Gardening & Piano Study

One hobby that I've really grown to love in the past few years is gardening - especially now that we have a yard with space for me to grow things! And I've learned a lot from watching my flowers get established and eventually bloom. Some of these lessons can apply to piano lessons as well. And so in today's post, I'll be sharing 3 things I've learned from gardening that apply to learning piano. 

1. It takes time.

I got to celebrate my very first peony blooms this year. I planted them as root cuttings back in 2019. The first spring they came up small, second year I had a bit more foliage, and now in year three we finally got to enjoy some blooms. There's a saying in the gardening world when establishing perennial plants, and perhaps you've heard it before: "First year they sleep, second year they creep, third year they leap." And this is because perennials are long-lived plants that will bloom year after year once established. But they do require time to get going, so usually the first year of planting they are growing good strong roots, and storing up energy. They look like little tiny plants for the whole first season, but the work they are doing below the ground is important. 

Similar to growing perennial plants, building foundations for successful piano study takes time. And I've found this idea of 'sleep, creep, leap' to be especially true in piano study for preschool and primer age students. Lessons at this age can be so beneficial, but measuring progress can feel trickier - especially as a parent looking from the outside in and wondering what exactly your child is learning. It might not look like much is happening. And this is because we are laying very important root systems and storing up knowledge so that after a season or so has passed, we can see real growth happen very quickly. By the end of one year of lessons, dedicated preschool students are usually off and running a couple years before peers who wait until they are 6 or 7. That said, this is not limited to young students by any means. I have several students who've just burst into intermediate and advancing music this year - because after a few years of dedicated work, they have all the tools they need to leap.

First year they sleep, 

second year they creep, 

third year they leap.

2. Right plant, right place.

This is another common saying in gardening that reminds us that not all plants thrive in the same conditions. Plants have adapted to growing literally all over the world, and so they each grow best in different conditions. Some like more water, some less water, more sun or less sun, and even things like soil pH, texture or density can make a significant difference. Some plants thrive on neglect, and some will wilt the moment your back is turned. (incidentally, does anyone else chronically kill their succulents with kindness? I finally just started ignoring them entirely, and it's working great).'Right plant, right place' reminds us to create good growing conditions, not just for plants, but also for piano kids. 

Your piano kid needs a good, inviting and supportive place to practice in order to be successful in their lessons. Then they can feel that awesome intrinsic motivation that success and forward progress will provide. And what that will look like might be different depending on your child. For more social or extroverted kids, having the piano in a far away, quiet corner of the house might be actually de-motivate practice time because they won't want to be away from everyone. Or for kids who are easily distracted by too much stimulus, having people watching TV during practice time will not facilitate good growth for them. You might have a very independent learner who needs nothing more than a reminder to go practice, or you might have a piano kid who needs you to sit down and help them work through their material. Try different things, and see what works to create the right growing conditions. 

Right plant, right place.

3. Going dormant isn't the end.

Learning to garden in Kansas after living my whole life in California (where lots of plants are generally evergreen - even if they're not always blooming) meant that the first winter after I invested my time and energy into gardening, I watched everything die back and go dormant with a lot of trepidation. What would survive the winter and sprout back up in Spring? How much would I have to replace? What if I had done all this work on my perennials for nothing and had to start over? And then, when Spring finally came, it felt truly magical to watch these plants start growing again after months of everything looking brown and dead. 

This can teach us that a season of dormancy is not the end. Sometimes we need a break, and sometimes music just needs to be a softer place to land during more difficult life seasons. Sometimes our schedules are so jam-packed that it's hard to wrangle practice time. Sometimes artistic inspiration is just really fickle, and we have to rely on our established habits to keep us going. These are all a normal part of the ebb and flow of growth in piano study. I will say that it's important to communicate with your teacher and let them know if you are feeling this way, so that if the feeling persists beyond a reasonable season, you can problem solve together. How can you trigger new growth again? Maybe explore music in a new-to-you genre, work on composing or improvising, pull out a piece you've always wanted to learn, or pick a collection of easier to read works where you can focus on reinforcing what you know and play music that will simply be enjoyable. 

Going dormant isn't the end.

The sumup: 

When supporting your piano kid through lessons, remember that it takes time, then help your child find the right growing conditions, and don't panic if you hit a season of slower growth.