Nothing More Than to Learn: Creating the Environment

“The art of teaching: Creating an environment in which a student wants nothing more than to learn, and having the right materials for the situation.”

 – Frances Clark


What comes to mind when you read this quote?  Do you begin to form a list of ways that you, as a teacher, can create this environment?  Do you feel uncertain as to whether or not you are achieving this ideal? Perhaps you are not uncertain… you feel that you’ve achieved this magical teaching environment.


Can we easily identify the components of an ideal teaching environment?  It might be useful to imagine ourselves as our own students.  Here, it is difficult to avoid some clichés:  see things through there eyes, walk in their shoes.  Also, we might  remember lessons that we, ourselves, have had that were particularly engaging and joyful.


This is where I would like your help:  Will you write in “comments” section your thoughts about either or both of these questions:


1)  What goes into creating a situation in which the student wants “nothing more than to learn?”


2)  Describe your own piano study:  What are the characteristics of the teachers or lessons that you’ve personally had that made you want nothing more than to be with that teacher?


I look forward to seeing your ideas!

18 thoughts on “Nothing More Than to Learn: Creating the Environment

  1. These are wonderful questions to ask ourselves as piano instructors no matter our experience or our age.

    Having a student “want to learn” music or piano is about communication between the teacher and student. As the teacher observes student interest regarding music, we can design lessons that teach important musical concepts using well sequenced or appropriate repertoire and involving the student in repertoire choices and creative contingencies. Now, I realize all piano teachers believe we are sensitive to each student and so the challenge in teaching involves mutual respect and having the student be successful with their music development as much as possible while they are in our presence so that we can tell them how and why they are doing so well with each musical piece.

    All of my teachers were excellent and so I’ve been blessed with many wonderful experiences as a part of my musical training and education. I am deeply indebted to each person for teaching me much about music and most importantly about life.

    Thank you Esther Mills Wood, Samuel Driggers, Noel Engebretson, Robert Roux, Nancy Garrett, Sophia Gilmson, and Martha Hilley.

  2. I think there are several things that go into creating an inspirational environment. First and foremost, the teacher’s respect for and genuine interest in the student must be evident. We are not teaching music, we are teaching people. Students can spot insincerity a mile away, so if you sense you aren’t going to be a good match with the student, it’s probably best to recommend them to someone else.

    Second, establishing a pattern of success in the lessons gives the student confidence. It’s the teacher’s job to create situations where success is inevitable through thorough preparation of skills and concepts.

    Third, providing an attainable level of challenge tells the student you have confidence in them, and fourth, holding a high standard of music-making where you can have that special moment of sharing in a meaningful way.

    My own teachers did all of those things, albeit in different ways, but my dearest teacher always instilled in me the greatest confidence that I was capable of everything he asked, that he expected success and that we could share our deepest selves through our music.

    1. Arlene, what an interesting and thoughtful response. So far, success is a common thread (this is what comes to my mind too.)

  3. I think to create an environment in which the student wants nothing more than to learn, the teacher must be passionate about the subject and make that passion contagious! As I think back to my own teachers, I know without a doubt that they LOVED music and the piano. They were passionate about the music, to the point that sometimes I thought they were a bit obsessed:). The point of it, thought, is that they planted that passion in me. They shared with me the transforming power of music–I want to give that gift to my students as well.

    1. Passion is definitely contagious! This may be why Marvin Blickenstaff has recommended choosing repertoire for our students that we, ourselves, love.

  4. The best example of this for me is my piano study in college. Once the door to the studio closed I knew there was nothing more important in that room than the music and my own growth. A student must sense the teacher’s commitment to them. The great motivation is the excitement over the music being studied. If the teacher is truly passionate about the music, the student senses this and is inspired to do the work.

    1. This is so important – a true commitment to each student. For our students, this may be the only time that an adult is focused exclusively on their learning. The impact of these one-on-one interactions should not be underestimated. In this increasingly busy profession, it is worthwhile to shift gears, take a deep breath, and really focus on each student. And, I see a common theme about “passion!”

  5. I think the times where I wanted nothing more than to learn from a teacher were the times we were creating beautiful music. The “aha” moments-where you are struck with the music communicating and YOU were the one who made it happen!
    This past spring I remember a lesson I was giving a student, as she was preparing for a competition. Something was missing at the end of her piece. We experimented in different ways: characters, dynamics, etc. If I remember correctly, we discovered that a ‘breath’ was what was needed. In that moment of time, she created a beautiful ending to her piece—and she knew it!

    Creating those moments of beautiful music-making is what inspired me to continue lessons. Those moments inspire us to continue through the diligent and persistent practicing that it takes to truly create beautiful music.

    1. Those “aha” moments… you and your student working as a team to make beautiful music. And the power of knowing that you, with your own two hands, can create beauty! Thanks for this response, Alison.

