Work Smarter, Not Harder: Sharing the Responsibilities for Successful Piano Playing | Piano Marvel

Work Smarter, Not Harder: Sharing the Responsibilities for Successful Piano Playing

Karenfaye Shepherd-Carmichael


The responsibility for student success in the private piano studio has traditionally been a shared experience between the teacher and the learner. The teacher-student relationship has primarily been a privileged exchange arranged by a third party for a price. This system of music tutelage has been our best culmination of ideas for centuries and is still commonplace today.  When we consider the vast amounts of technological and pedagogical advancements made since the invention of the modern piano, the possibilities for upgrading the private piano studio lesson experience could seem endless. It is up to current music professionals to secure the bridge between the teacher and the student by using the most effective music learning tools of our time. The responsibility for student success in piano playing has shifted to include a third component: the most beneficial supporting technology currently available at any given time. I propose that optimal piano learning has become a shared responsibility between the teacher, the student, the student’s family support, and Adaptive Music Learning/Teaching Applications (AMLTAs), such as Piano Marvel.

AMLTAs are web-based custom music learning experiences that adapt to the unique needs of a learner. They use Just In Time Feedback as the students engage with carefully chosen interactive resources, arranged strategically to form pedagogically sound learning pathways, while providing insights to the teacher that inform their teaching. The use of AMLTAs mutually informs the teacher and the student to optimize the education process.



As you can see from the proposed model, the portion of effort in the music educator’s role stays about the same. However, the role of the music educator changes slightly to include interpreting the data mined from the AMLTA. As a result, they are able to “work smarter, not harder” for their students, bringing them farther in their learning in the same amount of time.  The learner’s responsibility is still approximately at half, but with the support of an AMLTA like Piano Marvel as a practice assistant, the learner is able to experience success, satisfaction, and progress. They may determine their own pace, do the deeper work on their own schedule, and choose to challenge themselves.  Notice that in my proposed model, I have included an optional 10% assigned to the learner’s family to support their endeavor.  Assume that if the learner is an adult, that the learner’s half of the model would not necessarily be required to reflect their family.

David Silbersweig, a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School writes,  “Music can alter brain structure and function, both after immediate and repeated exposure.”  Music has the extraordinary power to activate the brain, stimulate our emotions and is a vital neurodevelopmental tool that should be a standard and inclusive educational activity. Until now, there have been scores of barriers in place that have prevented the vast majority of people from learning to play piano. It is easier than it has ever been to become musically literate. Regardless of the systemic barriers of the past, AMLTAs are available and ready to be embraced.  

The socio-economic factors that have historically made it financially infeasible for many to gain exposure to piano are no longer such a barrier. At a minimum, open source access to music resources like sheet music, audio recordings and video tutorials create an open invitation to learning the piano for free. Access to a Piano Marvel subscription costs less than $20 per month. Physical distance between the learner and the nearest teacher is not as significant of a barrier anymore, either, as Piano Marvel makes the online and hybrid lesson models work smoothly as compared to the online lessons many piano teachers experienced after the breakout of COVID-19. As more and more technological and pedagogical knowledge has been considered, compiled and organized, we have become more effective at teaching, learning and sharing the language of music. 

As a result, the majority of school aged children have had the opportunity to experience at least a sampling of the benefits of music education in their neurodevelopment. Those who choose to participate in extracurricular musical activities gain even more neurodevelopmental benefits. Music is a whole brain activity that is vital for neurodevelopment and AMLTAs should be commonplace in schools, communities, studios and the home. As Samata Sharma explains in “Setting the Stage: Neurobiological Effects of Music on the Brain”:

“A better understanding of how and why we are so moved by music can emerge from a closer look at how the brain functions. Music causes both structural and functional changes in the brain, both with immediate exposure and over several weeks, months and years. The very fact that music is processed by so many areas of the brain (ranging from the cortex, to the limbic system, to the neuroendocrine and even autonomic nervous systems), exerts an effect not only on our brain, but also on our bodies. As our understanding of how the biological processes of the brain evolve, so, it seems, will our ability to harness the properties of our evolutionary and instinctual response to music: one that arises from, and can thereby shape, our individual brain structure and function to mitigate collective disease severity and improve wellness across populations.”



We know that AMLTAs equip teachers with data that assists them in understanding the minds of their students better through access to the real- time status of their students’ comprehension and performance. The student can continuously demonstrate their musical abilities and the teacher can adjust their approach accordingly. As music educators, we have a social responsibility to use the resources available to us to best teach our students.  We have arrived at a point in music history that neglecting to adopt an AMLTA is arguably an injustice to the student. 

The great Russian pedagogue Heinrich Neuhaus, who taught legendary classical pianists Radu Lupu, Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels wrote:

“I consider that one of the main tasks of a teacher is to ensure as quickly and as thoroughly as possible that [they are] no longer necessary to the pupil; to eliminate [themself], to leave the stage in time, in other words to inculcate in the pupil that independent thinking, that method of work, that knowledge of self and ability to reach [their] goal which we term ‘maturity’, the threshold beyond which begins mastery.” 

In conclusion, I propose that music educators share the responsibility of successful piano learning with both their students and the regular use of AMLTAs, such as Piano Marvel. The integration of  this application in the studio, the classroom and at home will result in vastly more informed and effective learning/teaching practices that will directly benefit the learning rate and level of music literacy of their students. With the support of Piano Marvel as a learner’s practice assistant, students will become musically independent sooner, be able to explore the benefits of their enhanced neurodevelopment, enjoy the innumerable benefits of music as a second language and stretch their potential for a richer life experience.

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