Tai chi & piano lessons

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Tai chi: the martial art

Training a martial art is altogether different to learning tai chi for health. The depth of knowledge and skill is significantly deeper and more thorough.
A casual approach will not work when learning the complete syllabus. Body, mind and emotions need to be conditioned and honed through sustained,
regular practice.


If a student wants to learn a martial art, it is necessary to accept that a lot of training is required. The practice needs to be regular, sustained and on-going.
Tuition and daily home practice must be combined in order to produce the most effective outcome.

Natural talent?

A lot of people still believe in the notion of 'natural talent'. According to scientific research detailed in a number of books published in the 21st Century, there's no such thing...

Ability begets ability

People who excel, do so because they put in more time and commit to greater practice than other people do. They also receive regular feedback, learn from their mistakes and get better (continuously).
Read Grit, Smarter Faster Better, 5 Elements of Effective Thinking and Peak... Find out for yourself.

Martial art

Tai chi practice is far more sophisticated than tai chi for health training. There are many partnered drills and group scenarios that require a lot of class work.
A considerable amount of solo training is also imperative.

The real deal

Learning a martial art requires commitment. The student must invest time, money, attention and patience. They must suffer set-backs, frustration and quite a few bumps & bruises.
The journey will be anything but easy.

Not easy

As well as gaining valuable martial skills, you must learn how to strengthen the body, protect yourself from injury and become seasoned to combat. Tai chi combat is not a mild endeavour.
If you imagine that it simply entails qigong, form and pushing hands, you are mistaken.

One cannot listen to different pieces of music at the same time, a real comprehension of the beautiful being possible only through concentration upon some central motive.

(Kakuzo Okakura) 

Tai chi fighting method

Some people have a real passion for their chosen hobby, interest or art. They invest a tremendous amount of time, money and effort in their given pursuit.
Typically, they would rather practice than talk about it. But these people are rare.

As you like it

Not many students have a hunger for knowledge, skill and understanding. Most people are content with a superficial degree of skill.


Piano & tai chi?

If you want to learn any skill thoroughly and convincingly, you need to put in an awful lot of time. Whether you are seeking to learn Spanish, cook like a gourmet chef or play the guitar, it is just the same.
Practice, practice, practice. There are no shortcuts...


John M Ziegler's Piano Education Page is a wonderful on-line resource that contains insights applicable to both piano and tai chi:

 There are some common misconceptions and misapprehensions regarding piano lessons that piano teachers see (and sometimes bemoan) frequently. Most of these are born from a simple lack of knowledge on the part of prospective students and parents. Unfortunately, such misconceptions work to make lessons less effective and enjoyable, for both the teacher and the student.

(John M. Zeigler)

Learning piano is a lot more than just being able to "plunk out" a few tunes. If you're going to carry any skills over to other music, no matter the type, you'll need to learn how to: read music, adopt basic posture and technique, follow melodic and harmonic lines in each hand simultaneously, finger chords, practice properly and much, much more.

(John M. Zeigler)

Many people don't realize that lessons undertaken without commitment almost always lead to failure. Lessons take real time and involvement on the part of teachers, students and parents.

(John M. Zeigler)

Given the amount of time (not to mention psychological) commitment needed to be successful in learning to play the piano, an overly scheduled child or adult student will find it difficult to be successful learning piano for sheer lack of time. Consider if you really have the time to commit at least an hour per day to effective practice.

(John M. Zeigler)

Just as parental involvement is important to a child's success in school, his/her success in piano lessons will require support from the parents. The teacher will provide information, technique and encouragement. However, remember that the teacher only sees the student for 30 to 60 minutes per week, while the parents spend most of the non-school hours with him. If the parents don't see to it that their children practice and attend lessons regularly, the teacher's effort will likely be for naught, no matter what her skills as a teacher. Even more helpful to lesson success is regular interest and encouragement of their children from parents.

(John M. Zeigler)

In rare cases, it may be the teacher's "fault" if your child isn't progressing. Before you conclude that you need to change teachers though, take a look at whether you and your child have been serious about lessons. Are you practicing correctly and frequently enough? Are you attending all scheduled lessons? Are you rewarding accomplishment at the piano with as much praise as you would accomplishment on the athletic field? Is learning piano a priority or just another part of a busy day?

