Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Case Against "Traditional" Piano Lessons

How would you like to spend 4 years in a University learning how to play other peoples music? If you think this is ridiculous, you're right! Because that's what thousands of piano music students do each day.

They sit in front of their piano or keyboard with sheet music of a dead composer in front of them. Then they are told to "play it right." Have you ever heard of such nonsense?

Imagine a budding writer forced to copy another novelists work? In essence, this is what classical piano students do. They copy.

Although many think this is a creative act, it is not. It is a re-creative one. It's purpose? To give people who are told how to listen to music a chance to hear what is considered "good" music. Only in classical music is there such pomposity. And it exists because a very few people wish to hear the classics.

Let me tell you something. I love classical music. But I don't spend my time trying to recreate what has already been created. No. Instead, I want to connect with my own source and allow the music that is inside me to come out. I want to be creative too! And my philosophy is that anyone can be "a composer."

All it takes is the desire to create - to want to hear ones authentic self expressed through music. Difficult? Not at all! It's as easy as putting fingers to keys and playing. Hard to believe but true. You see, music students have been cheated from the get go by an academic snobbism that destroys the spirit and the will to create.

The suggestion is that the best music has already been created so why bother. The answer is crucial to our own well being. We bother because it makes us feel good. That is all that is required and that is all that is needed to make music.

Edward Weiss is a pianist/composer and webmaster of Quiescence Music's online piano lessons. He has been helping students learn how to play piano in the New Age style for over 14 years and works with students in private, in groups, and now over the internet. Visit now and get a FREE piano lesson!


  1. This was my number one difficulty with studying music in college. In three years of music theory, I was never once given the opportunity to create something unique and original. The closest thing we'd get to it would be when the assignment would be something like, "In eight bars, demonstrate the proper use of a Neapolitan 6th chord, an Italian 6th chord, and the proper resolution of seventh chords."
    To me, that's like giving me a cabinet, bought from Shopko that says, "some assembly required," and then telling me, "Okay, with this set, I want you to create a unique, original cabinet."

    There is certainly a place for music theory and sight-reading, don't get me wrong. It takes a very intelligent mind to master those principles, and the outcome is impressive. But I don't feel like there is a lot of room in it for unique, original music-writing.

    - Chas

    1. Anonymous3:16 PM

      Isn't composing left for the "composition" class? Did you ever discuss this with the professor? I understand your frustration, but if don't know the theory you will have a difficult time trying to compose. It's like trying to put a cabinet together without knowing that the screw you aree to use has a phillips head, and the screwdriver you have is standard and you don't knwo why it doesn't fit.

  2. Anonymous4:04 PM

    amen i tried for over 30 years to play other peoples music RIGHT what it did was put in me a deep sense of inferiority because i could never sound like what i heard. Hence in the back of my mind i thought who would stay to hear me play... now there is a bud coming out and its me... ever so slowly i play what i hear inside and the peace comes. i put all the other lessons away

  3. Anonymous3:16 PM

    I couldn't agree more with you. I started playing at the age of 46. I bought a baby grand piano after a divorce so that I could sit up all night long and play. At first I had a friend that could read music that would show me how to play some of my favorite songs by David Lanz, and then I just started to play what was inside of me. I now perform on a regular basis and I am working on my second CD. I am very fortunate to have been on youtube one day and stumbled across your program. I find it very useful and helpful to expand my music even further. Thanks You so much.

  4. "How would you like to spend 4 years in a University learning how to play other peoples music? If you think this is ridiculous, you're right!"
    Yup, I guess it's ridiculous to learn to play Bach, Mozart, Brahms and Schubert.

  5. "ANYONE CAN COMPOSE" a book by Edwin Gerschefski written many years ago, was used by me to teach first and second graders how to compose--and they learned to compose. This is nothing new, and performance vs composing remains the duplicity it is even today. Music has to be composed and then has to be performed, remembering that "right" does not apply to spiritual matters of which music is one. The problem as I see it with traditional music lessons is that creativity is not taught, and in some ways it is also not taught in composition classes. One can become just as mechanical as a composer as they are as a performer. There in lies the main issue---body and soul, matter and spiritual---not writing music vs preforming music. What can the performer do to the music that the composer cannot? That is another question for another day. In fact the same performer does not perform the same number the same way twice. The purpose of a performaer is to spiritualize the material composition, and fuse matter and spirit into one cohesive unit, in which the material is a seamless channel for the flow of what the performer has to say.

  6. Mark Lockett7:28 AM

    I wholeheartedly support the idea of children composing (or improvising) their own music. It's the creative side of playing your instrument, and is an important part of a balanced music education, as well as playing other people's scores, aural training and theory. But this New Age 'composing by numbers' assumes that children lack imagination and have to be spoon-fed ideas, images, etc, and need to have another set of rules imposed, conform to comfortable sweet-sounding melodies and insipid pentatonicism.

  7. I started composing many years ago as a young child taking piano lessons. I studied the classics along with theory with a teacher for a dozen or so years but would take liberties improvising on either established works and now it's whatever comes into my head at a given moment. It could be inspiration for cue music, commercials or anywhere. What I found to be most useful and still is would be practicing scales, arpeggios and other exercises as a standard warm up. I have a digital studio at home with Apple's Garage Band and it's fun to create loops for drum, bass lines and percussion elements leaving me free to compose the piano and synthesizer patches. I also play acoustic guitar & electric bass so the plug ins e.g. the various pedals, amps are extremely useful in getting a particular sound. Classical composers of the past often found inspiration from the works of their contemporaries, even if it was three notes of another work that piqued their imagination and that's how new compositions often were born. With all of the digital technology e.g. ProTools and other software it seems the sky's the limit in terms of what we can creatively express today. It is a spiritual process and I have the most fun just closing my eyes while playing and the enjoyment level is off the charts some days. But just like any professional athlete, musicians should always warm up when first sitting down with their instruments. That simple act allows the creativity to flow more freely. Interesting times we live in with all that technology helps to make possible for those of us who create from the heart. I feel so privileged to be a musician. Now I'm self learning how to play drum rolls on a practice pad. Korg has this marvelous device called the Wavedrum and I can't wait to get my hands on one so I can create interesting rhythm elements to add to recorded tracks. I'm 58 this year and yet it still feels like being a kid in a candy store, every time I sit down at the keyboard. I only wish I had room enough for a baby grand, though many of the products out there produce wonderful piano patches from Steinway to Rhodes to even the eternal Wurlitzer. We as musicians paint with sound. We choose our tools as carefully as a painter mixes color and chooses a tool or brush to create strokes on canvas. What wonderful tools we now have. Imagination not included. That comes from living life fully.

  8. Anonymous7:55 AM

    Consider for a moment how well speech would develop if no one studied language and toddlers were exposed only to each other. If studying one's tradition, and understanding it thoroughly and well is lifeless and boring, or stultifying, there is clearly a problem of approach. There has been banal music in every period, and there is no shortage of bleating now. Teaching is fully an art and it is evolving too. Let us not oversimplify. There is no harm in educating our passions and informing our minds. There is room in our world for both impromptu and prepared music. Pianists benefit from thorough well integrated study so that when we speak we have something to say, and we have sufficient tools with which we can express ourselves.