Change in the Piano Studio

Change has come dramatically to the world over the last six months. Now we all have a different perspective on life and living.


I heard someone on the radio just this week say:

there are decades where nothing happens and weeks where decades happen.

That resonated with me and is certainly true in the piano teaching world.


Here in the UK change came to many piano teaching studios in a short 2-3 week period. Many moved their teaching swiftly online while a few decided to press the pause button. Teaching online meant everyone grappled and quickly got to grips with the equipment and technology needed to give online piano lessons, many adjusted their use of language to become more precise, and students found themselves having to be more independent.


The rapid change came after decades, maybe even centuries of tortoise-speed development of piano lessons, many of which were still based on a Victorian model.

Piano teaching in the UK has historically had problems. It’s an open-access occupation; the level of teaching knowledge when teaching beginners is variable; and it has a heavy reliance on the instrumental exam system (CLICK HERE to read the full social history).

‘The importance of this heritage in the UK cannot be overstated. Rostvall and West [21] argue that tradition strongly influences instrumental teachers and many are unaware of the historical antecedents. Furthermore, they assert that it is difficult for individual instrumental teachers to break free of historical moulds and start to: ‘develop alternative ways of acting’.’ [1]


The COVID-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst for change. It has forced most teachers into rapidly developing alternative ways of acting. Despite the significant drawbacks of not teaching face-to-face, many have commented on the positive aspects of the situation, including increased student independence, regular contact with parents and glimpsing home practice set-ups.

Along with the suspension of face-to-face lessons has come the suspension of live instrumental exams. While exam boards have been rallying valiantly to create valid and worthwhile online exams, most teachers have been wondering what to do while traditional face-to-face exams are suspended. Having to create our system of progression and motivation with no external organisations to fall back on to structure and validate our piano teaching can only be a good thing.

Heavy reliance on the instrumental exam system indicates a profession that is very unconfident of its abilities. Graded exams should be the cherry on the cake – not the cake itself!


As we move forward together into this new world, what have we learnt from our experiences? What do we want to take with us and what should we leave behind?
Have your pupils developed a more independent approach to locating what’s on the page? Are they taking ownership and writing fingering, reminders etc. on the music? Have you started to give more feedback rather than advice on what you hear? Has the sort of questions you ask changed?

It’s too early to say what the long-term effect of COVID-19 will have on the content and delivery in piano teaching studios across the world. Will the ‘old’ traditional model re-assert itself or are its foundations now shaky? Time will stay, so in the meantime, let’s stay curious…

[1] Cathcart, S. (2013), p.370. The UK Piano Teacher in the Twenty-First Century. CLICK HERE to access

This blog post was written by Dr Sally Cathcart, co-founder and Director of The Curious Piano Teachers.

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