(John M. Zeigler)

"Talent" at the piano is real, but, as in so many other areas of
human endeavour, greatly overrated. If you are committed to learning piano and are willing to do the regular (i.e. daily) practice that building skill requires, you will learn to play to a considerable degree, irrespective of the level of your "native" talent. As with so many other skills, playing the piano requires hard work and inspiration in about a ten to one (or higher) ratio, respectively.

(John M. Zeigler)

Sometimes, parents come into a piano studio having heard the many "play in a day" claims out there. Some can't understand why their child isn't ready for a concert tour after 6 months of lessons. Unfortunately, you can't really learn to play piano using any "play in a day" approach. Often, this approach does more harm than good. You might be able to master a single tune to a small degree, but you won't have learned much to carry over to the next one.

(John M. Zeigler)

Many people take lessons because they would like to be able to play some particular work or genre of music. It's not surprising that they might want to play works that are well beyond their level of training and capability. Keep in mind the fact that you are taking lessons from a teacher because he or she knows more about piano than you do. The teacher probably knows what's best for your training, especially in the first year. It's perfectly fine to tell your teacher that you have an interest in some work or works and ask if they could be worked into your lesson program, as feasible. In the end, though, you're probably best served by following the teacher's program of training and repertoire.

(John M. Zeigler)

"I couldn't come to the lesson (or practice the piano), because I had a (football, baseball, basketball, soccer, track, hockey, lacrosse, etc. practice, game)"

Piano teachers hear these statements so often that it's practically impossible to list all the variations. In the end, they all come down to students and parents placing a higher priority on these alternative activities than on piano. All of us must make decisions everyday about how we will use our time. However, we can hardly hold a school teacher responsible for our failure to learn (and the resulting F grade) if we don't attend class regularly or do any of the homework. The same is true for piano. The difference is that you're wasting your own money, not just that of the taxpayers, if you take that view with regard to piano lessons.

(John M. Zeigler)

You can either "practice" or you can practice. Too many people think that, if an hour of practice is required, that a half hour is almost as good and that half hour can be spent watching
TV while "practicing." Real practice requires both mental and physical devotion, in which you don't simply repeat mistakes, but correct them before proceeding on. One expert pianist I know says that you should practice a problem area until you can do right ten times for every time you do it wrong. It's not the amount of time you spend, but how well you use the time that counts. If you practice several hours a day and simply repeat the same mistakes each time through, you have not practiced effectively.

In passing, allow me to note that failure of the student to practice properly and adequately is the single biggest item that piano teachers note as contributing to the failure of lessons.

(John M. Zeigler)

Some people feel it's okay not to show up for a lesson and not to give notice, but expect immediate scheduling of a free makeup lesson. Others think that they can use their piano teacher as an unpaid baby sitter by leaving their child unsupervised at the piano studio for an hour or two after the scheduled end of the lesson. People should remember that the teacher teaches more students than just their children. If he/she has to watch over students left past lesson times or has to wait for a student who never arrives, he can't give full attention to other students. In effect, those who leave their children at the studio past the scheduled end of the lesson are stealing the teacher's time and attention from the next student.

(John M. Zeigler)

"My piano teacher must be getting rich, because the hourly lesson rate is higher than my hourly rate."

Most people don't consider that they get benefits (health insurance, paid vacation, retirement plan, etc.) for "free" as a part of their compensation package, while most piano teachers must pay for those same benefits out of their hourly fee. Since typical company benefits run anywhere from half the nominal salary to equal the salary (or more), the real ("fully loaded") compensation is much higher than the amount people think of as salary. Considered in that light, most teacher's fees are quite low, especially when you consider that the majority of teachers have degrees and/or other advanced training.

(John M. Zeigler)

Under pressure?

Students who are studying the syllabus are not under pressure to spend hours training every day. They are welcome to commit as much or as little time as they like. No one can make you practice.
Just remember that your progress is inextricably linked to your degree of commitment. If you are keen, practice at home and attend weekly lessons, your progress will be strong and steady.
If you are casual, you will progress at a slower pace. It is important to do what feels right for you. Similarly, you must not resent the progress of others in the class who are dedicated and skilled.
Each student is free to proceed at a pace of their own choosing.
If you want to attend once or twice a month, that is fine providing you accept that you will need plenty of revision and your progress will be slow.

You make it happen

Students should appreciate their true relationship with tai chi. The art is manifested by you. Hence, the quality of the art is your responsibility.
You cannot expect amazing
fighting skills when your body has not been trained, conditioned and honed. Only you can do the work.
We offer the material and the practice partners, but you must make the effort. How can the tai chi be anything other than what you make it?

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023