2. Teach each lesson as though it were the last.

Just let it all go.We’ve all had students who showed up unprepared every single time. You know this person is going to eventually quit, and you wish that day would be today because you’re sick of the stagnant half hour in your week.

So if this were the student’s last lesson, how would it be different? 

Often, a student’s second-to-last lesson consists of a giant practice lecture. “if you don’t practice, you can’t learn to play.”

Sometimes the parent gets the same lecture, and sometimes it’s a team effort: parent and teacher, united against the student. "You’re not making progress. This is a waste of money. When I remind you to practice, you throw a temper tantrum. Learning an instrument takes work."

Nobody leaves this conversation feeling good.

When the student comes back, it is now his last lesson. He’s quitting. So now what? 

You have to find some pleasant way to get through the lesson. The lesson is pointless and certainly no practicing will happen from this point forward, so you might as well have a little fun. Play through some easy material, do some improvisation, maybe even play a game. Everyone leaves feeling good, and that’s that.

If you had known last week that the next lesson would be his last, would you have given the same practice lecture?

Maybe, if you are trying to get rid of students who don’t practice. 

But remember, our job is to create strong, independent practicers. We can influence the outcome here. 

How do you create practicers? By maintaining, in every lesson, a warm, positive atmosphere like the one you would have in the last lesson. 

Yes, we want results. But if a student feels good about himself and his relationship with you and the piano, he is going to be someone who gets results.

Your higher expectations cannot create better results, but your positive expectations will. 

“I know you can do better,” puts the onus on the student. On the other hand, “I have faith in you,” conveys your belief in the student and sends the message that he isn’t alone.

Over time, the expectation of continued growth, good feelings about what has been done well, and permission to not be perfect will result in greater progress with less effort. It starts with realizing that each lesson could be the student's last. We all want to be kind and loving to our students. We need to drop the practice baggage and allow ourselves to do that.


In the spirit of connecting with your fellow teachers, I invite you to share your thoughts on this post in the comments. Consider the following: 

  • What, in this post, felt new to you?
  • What action might you take in relation to the ideas in this post?
  • What follow-up questions or suggestions do you have?