Thought for the day: There is a well-known old saying — Those who can do and those who 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 an 18 year period, 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 who 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 who can teach advanced students do while those who can’t teach beginners.
So even teachers themselves are guilty of perpetuating this notion of those who can Vs those who can’t.
But the point they are all missing is that teaching beginners is the greatest privilege of all because each beginner student is like a blank canvass.
As the teacher of a beginner piano student, you have the most opportunity to do profound good and to make a tremendously positive difference in your student's life.
In my view, the time when students are beginners is the most critical period in a their musical development.
As a good piano teacher, you have the opportunity to teach beginners really good techniques that can truly empower them as well as shave 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 them when they were beginners by less than adept teachers.
So, in my humble opinion, here’s how the saying really should go:
Those who can may choose to do or to teach, but those who can’t shouldn’t do either.
Brendan Hogan L.Mus.A, A.Mus.A.
Piano Teacher & Musiah Inventor
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