Now I Love Music Practice:

Can piano practice be fun?

by Ron Ottley.
Author of Now I Love Music Practice

Can piano lessons be fun?

Can piano practice be fun?

Is it possible for a music education to be fun?

Is having fun while learning to play the piano important or necessary? Having fun while learning the piano is often claimed as a big plus. But is it really possible or even desirable to have fun while you learn the piano?

I believe whole heartedly that lessons and practicing should be enjoyable and satisfying, but I really don’t think “fun” is the right word to use. Having fun implies being playful, being amusing, not delving too deeply but skimming the surface, and not being too serious.

There are two aspects to learning to play the piano, the lessons, and practising. I will focus on fun while practising first.

Having fun while practicing the piano?

Playing the piano is one of the most difficult and complex activities that humans can learn to do. The way we learn is by practising. There is no other way. It helps to use good practising methods, of course, but basically, practising means repeating a difficult action over and over and over until it becomes easy. This may take hours or days or weeks. It is through many repetitions of many musical passages that we slowly acquire the skills of a musician.

Effective practise requires all of a student’s concentration. It requires them to be focused and to be accurate in the details. There is very little instant gratification. If the student is serious about learning then it will become necessary to knuckle down and be serious and disciplined about practising.

I struggle to see where or how we can make any of this fun.

This does not mean that practising should not be enjoyable. On the contrary, I think practising should be very satisfying and enjoyable and actually far more deeply rewarding than merely having fun.

Making music is an art form.

Music students are studying an art form and this makes it different to most other subjects they will study. Making music satisfies a basic human need to create, and making music is very important in every culture.

“Musicians can move people to tears. They can inspire the soul. Musicians can make people feel happy or sad. They can relax people who are stressed. They can soothe or stimulate us. Musicians help to set the mood on many occasions. They play an important part at funerals and at weddings, at parties and at worship, at the ‘big game’ and at a candlelight dinner. Musicians and music permeate our whole lives.” ¹

Learning to make music should not be treated flippantly or lightly. It should be approached with a sense of wonder, and a feeling that it is very important.

Fun is important, but being serious is important too.

Every life needs some fun but children will soon tire of fun if that is all they do. Sometimes we all, children and adults alike, need to be serious about something. We need to stretch ourselves and challenge ourselves. That is when we grow and learn. Sometimes we need to feel the warm glow of satisfaction when we work hard at something and achieve a worthwhile result.

Sometimes we choose activities that are not fun.

Learning to play the piano can be compared to climbing a mountain or to an athlete striving for peak fitness. Mountaineers climb mountains because they want to. Sometimes it is really hard work, sometimes it is risky and many sacrifices are required. Training to run a marathon requires effort, discipline, and sacrifice.

Mountaineers and athletes often push their bodies and their minds to the limit and sometimes even beyond the limit. I don’t think they would describe what they do as fun. That would be rather incongruous. But there are obviously rewards that go deeper and are far more satisfying than merely having fun.

Sometimes we want to make a long term commitment to some activity that will challenge us on many levels. This kind of commitment can affect the way we live our lives, and eventually determine the kind of person we become.

If fun is your goal, you will be disappointed.

Having fun, like happiness, or like enjoying oneself, is always a byproduct. When we search for them they elude us. If we make them our goal we won’t find them. People spend a lot of money and energy pursuing them but seldom find them.

We find them when we aren’t looking. We are most likely to find them when we are totally engrossed in some activity and it is often later when we look back that we realise we were having fun then, or we were happy then.

Oscar Levant, pianist-composer-actor, said
“Happiness isn’t something you experience, its something you remember”

It doesn’t make sense to mislead piano students.

If the student is led to believe that learning will be fun, they will have a false expectation and feel let down or resentful when they discover that learning and practising is quite different to what they were expecting.

It is far better to be up front and tell the student that learning to play the piano requires a lot of time, energy, effort ,and discipline. They should know from the start that sometimes it will seem like work and sometimes the student will need to practice when they would sooner be doing something else.

We should also tell them, of course, that there are huge rewards and great satisfaction to be gained. Making music adds an extra dimension to a life that can last for a lifetime. It takes a special person to succeed and those who do succeed will have a special place in society.

Fun at the piano lesson.

It is possible to have some fun during the lesson. There is the interaction between the teacher and the student and opportunities for a joke, or to share a lighter moment, or to share the humour in something a bit unexpected. Sometimes it is appropriate and helpful to discuss a topic not even related to music.

I welcome these brief diversions during my lessons. They are an opportunity for the student, and the teacher, to relax and give our brains a rest before once again concentrating on the lesson. They also help to build rapport with the student.

But I don’t claim that my lessons will make learning fun because the fun bits are not usually when the teaching or learning happens.

from Now I Love Music Practice