Those That Can Do, Those That Can’t Teach — True Or False?

9 August 2012

Piano-HouseThought for the day: There is a well-known old saying — Those that can do and those that can’t teach.


I guess whoever originally came up with this phrase thought they were pretty clever, and perhaps, much of the time, the sentiment this saying conveys can be true.


But let’s stop to think about it for a moment.


To be fair, many of the best piano teachers are also wonderful musicians. This is where the above catch-phrase is unfair towards those talented folks who are also passionate about teaching.


After all, just because someone chooses to teach piano, that doesn’t mean they can’t also do.


For example, Beethoven had many piano students. Does that mean he was in the “can’t” group identified by the sentiment above? What about Haydn, Mozart, Liszt and Chopin — all of whom taught piano? No one could accuse those great masters of being unable to play.


Certainly there are plenty of quasi-pianists without enough talent or discipline to make it as a professional pianist, composer, or other musician and yes, it’s true, they quite often do turn their hand to piano or keyboard teaching — which, to be honest, doesn’t mean they’re any good at that either.


Having personally recruited and hired more than 800 piano teachers over the last 17 years, I have literally interviewed thousands of prospective piano/keyboard teachers. And I am the only employer of piano/keyboard teachers that I am aware of that requires teachers to play a piece (of their own choice) at their interview as well as perform a piece of sight reading. And believe me when I say, what often passes for piano teachers would make your hair stand on end if you could see what I have seen over the years.


But even within the community of piano teachers generally, there is a form of teaching snobbery of which many parents and students are unaware.


Many piano teachers, even those that can’t play particularly well themselves, “prefer” to teach advanced students. If you ask them why, they’ll say it’s because they find the more advanced students and lessons more stimulating, but this belies an underlying sentiment which suggests that teaching beginners is somehow beneath them. It’s almost as though (in their eyes) those that can teach advanced students do while those that can’t teach beginners.


So even teachers themselves are guilty of perpetuating this notion of those that can Vs those that can’t.


But the point they are all missing is that teaching beginners is the greatest privilege of all because each student is like a blank canvass, and you as the teacher of a beginner piano student have the most opportunity to do profound good and to make a tremendously positive difference in the lives of your students.


In my view the time when students are beginners is the most critical period in a students’ development. As a good piano teacher, you have the opportunity to teach beginners really good techniques that can truly empower students as well as shaving years off their learning time. By contrast, as a teacher of advanced students, you can spend much of your time undoing the bad habits taught to students when they were beginners by less than adept teachers.


So here’s how the saying really should go:

Those that can may choose to do or to teach, but those that can’t shouldn’t do either


To experience really great beginners piano lessons today, take our FREE Online Piano Lessons 14 Day Trial.


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Thanks for reading, and please feel free to comment.


Til next time,


Brendan Hogan

Musiah Inventor


P.S. What do you think of my dream house?


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I LOVE that house! And the message too :) When I finish Musiah and I look for a teacher I'm going to keep those comments in mind. I'd really like to work with a teacher who embraces students of all ages and levels. Surely they must be the most patient too.


Hi Hayley, Sincere thanks for your comments and your support. They are truly appreciated. I'm delighted and honored to have a student like you. Best regards, Brendan

Brendan Hogan

I got into school teaching late in life (not piano) and heard this motto. I almost believed it, even though my vast experience of work life was "doing" before I was "teaching." I'm finding the exact opposite of this motto is true, not for all but for many. Music teachers are performing and composing outside of school; Art teachers are creating pieces or using their skills in some fashion for functions; Literature (English) teachers are writing and publishing; Industrial teachers are making furniture and the like, including designs for construction companies; Business teachers run their own businesses; History teachers are involved in investigations of all kinds from museum archives to local heritage groups; Social Science teachers are creating movements of sustainability and putting them into practice, even one designing a particular model machine for recycling plastic specifically for local community purposes; Textile teachers are creating; Many teachers are a voice in their community when it comes to debating local topics, town planning, charity work and need I go on? Yes I also work with terrible teachers that cannot do, but before I got into teaching I also worked with incompetent extraordinaires who thought they could "do": Tradesmen whose products fell apart or cracked within no time; chefs who made food for humans that I wouldn't give to my pets; those who performed for audiences to the equivalent of a primary school pageant with no rehearsals; some who did work for others that a neighbour untrained in that industry could do a better job at. Close to my 50s and having worked in a lot of places, including teaching, I can say unequivocally that this saying can be taken with a grain of salt.


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