Learning Goals and Performance Goals in Piano Lessons

Every piano teacher uses different techniques and styles of teaching in their piano lessons. The way they teach is usually based upon their 'teaching philosophy' or their beliefs on teaching and learning and how they incorporate these beliefs into their lessons. Most experienced instructors will have a written teaching philosophy and students/parents should not hesitate to ask their teacher to share it with them.

Two important concepts to consider within a teaching philosophy are 'performance goals' and 'learning goals'. There are pros and cons to both, so let us first read the following descriptions:

-Performance Goals: emphasis on doing better than others and publicly proving one’s high ability. Approaching academic challenges with the desire to gain favorable and to avoid unfavorable evaluations of competence.
Performance goals include learning a piece for competitions, recitals, or to impress teachers/parents/peers.

-Learning Goals: emphasis on improvement, progress, effort, and a tolerance for and acceptance of errors as part of the learning process. Approaching academic challenges with the desire to increase competence, gain task mastery, improve knowledge and skill, and understand something new.
Here are some examples of how learning goals can be incorporated into a piano lesson:
1. Placing emphasis on how to figure out key signatures (circle of fifths, how keys relate to one another etc.) and not just memorizing each key signature.
2. Working on a piece that will not be performed and the purpose of the piece is to develop a new skill (such as trills or pedaling). The piece may not become perfected but the new skill will be learned.
3. Teaching by using leading questions. This focuses on the student trying to find the answer themselves without the instructor telling the answer right away. Instead of saying: "You missed your G-sharp", try instead: "Remind yourself of the key signature and then look at measure 15. Can you figure out what was missing from that measure?". This not only promotes problem solving strategies but it is also a less negative way of pointing out your students’ mistakes.

After reading these definitions, one might think that focusing on learning goals sounds superior to focusing on performance goals. While learning goals can create positive experiences through different learning approaches, learning everything in depth can also really slow down progress in lessons. The trick is to really find the perfect balance between the two types of goals. Participating in competitions and recitals can be a really great experience; everything from playing in front of others to memorizing music will help improve your student’s level of musicianship. The learning goals can be incorporated into the preparation that takes place before the performance. Learning performance etiquette and how to memorize is a great way to focus on learning goals while preparing for a recital. While winning a competition can be really fun and gratifying, never place that pressure on your students by expecting them to win. Instead, place emphasis on their improvement, what they are learning from competing, and how they can continue to improve and grow as musicians.

As teachers and learners of music, I encourage everyone involved (teacher, student, parent) to be aware of what goals are being made during the piano lesson. While every student is different, finding that correct balance of combining learning goals into their performance goals will not only improve their musicianship but also increase their level of enjoyment and love of music.


Holly G.

Holly-Piano & Music Theory

50+ hours
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