Turning failure into success

How do you feel when you hear that one of your students is going to stop having lessons? Disappointed and/or frustrated because you know that they could do really well if they only practised? Relieved because you were struggling to motivate them? Or do you feel guilty and feel like a failure as a piano teacher?


Well, here’s a story about a piano teacher and her three pupils and how it’s OK sometimes for lessons to not work out.


Once upon a time there were 3 piano pupils. They went to the same school, were in the same year and parents all knew each other. All three were very keen to learn the piano and so, aged 7, signed up for lessons with their local piano teacher.

She found these three pupils quite fascinating to teach, coming as they did one after another on a Monday afternoon.


First there was Pauline.

Pauline was a bouncy little bundle of energy who had difficulty sitting still for very long. She loved being creative at the piano but her teacher struggled to get her to play with anything resembling an acceptable hand-shape. Her fine motor control was quite poor. As for concentration – well, let’s just say that it didn’t last long. What’s more, she was quite poorly in the first few months of lessons and there was some disruption to their regularity.

Progress was limited.


Straight after Pauline came Philip.

Philip he was a serious and hard-working young man. He listened carefully to instructions and with the help of his mum practised effectively during the week. He had quite good aural skills although written concepts such as rhythm notation and pitch took some time to be fully understood and absorbed. Like many children technique was always an on-going project.

Progress was steady.


Patrick was the last of the trio.

Patrick was a joy to teach. He was the sort of student that all teachers just love to have! He was bright, bouncy and enthusiastic, picking up the different skills and concepts with ease and confidence. From the start he had a good internal sense of the music and this allowed to be able to play with physical ease.

Progress was fast.


As the end of the first year of learning approached each family was invited round for coffee to discuss progress during the year and what next. The parents of the two boys were delighted with the way their children had taken to the piano and lessons were booked for the following year.

Unsurprisingly, the conversations regarding Pauline were less clear cut. Although she had enjoyed her lessons and the whole experience of playing the piano it transpired that school had been a struggle that year. In fact she was changing schools as she went into Year 3. The longer school day and the new routine to be established meant that everyone involved concluded that it was best to stop piano lessons at the end of the term.


As the last lesson approached a celebration was planned. Pauline chose her favourite pieces and worked to prepare and present a short concert. Members of her family were invited to the performance and at the end her teacher presented her with a lovely Certificate of Learning. The event was rounded off with apple juice and cupcakes!

The concert gave a sense of a proper conclusion to the learning process and everyone went away with a feeling of satisfaction and a year well spent.


If you haven’t yet guessed who the mystery teacher was, well of course it was me. This was a real life situation that I experienced a few years ago and I wanted to share it just to say that it is OK for pupils to stop having lessons. Pauline stopped not because I was a failure as a teacher (although of course we always think that don’t we?). Pauline stopped because it was the right thing for her to do at that moment in time.

So, if you have students who might be stopping lessons at the end of the term don’t automatically fall into the trap of thinking ‘I’m a failure’. Instead consider how you can help your students and their parents celebrate the achievements of the learning process. Turn what is often considered to be failure into a success to be celebrated. Aim to make sure so that everyone leave’s with a positive feeling about the piano.

P.S. If you want to organise a solo ‘concert’ then the vital ingredients are: a programme, a certificate, a select audience and of course cupcakes!

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

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