Posted by: Marie | February 4, 2010

(242) Moments of joy

Post #242
[Private journal entry written on Thursday, October 15, 2009]

Well, this week I signed on another new piano student. I now have six students, not counting my housemates – I can’t really count them because they never practice and they never show up for their lessons . . . one lesson every six months does not a student make, LOL.

I really, really enjoy teaching piano. Each student has a story, a struggle, a triumph, a hope, a dream – I enjoy finding the unique path to each student’s inner genius and drawing out the music of their soul. It’s like I was born to do this.

Wesley, my 10-year-old student with Asperger’s (a mild form of autism) has asked to learn Fur Elise by Beethoven. This is surprising because, when he first started lessons, I was told by his dad and by him that structure and a methodical approach were critical – we had to have a clear plan and we had to live by it diligently in order for Wesley to be able to participate successfully.

Photo by Martin Chen

I have discovered that Wesley has a great ear for music – and, he has composed some beautiful short pieces of music. He seems to be able to compose instinctively. Once I got him hooked on creating original music, his natural artistic side has started showing up. He has ditched the methodical approach and is now going out and finding music that appeals to him. And, he has shown an interest in performing – not something he would have considered before. Almost every week he walks in waving some book or sheet music . . . “Look what I found, Marie!”

I have tried to use my little electronic keyboard with him for music theory – but, the flashing buttons and lights were way too distracting. I figured out I will have to just stick with the acoustic piano when working with him. At least I don’t have to go around the house and shut down any repetitive motion (like the ceiling fan) and flashing/blinking displays on the electric/electronic appliances before his lesson – which is what I had to do before each of Matt’s lessons. Wesley’s autism is not as profound as Matt’s so Wesley is not as easily distracted.

When he first started working with me, he had lessons only every other week – on the weeks his mom had custody of him, she didn’t want to bring him for lessons because she felt they were not beneficial.

However, she was able to see his newfound excitement about music . . . and she changed her mind. She said to me, “I don’t know what you did to get him so excited about all of this, but he is coming to life. It would be irresponsible of me to not support his piano lessons.”

Now he is taking lessons every week – and his mom bought a piano so he could practice at her house. His parents are joining forces in a situation that used to be contentious. They have come together in agreement! How about that!

And then there is Betty, my 85-year-old student. Because of her short-term memory loss, she can only hold one or two pieces in her head at one time. If we start working on a third, she can’t remember how to play the first one.

She has shown an interest in music theory. So, I’ve been teaching her about scales and chords. We have to work very hard for every little bit of progress. When she finally does understand some concept, her face just beams with satisfaction! One day, she asked me, “Why has no one ever taught me about music theory before?” I don’t have an answer for her . . .

At the end of each lesson, we set up the lesson time for the next week – I have to make sure she gets it written down in her calendar. Otherwise, she won’t remember we have a lesson. Sometimes, she doesn’t remember even when we do get it in her calendar. On those days, I can see she is surprised to see me at her door . . . but, she just laughs and says, “Oh, well, it’s a good day for a lesson anyway!”

Oh, and, there is a seven-year-old girl who is naturally methodical. When I learned she was feeling overwhelmed by all she had to learn about each piece (notes, hand position, rhythm, dynamics, etc.), I came up with the idea of a checklist. For every tiny step in the process, she could check off an item on the checklist – there were 30-40 mini-steps for each piece she was learning.

It seemed like “too much information” for someone her age. However, I decided to try it. Lo and behold – her mother reported back that it was the best thing since sliced bread . . . it really worked well for her.

When I told my mom this story, my mom laughed . . . she said, “Ah, you have found a ‘girl after your own heart’!” In other words, I have found someone as anal-retentive as I am. It is only due to my own anal-retentiveness that I was able to come up with such a checklist! LOL

So . . . I am finding great joy in discovering what works for each individual student. It is like a enormous jigsaw puzzle . . .


  1. Hi Marie.
    What a delightful post to pop in on you for. I am smiling ear to ear just picturing all of these lessons. You must be a delightful piano teacher. I love that you are so willing to be what your students need. I love that this brings you joy!

    • Well, hello, Vicki! It is good to hear from you!

      I’m glad you find this post delightful . . . when I wrote it, I could feel my face beaming. I do experience so much joy and creative freedom while teaching . . . it is awesome!

      Anyway . . . thanks for stopping by!

      – Marie

  2. I’d love to be one of your piano students too! Why weren’t you around when I was a kid??

    • Um . . . I believe I was living all those wonderful life experiences that have made me the teacher I am today . . . LOL!!!

      P.S. I do teach adults, you know . . .

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