How to Play for Your Piano Teacher

Piano Lessons / music lessons / How to Play for Your Piano Teacher

Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about how to play for your piano teacher. I’ve been doing a lot of teaching lately, and I’m enjoying it. I’ve been so busy for the past few years I didn’t have time for much teaching. Now I’ve made the time, and through the wonder of video chat, I have students from all over the world! They are amazing, talented, and dedicated students. It’s a real joy! But I’ve noticed something with my students. If you are a piano student you’ve probably had this experience. You work all week long, then you go to play for your teacher and everything messes up! It’s so frustrating! You want to show your teacher what you’ve done, but you can’t play! Everything’s coming out wrong! Things that you never messed up are going wrong and you feel like an idiot! What can you do about that?

You don’t have to try to impress your teacher.

I want to reflect upon this whole notion of performing for your teacher. You have to understand that your teacher is a confidant. Your teacher is someone who really understands you, if you have the right teacher. You don’t have to try to impress them. They are there to nurture you and to help you get the most out of your practice. It’s not the most important thing for you to play your absolute best when you’re first playing for your teacher. Of course, it’s a great frustration if you don’t play your best when playing for your teacher. But how well you perform a piece for your teacher at the beginning of a lesson is really not the most important thing. A teacher can look beyond those things. The things that they’re going to go over with you have very little to do with the quality of that particular performance. Having said that, I know you want to play better for your teacher so I am going to address that.

You want to show that you can play the music. How can you prepare for such a thing?

It’s amazing how you can play something by yourself at home a bunch of times, and it sounds great! But as soon as you play for someone else, you make mistakes. With in-person lessons the classic statement was, “It went better at home.” Now there’s no excuses. You are at home! So what can you do to prepare so that you can play your best? You must prepare by performing. This is critical. A couple of days before your lesson when you feel really confident, set up the same device that you’re going to have your lesson on and record yourself as if it’s a performance for your teacher. If you go to lessons in person, imagine being in the room you’re going to be in with your teacher. Then make yourself play through your music and see what happens. Psych yourself into the reality that this is the moment you are playing for your teacher. You can actually create that same sense. You’ll always learn something from this. You could even record it. Then if it comes out great, you can send it to your teacher to prove to them that you can play that thing that you never seem to be able to play for them at lessons!

Playing for your teacher can be more relaxed than a performance.

Let’s say you’re working on a new piece. Maybe you don’t have the whole piece learned, so you have to take the end pretty slow. Should you take the whole piece dramatically slower to accommodate the end? Well, not necessarily. In a performance situation, whatever speed you can play the whole piece is the tempo you must play from the beginning. But you might have worked extensively on the exposition of a sonata, yet the development you really haven’t gotten into that much. So you want to play the first part up to tempo to work with your teacher to get it on an even higher level. Then at a certain point you can say, “Okay, this part, I don’t know as well, I’m going to play slower now.”

Changing tempo throughout a piece that you’re learning is not in anybody’s best interest. But playing the first section at a tempo that you’re comfortable with, and then slowing down when you need to, can be appropriate at your lesson. If you have only part of a piece memorized, you can reference the score. You wouldn’t do these things during a performance, but these are all valid ways of playing for your teacher!

Remember, your teacher is there for you!

It’s not about impressing your teacher. It’s about being able to show some kind of representation in the course of the lesson so your teacher can help guide your practice techniques for the following week. So it’s not necessarily about impressing them. However, if you take my advice and practice performing, and record your performance as if it’s your teacher listening to you, you may be able to have more satisfaction in that initial performance at your lesson and subsequent playing during the course of your lesson. Then you won’t feel frustrated that you’re not showing a true representation of your abilities.

I want everyone to know I am not judging you! For my students, I am only here to help you. I hope this helps all you piano students out there feel more confident when playing for your teachers! And teachers, remember to be sensitive to your students so they can feel good about coming into lessons and playing their best, which is what it’s all about. We’re all on the same side here! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

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3 thoughts on “How to Play for Your Piano Teacher”


  1. I love this and may share it with students, giving you credit, of course. I am wondering if you are teaching over Zoom? you say video chat, and I am not sure what that means specifically. I have found teaching over Zoom, in some cases, very frustrating, and think I have lost a few students due to the lack of personal connection. I am not yet quite at a stage to feel safe teaching in person. Have you experienced this, or do you teach mostly advanced students?

    1. I teach using whatever platform works best for the student including Skype, Zoom and FaceTime. You need a fast internet connection on both ends. There are settings in Zoom that are essential to get good audio. Make sure to, “Enable Original Sound”. Zoom defaults to noise reduction to make speech more ineligible. But it destroys music!

      I enjoy teaching students all over the world!

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