How Teaching Piano Made Me a Better Reader

When I taught piano lessons, I assigned different levels of music to each student.  One piece was below their reading level; in short, easy to play.  The student didn’t have to strain over which notes to play; instead she could concentrate on phrasing, dynamics, expression.  So even though the music was easy, it needed to be quality, worthy of expressive playing. 

The bulk of the music was bread and butter.  Working from white bread to 10-grain, it got chewier in increments.  Not effortless, but with regular practice the music could be mastered by the next lesson.  Like bread, this was the daily sustenance of the art of playing piano. One bite at a time.

The long-term focus was the challenge piece.  This was music which, at first glance, seemed overwhelming.   Beyond the beyonds.  Too much black print.  Flat out unplayable.  But we broke it up into manageable chunks, slowly worked through the notes, the rhythm, the key signature.  Row by row, I watched my students get the job done.  Some lessons were work sessions, pounding the notes.  Eventually, it coalesced into a polished piece. 

Reading is like this.

Easy books are a good thing if they are good books.  That’s why, when I want a light read, I go to my stack of quality children’s literature.  Wind in the Willows is ever so much more satisfying than Whence Comes the Hunk.

Most reading is of the bread and butter variety.  Whether you have eclectic tastes or you gravitate toward a particular genre, there are books a plenty to read.  Memoirs, mystery, devotional, relational, informative, helpful books.  We all love stories.

Here’s an easy definition of a challenge book:  a book you have to push yourself to read.  A worthy challenge book will reward you and keep you at it.  Slow the pace down, take small bites, and row by row, you’ll bring in the crop. 

Sometimes it became apparent that the piece I assigned my student wasn’t a good fit.  So I unassigned it.   The same goes with books.  A hard-to-read book is not necessarily a good book.  It may just be poorly written.

These three levels of effort can apply to most occupations:  jogging, friendships (when you hear the word challenge friendship does a face come to mind? she asks smiling), mechanics, cooking, thinking….life.  

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3 thoughts on “How Teaching Piano Made Me a Better Reader

  1. Love the analogy. Will share with DD#4 who hasnt taken lesson in years, but keeps sitting down and picking out pieces she likes.Let’s see my easy reading is The Overton Window by Glenn Beck; my bread and butter is Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny; and the champion piece is say hmmmm, not sure  

  2. This is a wonderful analogy.  It even encompasses times and seasons in your ‘reading life’.  You know exactly what I’m talking about.  I am so excited that after 5 years of reading what I had to, and the only thing I wanted to read was ‘good quality children’s literature’  and Louis L’Amours, I feel like I’m finally back to real reading.  I’m slow, but steady, and it is good to be back.  :0)

  3. hmmm… challenge friendship(s) or challenging friendships? On face value – friendships with people that do not speak my home language: I am a good listener, but not a good conversationalist. Challenge/ing friendships with Very Needy People and Very Draining People…Faces do come to mind!

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