  6. For me, I think that the teacher has to be receptive to being spontaneous. I try to follow my dad’s advice (who, by the way is not a musician but a physician). Each student (patient) should feel as if they are your ONLY student (patient). When a teacher is able to connect with a student in that way then they are trusting enough to get that experience. I also am a big believer in having supplemental materials at the ready, including CDs, literature or videos/DVDs to help them. I think you also must be confident as a teacher to leave your “plans” behind so you don’t miss a great teaching moment.

    Until I met my most inspirational teacher, I never had anyone like that. All my teachers were “by the book” and only the book. They did not recognize my thirst for learning and how my music related to other things in life. She wove things together for me musically, spoke in accents, was able to be silly with the most serious subject. But, she was a BRILLIANT pianist. I totally respected that aspect of her and found it utterly enchanting. She was dead serious about her teaching and she was dead serious about her students’ learning but she didn’t take herself so seriously that she couldn’t convey the true JOY of learning.
    Once students have that JOY moment (or as I call it, the kick in the pants moment) they want it over and over. Then your job gets much easier!

    1. Melanie, I love the idea of each student being our one and only. Since I know you personally, I know that your combination of professionalism and fun is powerful and surely motivating to your students. Your own beloved teacher met you “where you were” and took you on quite a journey, tailored to your individual interests and passions. Thanks for this response.

  7. Striving for the ideal teaching environment is certainly keeping me busy!

    Beautifully demonstrated playing- the sound itself- motivates all ages. I was reminded of this a few days ago. While attending a college interview with my high school son in Ohio, I sneaked into the Cleveland Institute to hear part of a master class. The guest artist, Julian Martin, had been in Seattle the week before, so I knew I was in for a treat. I had the chance to ask Mr. Martin what he thought what was important in teaching young children. His reply was to not talk too much! I also remember clearly the fact that many years ago, the motivation for me to major in piano instead of math was my college piano teacher’s playing- in the lesson.

    Another motivating environmental factor is the presence of fellow students also studying music. Then learning to play the piano is not a solitary pursuit. Susan Bruckner refers to this as the “tribe”. Last week I took two young students on the bus to see my own teacher perform in Seattle. They had so much fun, and are so excited this week.

    As for my own lessons, I learn so much from my teacher, Peter Mack. In addition to the fabulous playing I get to hear, I appreciate his skillful communication. With great kindness and caring for each student, he models the immensely helpful phrase I learned at the New School from Marvin Blickenstaff- “intellectual honesty”. It is such a sign of a committed teacher when the student can fully trust that the specific feedback given is accurate and informative for future work.

    1. Ms. Bush, thank you for this response. It sent me right to the piano to practice! Your response hits upon so many important points.

  8. Frankly, I think this Frances Clark quote should be displayed in every studio and classroom, regardless of the subject being taught. Because I teach piano in a high school performing arts magnet, the students have already demonstrated their interest and ability through a rather rigorous application/audition process. I’m so lucky to have students who love learning and who are willing to share their newly acquired knowledge and skills. The students are lucky to be in class with their “tribe” as noted in an ealier post. Piano study is traditionally such a solitary pursuit that we all benefit from the support–and constructive criticism–we share in class. Instead of one-on-one lessons where the so-called light bulb moments occur in a private studio, all of us can experience the revelations and excitement together as a student comes to a new awareness at the piano. All of us can participate in the experimental process of finding just the right touch to get the desired sound. All of us can experience new repertoire through weekly performance classes. My inspiration comes from my students who challenge me with new questions every day. Together, we create that special environment where all of us want nothing more than to learn. So we do.

    1. Rebecca, I’m glad to read your insightful answer to this question. It sounds like you are involved in a fabulous learning situation! You make a really good “case” for group instruction! It isn’t just about teaching in groups,but creating a conducive environment for collaborative learning in these group lessons.

  9. I love this question. When you look at why students drop out I think it has a lot to do with the fact that lessons become frustrating, uninteresting and students are not inspired through teachers creating an atmosphere of “I have to do this!” We have to craft our lessons so that we set up situations where the student is almost guaranteed to be successful. When they experience this success on a regular basis they become addicted to it. This intrinsic motivation is what really hooks students. What’s even more effective is when we involve students in the process so they take ownership of their own success. We also have to make sure that those musical moments are significant and celebrated in the lesson. Those musically significant moments are what keeps students coming back. With clearly defined goals, developing sound expectations, experiencing success, and nurturing student ownership in the process, we can create an atmosphere that gets to the good stuff and keeps students engaged in music making.

    1. Scott, I agree that opportunities for success must be cultivated by the teacher. I love the idea that success is “addictive!” Involving the students and the process and musically significant moments…also “addictive!” Avoiding frustration… yes. Thanks for your helpful response.

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