From time to time, I wonder about time.
Many people feel pressured to live according to a timeline—a list of events that must take place in a particular way. They should go to school, get a job, get married, have children, retire, witness their children getting married and having children, and accomplish everything they want in life. Their age compared to this list creates expectations about how far they’ve progressed.
Take me, for example. I’m 25. When I was younger, I thought I’d be married, working a full-time job, and that I’d have it all figured out by this point.
Instead, I’m single, still needing further education, and working only part time as a piano teacher. In other words, I’m very, very behind on my timeline.
Honestly, I go back and forth between feeling stuck in between stages and feeling that I’m moving towards the next. I do wish my life was going faster, but I’ve observed many things as a piano teacher.
The students I teach range from ages 5 to 15. They’re not thinking much about life or timelines, but they definitely have ambitions when it comes to how quickly they should learn the piano.
Some of my students are aware of child prodigies who started music when they were three and were composing whole sonatas when they were barely adolescents (Mozart, I’m looking at you). They already feel like they’re racing against the clock before they even begin. Other students are blissfully unaware. Because of this, I observe a wide spectrum of pacing between my students.
One student is content to take every piece as it comes. With glasses perched on her nose, she makes sure her fingers are curved and her hands are in the optimal C-shape. I don’t have to correct her; she will do it herself. She is eager to learn everything about playing the piano, but understands she needs to take her time. If I want her to spend more time on a certain piece, she agrees––trusting that I know best.
Other students are a little too content. As their teacher, I have to take command, without seeming too forceful. I have to remind them to fix their clumsy fingering and their unsteady rhythm. I want them to press on and improve, but the changes need to come from them.
Then, there are the majority of my students. They love to speed through the pieces and learn more than I tell them to. They tell me they have to finish all the songs, or else they have failed. To them, success is seen as moving on to another piece, and failure is having to play the same piece for another week.
My students often feel they have to prove themselves to me or to their parents. They complete 20 pages of music theory homework even though I ask them to focus on two. There is a voice inside them that tells them to hurry. I tell them to slow down and to follow my pace. There is time to fix the quality of the playing. There is time to practise and add details. There is time to enjoy the piece. They are not being punished for not advancing to the next one as soon as they think they should.
I wonder if God doesn’t want us to rush through life, but to celebrate where we are now.
Teaching piano isn’t just about the instrument, it’s also about teaching patience.
A timeline is necessary for each student. When will they finish this piece? When can they learn a new one? How many pieces will they go through each lesson? I know my students are eager for the answers. I tell them to learn and play at their own pace. It’s important to have goals, but those shouldn’t feel confining. If they understand everything that must be done, we can go ahead. If they don’t, we can take more time. I tell them I would rather go slowly at the beginning, than be quick and have to go back and fix past mistakes.
I have one student who was progressing rapidly until I realized she didn’t know a lot of the basics. We had to go back to the foundations for her to digest everything.
I saw it on her face. I can see it on all my students’ faces when I tell them we have to pause or rewind a little. Or that we have to re-evaluate.
It’s the frustration at not being able to move forward. Time is seemingly wasted. There is no end product yet––just the toil. The feeling of accomplishment has to wait.
I understand how they feel. I was, of course, a piano student myself.
But faster isn’t always better. Piano students aren’t robots. They are human beings who can express themselves in the pieces that they play. There is real joy that comes with the act of playing an instrument. It isn’t just about finishing the task of practising. I don’t want my students to just expand their repertoire, but to expand their knowledge. I want them to learn more about themselves as a musician and as a person.
I wonder if that’s how the Lord sees our lives. I wonder if he too understands our desire to reach our ambitions, but wants us to rest in the process.
Perhaps that means surrendering my dreams of being married and having a full-time job to his right and perfect timing. Perhaps that means using this in-between time wisely and allowing it to prepare me for what comes next.
I wonder if he doesn’t want us to rush through life, but to celebrate where we are now in our timeline.
Maybe that simply means enjoying being a piano teacher. Maybe that also means cherishing the different types of students that I have, and how they show me to trust that God, the Great Teacher, will guide me along.
This article was written as part of the Writing Mentorship with our P2C-Students Editorial team.