‘Why do you play the piano’?

I asked this question last week when I gave a talk at Miller’s Music in Cambridge (UK) to a group of piano teachers.

Creating Musical Encounters

Overwhelmingly the answer was: “because of a love of music and the piano”. I went on and asked the same question about our pupils and came up with the same response. Pupils play the piano because they want to engage with music.

Yet genuinely musical encounters in lessons can be quite hard to generate on a regular basis. In fact the research shows that talking and explanations are often at the heart of instrumental lessons rather than music itself [1].

So how do we create a musical lesson? Is it as simple as filling as much of the lesson as possible with piano playing? Well, as Kate, a member of The Community pointed out: ‘You can spend a whole lesson playing the piano without necessarily making music’.

Here are five suggestions for how can we work towards having more genuine musical encounters for and with our pupils in piano lessons:


All sounds created should be things of beauty. Whether that takes the form of playing or singing the end result should be pleasing to listen to.


All the music-making needs to have musical purpose at the most basic level; it needs to have a sense of pulse set within a tempo. As pianists we are our own conductors. Therefore, as piano teachers, we need to be helping our pupils to develop their own internal sense of pulse, reminding them to count in before starting to play – every time.


A piano lesson doesn’t have to be spent sitting at the piano for every moment. The most productive part of a piano lesson can often be the minutes spent away from the piano. Singing, walking, moving to the music all count as genuine and important musical encounters.


Duets and improvisation provide ways of communicating through musical sound. As Marianne, another member of The Community, pointed out: playing duets with beginners and elementary students mean ‘they experience more richness in the harmony than they can in most of the simpler music they play’. Improvisation is a wonderful tool for starting a musical conversation at the piano. You can set up the framework of pulse, key and musical ideas and without any talking ‘talk’ to each other through the music – magical! For a couple of ideas on how to do this CLICK HERE


Going beyond the dots on the page is essential if a piece is ever going to find its musical flow. As one of my younger pupils discovered recently the fun and creativity really starts once the notes are known. Pupils can be helped to think about how to fill the space between the notes through modelling, singing, gestures, movement. Anything in fact that helps them to lift the notes off the page and have genuine musical encounters.


Of course, implementation isn’t just as easy as it might sound! So just choose ONE of the five suggestions and try out something new in your teaching next week.

We’d love to hear about some of the things you do to create musical encounters in piano lessons.

Happy teaching!

[1] Music in schools: Wider still and wider (2012) Ofsted

Rostvall, A. L. and West, T. (2003). ‘Analysis of interaction and learning in instrumental teaching.’. Music Education Research, 5 (3), 213 – 226.


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


  1. Ijeoma

    I play the piano because I enjoy capturing the spirit, mood and character of the music. It’s great being a piano teacher because you get to experience this intensity on a day-to-day basis. Yes, pulse and tempo are fundamentals to achieving this but legato and staccato are nearly just as important especially in pieces like Spider in the bath. My student conveyed this beautifully while he played it and his achievement was noted by the audience in music rehearsals and by the examainer during his exam. He created beauty through piano playing and this was enough to override any mistake made.


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