The Piano Lesson…Unplugged

Just as I was about 5 minutes from completing the 45 minute trip to my first Saturday piano lesson this past weekend I made a terrifying discovery – I had left the cord to my keyboard at home! Of course my mind began to race as I only had about 30 minutes before my lesson was to begin. I knew there was a Radio Shack nearby so I went there in hopes that I could buy a plug. I was relieved to learn that they had several different sizes of plugs. While the salesperson and I searched for a plug that would fit, someone came into the store and asked me about taking piano lessons. Needless to say I did give them information about my lessons but was cringing on the inside that their first encounter with me involved me not being prepared for my next lesson! Before I could get too frustrated about this fact, the salesperson informed me that she had tried every plug they had in the store and  none of them fit my keyboard! Oh no! Where was my panic button when I needed it?

I thanked her and quickly made a plan to utilize my iPad during the lesson to teach/review theory concepts. When I arrived at the lesson, I got my music bag out of the car and noticed my full-sized keyboard there in the passenger seat staring at me as if to say, “You are going to take me in, right?”

That’s when it hit me! When students tell me they could not practice because they were away from their piano I tell them they don’t ALWAYS need a piano or keyboard to practice. I tell them to envision the keyboard, hear the song in their head, and practice the movements their fingers must make to play the song. Aha! Now was the time for me to “practice…” – pun intended – “what I’d preached”!

A completely silent piano lesson? I had never done that before. How would my student respond to 30 minutes of silence at the keyboard?

Well, I unloaded the keyboard and put on my jazz face – it was time to improvise! I greeted my student and informed her that we would be having a “Play Like Beethoven Day”.

To refresh her memory of who Beethoven was I hummed a couple of his familiar tunes – “Fur Elise”, and the opening of his 5th Symphony. When I told her that Beethoven was deaf when he composed some of his greatest pieces she was of course surprised. So, if Beethoven could do it surely she could do it for 30 minutes.

That day my student learned that “hearing” the music inside your head is extremely helpful and important for good music playing. She also learned that she could do it. One of the biggest advantages to playing silently was the isolation of the skills necessary to play the piano. Without the “distraction” of sound, she was able to concentrate on what she was doing with her fingers and hands more intently than she had ever done before.

To help determine if she was truly hearing the music, at times I hummed the tune she was playing as I carefully watched her fingers. My student was both surprised and impressed at her own accuracy. It was quite fulfilling to see her correcting her mistakes as she played. Most of the time students neglect proper fingering in order to get to the correct note by any means necessary even at the expense of musicality. This silent situation, however, left my student with nothing to fix except her fingering!

I have to say that this Unplugged Piano Lesson was one of the best musical experiences this student and I have had together so far in our music learning journey, and it was all because of a little IMPROVISATION. Just another life skill learned from piano lessons!

11 thoughts on “The Piano Lesson…Unplugged

  1. Great story and great idea, Dana. Bravo! I love the “Play like Beethoven” idea to put a positive spin on your own mistake! Creativity at its best 🙂

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    • Thanks Jennifer! Looking back on it, this was definitely a situation where I was forced into improvisation. It’s funny how sometimes this is the only way to get students to improvise as well.

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  2. I love the idea of having a play like Beethoven day. I teach class piano with 24 students and at times it can get very noisy. Thanks for the ideas – keep them coming.

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  3. Sounds great! This can even be a “teaching tradition”– once every six months or so, you can have a silent piano lesson… or you can even prep the students for exams this way. (I was just reading about Bill Nye and embracing happenstance!) 🙂

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    • That’s a great idea, Grace! I actually hadn’t even considered that. Thanks for mentioning the Bill Nye article – I just finished reading it. There is definitely something to be said for embracing those things that seem like happenstance!

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  4. Sounds great! This can even become a “teaching tradition”– you can have an unplugged piano lesson every six months or so… or it can even be prep for exam time! (I was just reading about Bill Nye and embracing happenstance) 🙂

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