Study Piano? What I Wish I Knew When I Was Younger

I recently had a student start her journey as a piano major in college. It’s always very gratifying when a student goes on to study piano. But as a teacher you also know that there’s a long path ahead.

So over the years I’ve come up with a loose list of advice I give to students who take this path in life. Maybe it seems preachy – and sorry if it does – but this really is stuff I wish someone had told me.

And it doesn’t just apply to music majors. . . a lot of it is just practical advice I’ve learned the hard way. So take it for what it’s worth. Whether you study piano, or just life, I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments.

1) Never let anyone tell you what you aren’t capable of. They might be right or they might be wrong, but you have to try anyway. People who tell you this are bitter that they never tried or that they gave up. Move away from them no matter how knowledgeable or authoritative they seem. They aren’t helping you. 15 years ago I told an acquaintance I should start a music school and hire other teachers. He said that was a dumb idea and it hurt my feelings. I waited 10 years to do it. A comment he said in passing put me 10 years behind. Beware.

2) People who broadcast how good they are do so out of low self-worth. Don’t be intimidated by them. I once had a friend with a thick foreign accent. I was younger so somehow this intimidated me and I was scared-to-death to play in front of him. He always criticized everything. When I finally heard him play after several months, his playing turned out to be just “ok” . . . it was his insecurities talking the whole time.

3) Learn from your failures. Failures are data, not moral issues. All the most successful people fail often. When you fail analyze the situation and use that information to try something new. The more you fail without total catastrophe the quicker you figure out what works over the long run.

4) Start investing now. Start investing now. Start investing now. Music might not pay as much as other professions, but if you invest intelligently every month you’ll retire wealthier than most of your doctor and lawyer friends because of compounding interest. 

5) Pay close attention to what interests you. Sometimes it’s hard to catch these things because they are natural to us. . . and sometimes they are small . . . so they don’t actually wave a flag as “interesting”. For example, I like fixing things up to be nice and I like explaining things to people, so I incorporate my “pickiness” and explaining into working with students studying piano. If you notice these things, you can build your life to include as many of them as possible instead of just pursuing other people’s ideas of what you ought to do.

6) Figure out what parts of the above people are willing to pay you money for. Don’t be afraid to market yourself. 

7) Start experimenting with making a living as early as possible. Don’t wait until you graduate. You’ll be in the real world much earlier and have a huge head start (and less student debt.)

8) You will not even remember the things that seem unbearable and dramatic 10 years from now.

9) Routines and habits matter way more than goals. The best things come in time horizons several years out, so you won’t get positive reinforcement fast enough if you’re focused only on the end goal. Instead, make a habit of putting in the time every day, and course correct as you go. I have a successful music school because of my habit of constantly trying and pushing new business ideas – most of which completely fail. If my goal was only to have a successful business, I would have given up years ago after the first several failures. If my goal was to play perfectly from day one, I would never have had the patience to study piano.

10) ***You are good enough just how you are*** You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone. Just try to improve every day, and be gentle with yourself when things go poorly. That means you’re trying.

11) Most people who give you advice won’t be around when it doesn’t work, so think for yourself. This includes the advice above!

Well . . . that’s my list! If you made it this far, thanks for reading and I hope you have a great day.

Want to learn piano but don't know where to start? I've taught hundreds of happy students! Click here for my free beginner lesson course.

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