Piano Lessons as Therapy

piano teacher duet

Today, a blast from the past, brought to you courtesy of John Jesensky.


You don’t give piano lessons for as many years as I have without learning a few lessons yourself.

When I first began teaching, I assumed all students would be pretty much like myself: dutifully practice their songs in each book each day, having them ready for lesson day.

I was wrong.

Sure, there are a few kids like that. But most — no.

Each week, I spend time with a lot of kids who have rarely opened the pages of their lesson books. But most still seem happy to be at piano lessons.

So during piano lesson, we talk about what went on at school that week. We talk about a birthday party they’re going to. We talk about the weather. I’ve calmed elementary students whimpering over thunderstorms, and commiserated with teens crying over fender benders or perceived slights from a parent, teacher, or friend. And sure, we go over some songs and talk about music, too.

I have to smile at one little boy, who invariably ends his lesson with a big grin, saying, “Wow, I can’t believe how fast a half hour can go!”

I think most if not all of these kids have caring, involved parents. But sometimes you just need to talk with someone you’re not that close to. Let’s face it: how many of us spend 30 minutes during a day with individual family members, one-on-one? I’ve started to refer to some of my students as ones who are using piano lessons as therapy. This used to drive me nuts. Now, I’ve re-thought that.

After all, how many of my students will go on to make a living playing the piano? For that matter, how many will even retain their skills into adulthood? Realistically, most will probably take for a few years before their piano lessons become destined for the foggy banks of their memory, to be pulled out decades later as they shake their heads and remember, “I took piano lessons for a while when I was a kid …”

But what can “stick,” perhaps, is the affirmation they get from some uninterrupted time with an adult who is happy to listen to them each week. One of my main memories of high school band was the director one day saying, “When band is over, all that really matters is how we felt about each other.”

Maybe a lot of us could use a piano lesson each week. Even if we have no interest in the piano.

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14 thoughts on “Piano Lessons as Therapy

  1. I probably began teaching piano when I was around 16 and I now am 72. I did not giving continually but most of the years I was teaching piano. My lessons began at maybe $1/lesson – I don’t even remember. Now I charge $13. With most students I can get real close to them emotionally. Often we laugh and laugh about this, that, and the other. A few have shells that I just CANNOT crack. At this point and time, one student always ends the lesson by hugging me. When ever any pupil announces they are quitting lessons, a sadness that I cannot explain sweeps over me. I feel I failed them.
    I cannot tell you how many times adults have said to me, “I took piano lessons for a little while. Now I JUST WISH I had stuck with it!”
    Words are cheap. It takes a real discipline to stick with it. Some have it. Many do not!

  2. I think these kids are really blessed. May you continue to see the blessing too. I also think there’s a pretty wonderful book waiting to be written here.

  3. My son has the privilege of taking lessons with your mother. While he does enjoy piano and even practices (though not as much as I often press him to do), I think one of his favorite things is the encouragement and praise he receives from his wonderful instructor. He isn’t one to show much emotion, but I can tell he just glows & feels good about himself after spending 30 minutes with her. I am glad her legacy continues through you.

  4. Susan, some of your thoughts expressed in today’s blog post are wonderful! I agree that music is therapeutic. And I’m sure the students benefit from your interaction in their lives. Thanks to Isabel for taking the picture.

  5. You are shining your light into their worlds in a special way. I think your students will look back on their piano lessons with you with fondness because you allowed them that space to talk and be heard. Great post!

  6. I am again impressed with your wisdom. It’s true, piano lessons may not last for a life time, but the things learned in the interaction with you, may do so. So continue to go to it, Susan.

  7. Being a teacher involves understanding what a student needs and you give them that. I, too, think you should write a book about being a piano teacher. We could learn so much from your experiences.

  8. Yes, please do write a book about giving piano lessons! Feel free to interview Leona about her similar experiences as a piano teacher who really cared about her students. You are to be commended for your insight about attending to your student’s needs in addition to music education. Bet many of your students would benefit from lessons that are 45 or 60 minutes long! That idea would be especially good for older students from age 12 and beyond. Those teenage years often present a need for careful listening from a trusted adult. Keep up the good work! Leona (still using Joe’s face book address for now.)

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