How does music make you feel? How does teaching make you feel? How does teaching music make you feel?

Just take a moment to reflect on these questions in your own experience before going on and reading further.

I have a meditation app called Headspace that I love to use for my short, daily meditations. The other day it was time for a new pack and I chose *Motivation* from the sports category – mostly because there can be quite a lot of overlap between sports and music. Half way into the meditation the question was asked ‘how does it make you feel?’ (IT being your sport or, in my case, music).

It was one of those questions that, as I sat with it, deepened and deepened.


If earlier you took a few moments to reflect, maybe you discovered that you teach because music connects you to a place deep inside yourself? It’s often a place of joy but it is always a connection to your emotions and inner sense of being.

Certainly, most of the piano teachers who took part in the Piano Survey 2010 mentioned their love of music as one of the big motivators for teaching the piano. I do think that for pianists, who unlike orchestral players often have limited performance opportunities, teaching the piano provides us ‘with regular contact with music and a reason to continue playing’. [1]

So we are fortunate enough to teach the piano, something we have a real enthusiasm for. Estelle Jorgensen [2] pinpoints 5 words that encapsulate ‘enthusiasm’:

  1. exuberance
  2. ebullience
  3. zest
  4. energy
  5. passion

We know that inspirational people are those who are able to pass on their passion to those around them. Singer-songwriter Ray Charles, as part of the Who Mentored You project, tells the story of his neighbour Walter Pittman.

When Charles was just a young child Walter Pittman would start to play Boogie-woogie. Ray Charles would go and stand with him at the piano and join in, initially bashing away! But Pittman took the time to help the young child make sense of the piano keys and sharing his own enthusiasm and passion inspired him for life. CLICK HERE for to hear Ray Charles tell the full story.


This brings me to another of the guiding principles behind Messy Piano. The importance of having a sense of energy moving between the teacher, pupil and the piano. Actually, I think I should refine that a little more:

‘a sense of emotional energy moving between the teacher, pupil and the piano’.

According to Will Ryan [3] inspirational teachers recognise that:

  1. the best learning is an emotional experience which involves risk taking but should also build confidence
  2. emotional well-being can either help or hinder learning
  3. when there is an emotional involvement in learning, it will motivate pupils


How do you inspire your pupils? When was the last time you jumped up and down when you heard/played a scrunchy chord or raved about the beauty of a well formed sequence or a circle of 5ths?

When did you last play something that you are currently learning to a pupil? If you did how did you communicate what it made you feel?

I have to question whether we share our enthusiasm enough with our young and inexperienced pupils. There is just so much that we apparently have to ‘teach’ that a 30 minute lesson can be filled, wall-to-wall with hard work and a seriousness of purpose. I have seen it in many of the teaching videos I have watched; in an effort to cover the basics, inspiration tends to get left behind.


I’ve been playing lots with my pupils this week. One young year 3 pupil is just moving onto metrical counting (after using rhythm names). The lesson target was for him to play and count aloud. Of course, this proved quite challenging.

Along with acknowledging the difficulty of the task we turned it into a game. We both played together but as soon as he stopped counting I stopped playing! This caused lots of giggles from us both and hopefully gave him a very strong hook for the coming week of practice.

Also, I’ve been playing a lovely piece of Purcell to my pupils: ABRSM grade 5. For the most part this is a cheerful enough piece and then the last 12 bars just have sequence after sequence – it’s enough to make you swoon…!

So, when you are teaching in the coming weeks keep the idea of inspiration and energy in mind. An easy way for this to happen is by using songs and games with younger beginners. Our Online Video Course Let’s Play is perfect for this! CLICK HERE for more information.

With intermediate and advanced pupils why not introduce them to the whole idea of sequences and the circle of 5ths? Our Curious Expert, Andrew Higgin’s book, So you want to be able to improvise? has an excellent chapter that will help you plan how to do this.

Whatever you do, remember HOW music makes you feel – and pass it on!


[1] The Piano Survey 2010. Sally Cathcart. p. 386

[2] The Art of Teaching Music, Estelle Jorgensen. p. 50

[3] Inspirational Teachers, Inspirational Learners. Will Ryan p. 172



Dr Sally Cathcart and Sharon Mark-Teggart (Co-Founder of The Curious Piano Teachers) will be at the ABRSM Conference in London on Saturday 5 November.

If you haven’t already booked your place CLICK HERE and we look forward to seeing you there!


This blog post was written by Dr Sally Cathcart | Co-Founder The Curious Piano Teachers


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