Are you the piano coach or player?

Are you the piano coach or player?

piano coach

Back in the beginning of my career I used to set weekly goals for my students. I’d write them in their assignment books and at the following lesson, would go down the list, checking if they had completed their assignments.

I thought that’s what it meant to be a responsible teacher…

Until one day, a student who had fell short of accomplishing his weekly goals exclaimed, “Well I didn’t agree to these assignments. You just gave them to me. And I had a busy week in school.”

Whose game are we playing?

Some teachers might feel disrespected by this outburst and see it as an opportunity to teach the student about respect and the hierarchy of the student-teacher relationship.

It hit me a bit differently.

The student was right: I did assign the assignments based upon what I thought was appropriate, not based upon the integrated life of my student.

Suddenly, our roles had switched, the teacher became the student.

What I realised, was that for the student to become more responsible for his OWN growth, I had to remove myself from the playing field of his learning. I could coach him, but I could not play his “learning game” for him, because if things didn’t work out when I was on his learning field, he might look at me as the cause, and not himself.

He needed me to be the coach, not another player.

Teaching as coaching

Many of the concepts in Coffee With Ray, a book I authored in 2013 (Ed: highly recommended reading! Read my review of Nick’s great book here – Tim), stemmed from the idea that the teacher is the coach, not a player on the field.

The teacher’s job is to provide the student with the tools to play the learning game most successfully.

We need to teach our students how to set and “get” their own goals. We need to use the right language to motivate and inspire and we need to ask the right questions to deepen their understanding.

Related: What I’ve learnt from asking more questions in music lessons

The following goal setting ideas were adapted from Awesomely Simple by John Spence.

Setting SMART goals

Make sure the goals you set are S.M.A.R.T!

They need to be able to answer five questions, otherwise they are not really goals, they are simply wishes.

  • Specific: Make your goals have plenty of details so you know exactly what you are trying to achieve. Eg: “Learn line 2, HT, all correct notes, eyes on the music, no pauses”.
  • Measurable: You goals need to be quantifiable, which means that you can clearly measure them. A goal of playing faster is not measurable unless you set a metronome to it and know where you started. Eg. “Try and get the B section HT at a consistent pulse of crotchet = 80 on the metronome.”
  • Agreed upon: You and your teacher need to agree on a goal that is in your best interest. Which leads to the next point…
  • Realistic: The goal must be achievable. Goals that are too small are not worth working for – they create a feeling of boredom. Goals that are too big create a feeling frustration. They need to be “just right.” In Coffee With Ray, Ray uses the Goldilocks and the Three Bears story to assist students in creating appropriate goals that consistently create a feeling of success.
  • Time-bound: Your goals must have a deadline. “By next week.” “In the next month.” This way you can hold yourself accountable for achieving them. I like helping students set goals for both next week and a few weeks in the future.

Moving ourselves onto the sidelines of our student’s learning field can be challenging. Our egos can easily be bruised. But what tends to happen is that our students’ abilities to learn on their own grow stronger.

And helping them achieve that is ultimately our job, isn’t it?

What do you think?

Do you write all the notes in your student’s diary/assignment book? Do you work together to set goals or do you specify them for your students… or does it depend on the student? Are you on the sidelines coaching or driving the game as a player on the field?

Let me know what you think with a comment below.

Nick Ambrosino

Nick Ambrosino is a leading expert helping teachers, parents and students of all ages in the field of human potential and excellence. Nick is a renowned learning specialist, author and speaker on topics such as creating explosive growth in accountability, productivity and self-esteem. Nick is the author of two parables on educational psychology titled--"Coffee With Ray" and its sequel, "Lessons with Matt". Both are available on Amazon. Find Nick at

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  1. It is important to teach students how to set and achieve their own goals, as this can help them become more self-motivated and independent learners. By using the right language and asking the right questions, we can help our students develop a better understanding of their goals and what it will take to achieve them. For example, we can use language that emphasizes the value of hard work and persistence, and we can ask questions that encourage students to think about their goals in a more detailed and specific way. By doing this, we can help our students develop a more strategic and focused approach to their piano practice and learning, which can help them make faster and more significant progress.

    • Hi Archie. Thanks for your comment about autonomy and goal setting – these are great points that I hope all teachers consider. Fact is, the role of teachers is changing quite rapidly from director/knowledge-giver to motivator/mentor.

  2. Interesting, curious as to what age are we thinking about with this? While this can be really useful with teens I can see it be problematic with younger students even with our guiding them to the right goals. I definitely believe in it I am just curious as to how you approach this with students under 10?

    • Jonathan,

      Thanks for your comment and question. Children are never to young to begin to learn how to make appropriate goals/decisions. The key part of this is that they are LEARNING the process of goal setting. (Please see the caps as itals, not shouting, as I don’t have itals access in this post.) In my second book, Lessons With Matt, the first chapter tells a story of exactly how to encourage this process. I start building a student’s decision making “muscle” as young as 7 y/o. This way, in the later years, when their decisions become more critical they have built confidence in their ability. The key is to remember that it is a process you are building.

      Nick Ambrosino

      • I gotcha, makes a lot of sense. Thank you!

  3. Excellent post, Tim. Love the idea of SMART goals!

    • Cheers Graham – if you haven’t read Nick’s books, definitely check them out 🙂

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