who are sharing this journey with me - THANK YOU! I’m so looking forward to seeing you all again. But for now we know that we can do this!