When I was walking in the airport the other day I came across a young child, maybe 8 years old, performing on the piano at a walk-up-and-play station. The child was clearly enjoying themselves and they had their iPad out and just played piece after piece. This was already interesting enough to me, but then it got a lot more interesting.
The child started talking to his iPad and it appeared to be that the child was actually having a piano lesson at the airport. Now, I’m aware that from everything that happened during Covid, many children are now taking piano lessons online. But the rapport and connect that that child had with his teacher was so strong. So I decided to get nosy and walk up and talk to the child’s parent who was sitting a few feet away looking on.
I talked with them and to my surprise, they told me that the child didn’t want to miss their piano lesson even though they’re traveling and that they have a piano lesson every day. “Every day?” I actually thought they were joking. The parents told me, “Yes, and if you ask my son what he thinks about piano, he will tell you it’s his favorite sport. Seriously.”
After this conversation, I was so intrigued that I requested to meet the piano teacher who was doing this and interview her. And that’s how we got to this interview. Today, I’m talking with Dr. I-Lin Tsai, who is a Professor of Stage One Piano at Oclef. Her students really do think that piano is, “my favorite sport” as I later confirmed with the child.
How does this all work – Piano Every Day and how specifically do you use this to help children?
Growing up I practiced piano every day and my brother who played the cello also practiced his instrument every day. So I never really knew about the problem of kids struggling to practice until much later. The way that piano every day works is that I meet with my students 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week. It gives me just enough time to target a new piece or polish one they started yesterday.
I can also use the time to play games and connect with students – which I love to do. Most importantly, this amount of time allows me to almost always have their focus, as opposed to longer lessons where the child has checked out after 15 minutes in and there are still 30 minutes more to go. This is a problem that I never encounter.
I see. So then what about older students? How do they get enough help in their practice – do they also do 15 minutes?
I also teach a few students who we classify as Stage 3 or 4. These students do get more time, but they also get less time. What we’ve found as an education company is that if the student was developed properly and their habits are built correctly, they are mainly independent once they reach a certain level. But when they do need help, they can always check in to our Kaizen Piano Class which runs about six hours daily.
4 Questions with Pianist and Pedagogue Dr. I-Lin Tsai on the Future of Piano Education
How did you get this job? It seems fascinating to me that a company is working on this.
I was also very surprised to find this job posting last year after graduation. I applied and somehow I got hired [laughing] I often say I got lucky after how difficult I now know it is to be hired at Oclef.
I saw how magical it was for your student at the airport. But how do you envision this working out long-term for students – online learning and piano every day?
That’s a really interesting question because what it implies is that Piano Every Day is a trend that we’ve stumbled upon. But in reality, piano every day is what has been happening all along. For J.S. Bach and his kids, Beethoven, Mozart, Rachmaninov, Van Cliburn, and more.
And not just in piano, but in any discipline – Venus and Serena Williams had Tennis Every Day. Tiger Woods had Golf Every Day. And most importantly, what all of these people had was Learning Every Day. This is the point. Learning every day is not a trend, it’s what anyone who has accomplished something great has made a habit of doing.
Online or in-person doesn’t really matter, it’s more about every day versus once a week or twice a week. It’s the inconsistency and delays in the feedback loop that stifles learning.
I-Lin and I continued to chat for a bit and what I found was that she’s such a dedicated teacher. She genuinely cares about her students and told me about how she has met up with many of them even though natively the lessons are online – when they meet in person, it’s like they’ve known each other the whole time.
The takeaway for me is to really reconsider how children can look beyond the digital environments since they have always been in these types of learning environments since they were born. As a generation X adult, this whole experience, from the airport to the interview has made me question how I view learning and you should too. We just need to take a second to reconsider what is possible. The future seems very bright.
You can learn more about I-Lin Tsai and her teaching by visiting her website at www.ilintsai.com