You CAN’T Teach What You’re GOOD At

“I can’t figure out how to get my student to keep a steady beat! It’s so easy, but I have no idea why they can’t do it. What am I doing wrong?”

Music teachers ask this kind of question all the time. Before I tear it apart, let me empathize with it for a second.

It’s frustrating when it’s so obvious that if they could fix this one little problem, they would play so much better. And yet, you can’t figure out how to get them to do that…

At the same time, teachers often have little interest in improving themselves. The focus is only what the student needs to change.

Yes, teaching is a different skill than learning. But, don’t let this be a distraction. If you’re a teacher, most of your focus should be on improving yourself.

Stop saying “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know how to do it myself. But, how do I teach it to students?”

If you know what the student should be doing, but you can’t make it happen, stop reading about “piano pedagogy.” Instead, read books about interpersonal communication. Read books written to help psychotherapists work with their clients.

Piano teachers don’t know anything about that stuff.

You can only teach what you know.

If you want to get better at teaching piano, get better at learning the piano.

This is not about achievement, status, social recognition, or anything like that. I’m not saying “get a degree in piano performance” or “win a competition.” This doesn’t mean you have to be a world-class pianist to teach piano. It doesn’t even mean you can’t teach a world-class pianist if you are not one yourself.

Achievement is worthless because you can only teach what you’re bad at. Not what you’re good at.

Again, you can only teach what you know.

So instead of trying to teach what you don’t know, try this plan:

  1. Figure out what you are not so great at.
  2. Get better at it.
  3. Pay close attention to how you improved. Write this down if necessary.
  4. Find students who have the same problem you used to have, and help them follow the same steps you followed.

If you do this, you will have a chance of actually being effective.


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