Learning a piano piece is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. When we first open the box (look at the piece), we notice all of the different pieces (the individual pitches, rhythms, etc.) We notice the different colors (dynamics, articulations, etc.) and we might even start to see how the different pieces of the puzzle (sections of the piece) fit together. Some pieces fit together logically with no "trying out" required, but other pieces look similar but slightly different, so we have to take time and carefully piece them together. Once we have finished the edges of the puzzle, or understand the basic structure of the piece, we feel a sense of accomplishment. We've completed the first stage of learning the piece. However, there is still much work to be done to complete the whole picture. We need to understand the shapes, lines, color scheme of the entire piece in order to put it all together. When we have a finished product, we can be proud of our work, show it off to our friends and family, and sometimes, deconstruct and start all over again. Sometimes, when we put the puzzle back in the box for a few years, and get it out again, it is a little easier to put together the second time, but it still requires some trial and error, some reconnecting with the lines and shapes of the picture.
Learning to play the piano is like completing an obstacle course. In an obstacle course, there are some places where you just run. This is the easiest and one of the most fun parts of the obstacle course, and one of the best times in a piano student's journey. They make leaps and bounds in their progress and feel really good about themselves. There are some places where you crawl in obstacle courses. These are times when a piano student has to slow down and take some time learning a concept and it may not feel like they are making any progress, but they are, it is just slower than they are used to after a run. These times can be frustrating but if the student realizes that they are slowly but surely working toward their goal, they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. There are hurdles, and then, there are the walls. These are some of the most challenging times for piano students, and often when they up and quit lessons altogether. Typical "walls" in a piano student's journey happen when they are first learning to read the grand staff, when they have to play hands together doing different things for the first time, when they are starting to move out of five-finger hand positions and learn scales, when they start to have to understand minor *gasp* key signatures and their relationship to majors, when they have to read rhythms more complicated than sixteenth notes, and when they start playing contrapuntal music. I'm sure my colleagues could name more walls that individual students have encountered; these are just a few of the most common. As piano teachers, it is our job to know where these walls may pop up and help our students by cheering them on up over the wall. We can find fun ways to help our students climb and succeed without getting overly frustrated or burned out. It's also important for the students to be aware, especially the older ones who are more self-aware, that there may be times like these, which is why I had this discussion today in a lesson. If we explain to the student, "hey, this appears to be a challenge for you, let's climb this wall!" it can help motivate them to meet the challenge as they are practicing at home. It can hone in their focus and keep them moving toward their goals.