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The Transparent Piano Method

The transparent piano method refers to a way that a piano teacher can act that seems not to be teaching a lesson. It is more like sharing ideas in a friendly way.

First, I’ll describe the opposite of the “transparent” method:

I was talking to a lady tonight who expressed interest in changing piano teachers. Her reason? “The teacher put so much pressure on me. I can’t go that fast.” What on earth was that teacher thinking? A student clearly expresses their confusion at the speed of the lessons, and the teacher ignores her.

Teachers Are Unaware Of The Student’s Discomfort

What could possible be gained from such an attitude on the teacher’s part? Certainly not monetary gain. It was clear the student was confused and probably wouldn’t continue lessons. It sounds as if the teacher’s intention was to punish the student for not being easier to teach, because the teacher was used to the easy routine of “page to page.” But that is, after all, a violation of the tacit contract of the piano teacher: I will teach you to play as well as you can, using any tool at our disposal.

Piano Is Easy

Use Every Tool

These tools include by ear, by rote, by eye, by number, by color. Any way we can find to get happily started playing real music, not exercises. Incidentally, the primary tool of the piano teacher is patience, not discipline and repetition. Back to our story, the lady went on to describe the lessons with this tyrant in more detail.

A Page Per Lesson

“I tried to keep up, but it became such a chore. Every day I would try to practice, but every lesson had a new piece. What I wanted was to take more time with each piece but the teacher was in such a hurry to get to the next page.” The teacher was in reality bored with teaching a person of such humble gifts. They were rude enough to ride roughshod over the clear signs of the student’s confusion, with the result that the student tried a new teacher, me.

The Hand Me Down Method

Piano teachers seem to suffer from a strange condition, they can only teach in the same manner they were taught. Let’s call it “The Hand Me Down Method.” This “method” is probably the main reason for the failure of most piano teaching practices to turn out people who simply enjoy playing the instrument. One size does not fit all.

The Master’s Method

These inflexible teachers turn out saddened refugees of their method, who are always unable to keep up with the master’s wisdom. The master, though, is well able to take their money. The “master” never seems to notice that they are teaching their method to the student, not the spirit and literature of the piano, however humbly, on the student’s terms.

A piano method, ideally, should be “transparent,” so that it can be molded to fit the individual student. The less there is apparent routine the better, because rote repetition is like a slap in the face for the younger student. A real pianist plays because of two things: They can play. They want to play because they have music that interests them.

Try a song on our online piano:


| 1 4 3 4 | 5 2 5 * | 4 3 2 3 | 4 * * * |


The Transparent Method

Show the child that they can play the piano. Use any means from numbers and colors to comedy and bitter irony if you have to. For this reason, you would be wise to start with the simplest method you can find. Wake up and sense what that child understands. Find where they are comfortable, and then lift them up from there.

This means that a child might take a year to learn three simple pieces. Perhaps they might use both hands and play from memory. Perhaps they may play the song all the way through with relatively few stumbles. That is very hard to do for the average child who wants to attempt the piano, and there are millions each year.

Have A Benevolent Strategy

Have to have a different strategy with each child, because each child’s brain is in a different stage of development. For this reason, you can’t start every student on page one. The first secret requirement I have of a child is that they walk away from the piano with a piano piece they can play for anyone, from memory and proudly.

Most important of all, with this song you have established an emotional relationship with the piano for the child. What this single song will do is act as their calling card at every piano they pass by. They can play it and people will say, “Oh, you can play the piano!”

Give them something simple and recognizable to play, like Star Wars. 

Use Recognizable Songs

Playing a simple but recognizable song will raise a child’s self-estimation in a way few other things can. Until you give that emotional and social tool to a child at the piano, a song they can play for themselves, you have given them nothing. So go find that song that makes their heart sing. It isn’t hard, because kids are naturally attracted to music.

It might be Spider Man, it might be Handel’s Water Music, it might be Boogie Woogie, it might be a rap beat. You need to find out what songs the child likes. I had one kid who only wanted to play video game themes, so I arranged Minecraft and Mario Brothers into pieces he could easily play.

Find it, and simplify it to the point that their beginner hands can play even a portion of it recognizably. As a result you will have a tool like the Rosetta Stone. It will open up further and further doors into their musical development. Give a kid a song they know and they will play it on the piano for themselves. 

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