The Student First

 “(I hope) everybody would begin to grasp this notion that it’s the child first, music second, and only third is the piano.” – Louise Goss


The student comes first.  Simple enough? Then, why is it so difficult at times to practice this philosophy? What does this quote mean?  In a recent faculty meeting, Marvin Blickenstaff put it this way: “The most important thing is how we grow as human beings through the expression of sound.” What a wonderful way to put it, and what a privilege it is to share this journey with our students.


Some questions related to Louise’s quote come to mind.  As a brief exercise, I would love the reader to jot down a few reactions to these:


1)  What are some factors that interfere with our putting the “child first?”  Would awareness of these factors make a difference in the way we teach?


2) A rhetorical question that nonetheless is worth consideration: Are there two kinds of teachers, the ones who put the students first and the ones who teach at only an advanced level with competition-winning students? Are these types of teaching mutually exclusive?


3) What are the unique aspects of piano instruction? In what ways do we impact a student’s life that distinguishes piano study from other activities?


Another important question: Why did Frances Clark and Louise Goss deem teaching music to be even more important than teaching the piano? If we consider the piano to be the conduit to musical expression, as Marvin suggests, we are likely on our way to understanding the philosophy behind this quote. In addition, teaching music first speaks to the development of  complete musicianship at the piano. We are not merely teaching from one piece to the next, but fostering a deeper understanding of context and transferable skills, as well as a lifelong appreciation of music.


The student comes first.  If we believe this to be true, we must evaluate our own teaching  often to ensure that our words and actions are consistent with this belief.



1 thought on “The Student First

  1. My piano teacher from childhood surely could tell my home was awash in alcohol, if only from the smell of overripe pears that wafted from my mother throughout the huge room where we had recitals — right up to where I was sitting on the piano. But she never, not once, asked me how my life was or tried to see if she could help me deal emotionally with the situation. Instead, she treated my playing, and my inner musical life (stories, rhythm, tempo, sounds, listening listening listening) with utmost seriousness. She gave me respect as an individual, and a chance at a rewarding future once I was out of that sick house. I later read that a child from a dysfunctional family with a consistent adult mentor was just as likely to succeed as one in a functional family, while children from dysfunctional families with no adult mentor were not nearly so lucky. I think she saved me.

    We live in a different age, in which there is more blurring of roles. I myself have blurred them. But I think how much my teacher gave me by keeping her distance, and I wonder if we would be better off with less blurring.

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