I’m very tired of seeing videos of stiff, uptight piano players moving their fingers along the keys as they play a song that comes out bland and emotionless. I’m tired of the lack of expression on the faces of pianists as they play a song that should move them to tears. I’m even sick of the “bubble” that’s supposed to be under your hands as you play, and I hate how you’re supposed to strike the keys on a certain area.

 

What happened to individual style? Piano teachers these days are struggling to create a cookie-cutter version of the ideal pianist while allowing their students’ individuality and stylistic charm fall to the wayside. Music theory and classical pieces are thrown at piano students at a very early age as their teachers plead with them to learn the basics. This is wonderful, but only if the student is willing to learn those things.

 

I was that terrible student that didn’t like learning how to read notes. I just wanted to slam my hands down on the piano and listen to what sound came out. When I went to piano practice, my teacher would sit down with me as I would struggle along a piece until I got frustrated enough to ask her through my tears to play the piece for me so I could listen to it instead. Once she did, I was able to play the piece through with no trouble at all. That’s the day my mother finally figured out that I couldn’t read notes. Funny as it is, prior to my teacher’s speculation, nobody knew that I was unable to read music.

 

At age 7, I had already developed my own style of playing, which didn’t include those classical pieces. So when I had to switch teachers around 10 years old, it came as a shock to me that piano instructors could be so strict and demanding that their students play in a certain way. I ended up quitting lessons and not touching the piano again for a couple years all because my teacher at the time wouldn’t allow me to play what my heart yearned to play: Pieces I like.

 

After a project I had to do on Andrew Lloyd Webber for my school’s music class, I sat back down at the piano and learned a few pieces. “The Phantom of The Opera” was the specific piece that got me playing again. I practiced on my own, slowly learning songs and tweaking them to make them sound just the way I wanted to. I played what I felt like playing, and I played well.

 

Eventually I approached my mother to ask about piano lessons. I needed a little bit of structure to my learning, and I wanted somebody to help me find pieces that I would like to play. Over the course of the next three years, I went through three different teachers. The third I liked a great amount, but sadly enough, she ended up moving to Florida, so my mother and I had to go back to the drawing board.

 

During my senior year of high school, I sat down with a woman named Sarah, who wasn’t much older than me. She sat at the piano with me during our lessons, playing piece after piece for me until I could decide on one that I felt I wanted to play. If I took it home and decided that it wasn’t for me, we would find a new piece during the next lesson.

 

When the recital came around, I had told Sarah that I had terrible stage fright, and wouldn’t, under any circumstances, be playing for people. After thinking to herself as I played a few pieces during my lesson, she stopped my playing and asked if I would like to do a duet.

 

No, I thought, as I agreed to it. The next week, she brought a fun version of “Chopsticks” that had us walking around the piano together, switching sides and throwing our hands up and down all along the keys. It was a fun piece, interesting, nice to watch (as in the middle of the piece, I would get up and run around the piano bench to switch to Secondo), and it matched my style.

 

We had so much fun playing that after the recital ended, my mother told me we looked like sisters because of the way we laughed and interacted when we were playing together.

 

Sarah had me play what I wanted to play, and since then, I haven’t given up on piano. To make me a better player, she would use the pieces in front of us and explain things about them, rather than having me stop playing to teach me about them. She also didn’t force me to sight-read. She appreciated who I was as a player, and that’s what kept my music going.

 

Through all my years playing piano, which should be just under two decades, I didn’t learn much that stuck with me. My style changed slightly, and I became a better player because of the few teachers who decided to embrace my approach to the piano, but most of this was all unconscious change that I’ve forgotten about, or become accustomed to.

 

The one thing I did learn is that piano is like dancing. Nobody dances the same, but as you dance, you let the music flow through you and as it speaks to you, you move your body.

 

Piano is just the same. Each piece speaks differently to each pianist. Because of this, the cookie-cutter pianist doesn’t exist. When I play, the music moves me to strike the notes a certain way, in which no instructor could have taught me.

 

I’m not a composer. I’m a player. I don’t need music theory to play, although some would argue that it would have made me a better player. Regardless of what it would have done to my ability, if I hadn’t found a teacher that allowed me to express myself at the piano, I probably wouldn’t be playing anymore.

 

Teachers: Don’t be so strict that you stifle the music in your students. Let them grow, encourage music theory, encourage classical, but if it’s not for them, don’t make them learn it.

 

A dancer chooses their style, and pianists should too.