I think that I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been giving piano lessons to a few of my young friends. It’s been a lot of fun: I really enjoy trying to understand how we learn. I’m new at this, and I have a lot of ideas that I want to try out. Even though I spend a lot of my time trying to help kids learn ideas or concepts, I’m excited to try teaching an actual skill. I’m looking forward to being able to say, “Did you hear what you just did? Remember when you didn’t know how to do that?”

I’ve just begun meeting with a completely new pupil. S- has never had any lessons before, and I’m especially keen to give her a solid start. I’ve been brimming over with ideas but I haven’t made the time to actually pin them down… until now. Let’s think this through:

Joby’s Principles of Anarchist Piano Pedagogy

Wait, what? What’s anarchism got to do with piano practice? What, are you starting with atonal post-modern noise? You might well ask. I think of myself as an unschooler and an anarchist. I don’t believe in “have to.”  I want to find a way to help my pupils learn what they want to learn without coercion. That is, I choose  not to use fear, guilt, reward or shame to motivate people.  It’s not just that I’m an idealist and want to be a nice guy. I’m convinced that people learn more easily when they enjoy what they’re learning and they choose to put in the time and effort rather than spending that time out of a sense of obligation, guilt, or “have to.”

Of course, we’re on the right track in this case. S- asked me for lessons. I’m not imposing anything on her… but I want to be careful not to put her in a position where she feels guilty if she hasn’t practiced as much as she thinks she should. I’d so much rather see her determined to put in the time because she sees how it’s helping her than have her worry about disappointing me.

It’s a simple idea, but it will require effort and planning on my part before we meet so that she has a clear idea of how to spend her time the rest of the week. That’s okay, though: I really want to do it!

So, I guess my  first principle is:

Have fun!
Practice because you want to, not because you think you have to. In fact, there is no such thing as “have to,” only “choose to.” You can put a lot of effort into learning to play the piano, but it doesn’t feel like work when you choose to do it.

Tomorrow I’ll write more about my ideas of how to accomplish that. I’ve got a lot to say about goal-setting, mastery and the idea that music is like a language.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment space below. Have you ever taught music to teens? Did you ever take music lessons? What was your experience: was the effort fun or tedious? Do you think I’m crazy? Tell me about it!