Perfecting the Art of Being a “Good Enough” Piano Teacher

This post about piano teacher perfectionism was written by Joanna Shiel. Joanna is a UK-based piano teacher. She has been teaching piano imperfectly to imperfect students for the past 14 years. She combines her passions for travel, music education and the countryside by teaching online whilst housesitting all over the UK. Her dessert of the month is a good apple crumble with custard.

As artists and teachers, it’s all too easy to over analyse, overthink and otherwise put pressure on ourselves to be utterly amazing teachers. Do you suffer from this sort of piano teacher perfectionism?

I’m a recovering perfectionist. I hold myself to standards – both as a musician and piano teacher – that I would never put my students through.

Don’t get me wrong; being a perfectionist does have some benefits. My desire to be next-to-perfect pushed me to master the piano and become a good teacher, 

But it’s also a very sucky place to work and operate from. It increases feelings of anxiety, depression and low self-worth – not anything I want myself (or any of you!) to feel.

I’m not suggesting you surrender the things that perfectionism has taught you about reaching outstanding heights. Instead, I’m looking to free you from its grip so you can go forth and be even more magnificent simply by being “good enough”.

Now, doesn’t that sound a lot more encouraging and appealing?

Dare to Be Average

Dr. David Burns, a cognitive behavioural therapist, has an incredible remedy to perfectionism in his book, ‘Feeling Great’.

What’s this stunning cure, you ask?

Dare to be average!

Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed or not good enough, try this thought exercise:

Imagine what it would be like to be a piano teacher who doesn’t spend hours planning lessons. This calm, carefree teacher sets a timer for just 1 hour, once a week, doing the best they can with the time they’ve allowed. Their other non-teaching hours are spent in other activities that also make them a better teacher, such as professional development.

Does that sound like a pie-in-the-sky dream for some other lucky individual?

Maybe…but this could also be you!

Take the pressure off yourself to get everything planned exactly right. Allow yourself a limited amount of time and space to get what needs to be done, done. (Oftentimes, we actually get more done in a restricted time frame.)

By reducing, or even eliminating, all that pressure you’ve been putting on yourself, you will likely end up being an even better teacher – win, win!

5 Ways to Be a “Good Enough” Piano Teacher

Here are 5 principles I recommend when you set out to release yourself from the undue stress of piano teacher perfectionism and become a “good enough” piano teacher.

1. Be Childlike (Not Childish)

Ever notice how a small child doesn’t care about whether they’re getting things right or wrong? Little children seem to just get caught up in the moment without a thought or care for how things will turn out or whether or not they produce something “perfect”.

Children have mastered the art of being “good enough”. It isn’t about being the very best all the time; it’s about learning from mistakes, picking yourself up and trying again.

2. Keep Learning

Never stop learning – either professionally as a teacher, or as a musician yourself. Make sure you practise the art of teaching and music.

Invest in yourself with courses or follow teachers who pique your interest. 

Make a professional development plan, stick to it and take action. Here’s how I suggest you plan your learning as a teacher:

  • Write a list of the areas you feel most insecure about in your teaching. 
  • Choose one of those areas to focus your current professional development.
  • Research and collect resources such as blog articles, courses, videos, books, etc.
  • Schedule time each week to take action on your learnings. 

At Vibrant Music Teaching, your member dashboard has a professional development tool called ‘Learning Lineup’ to help you create just such a plan – with all the resources built right in.

Not a member? You sure are missing out! Learn more and join the fun at www.vibrantmusicteaching.com.

3. Lose the Ego

Truly, the “I” can stand in the way of progress.

When we see everything we do as vitally important, do-or-die, only-I-can-fix-this, it can paralyse us and prevent us from going out, making mistakes, failing and then, doing better.

It can also stop us from looking at ourselves as fundamentally and beautifully flawed human beings. 

When we hold ourselves to lofty, unreachable standards, we’ll never be satisfied. However, if we accept that we are fallible, we’re more likely to shrug off our blunders and move forward even better for having made the mistakes.

4. Remember: Your Studio Ain’t for Everybody

Defining your target market will allow you to let go and not concern yourself with attracting every student. Remember: You are someone’s perfect piano teacher

Focus on what kind of students you want to teach so you can be comfortable with who you are and what you have to offer.

Take time to ponder the following questions:

  • Who do you want to be teaching?
  • Where do you want to be teaching?
  • How many lessons do you want to teach each week?
  • What kind of music does your student want to learn?

Get really detailed and descriptive about who – and how – you want to teach. Then go after your dream studio!

Nicola’s ‘Music Studio Business’ page is your one-stop shop for advice and resources about your professional development, marketing, business basics and more.

5. Enjoy Yourself

“Good enough” piano teachers know that being professional and having fun aren’t mutually exclusive. Maintaining a sense of wonder, lightheartedness and joy can be the perfect antidote to perfectionism.

What does being a “good enough” piano teacher mean to you?

Tell us about it in the comments below.

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