The Joy Of A Jimmy

I was texting with a friend of mine online this week about my student, Jimmy.

“He doesn’t have a lot of innate coordination, rhythm or sound control, but I’ve managed to inspire him enough that he works super hard. He doesn’t seem to even notice how much harder he works to get the same amount done as some of the other kids.”

He wrote back, “Those are the type of students that remind us that it’s not how “talented” a student is that makes it a joy to be a teacher.“

I stared at what he’d just written.  

It’s not how “talented” a student is that makes it a joy to be a teacher.

I stopped. Could that be true? 

What if:

  • The pleasure and satisfaction in teaching comes not from the giftedness of the student but the teaching itself?

  • Solving the unique problems of each student is what gives us giddy satisfaction?

  • Lessons have power in students’ lives because of the intense focus of one teacher exclusively on one student?

  • The joy of teaching comes more from the student’s desire to learn than their innate gifts?

Music teachers organizations frequently ask me to teach master classes. Over the years I’ve grown weary of seeing the teachers of competition-winning students have yet another opportunity to show off their most polished students. There is usually very little to teach to these accomplished young pianists, and the challenges most teachers face go unaddressed.

Recently, one brave group of teachers agreed to do an Un-Master Class. I asked everyone to bring in their most challenging and problematic student. 

It was fascinating. Not only did they bring in their most challenging student, in most cases this was also their favorite student. This student might not have been able to memorize their pieces, or had an uncoordinated technique. They might have had dreadful rhythm. But the teachers spoke of these students with a love and affection that I rarely see when teachers speak to me of their more “talented” students


Teachers telling me about their most talented students frequently talk about the student’s quantifiable achievements like competition prizes and conservatory admissions. They often brag about their accomplishments and talk about how many hours a day they practice.

In contrast, the teachers speaking about their most challenging students enthusiastically shared teaching details like, “We’ve been working really hard this semester on rhythm. He’s doing SO much better that we’re going to start the first Clementi Sonatina in the spring.”  Or, “She really shouldn’t be playing this Chopin Waltz but she loves it so much that we just decided to go for it. I’ve never seen her so excited!”


They spoke with such joy! Such unabashed, unembarrassed passion for teaching their students.

I wondered if there are more teachers out there who feel the same way. Teachers who find meaning in a career teaching normal kids to make music.

Are you one of us? A teacher who are finds great joy in teaching kids like my Jimmy?

I’m going to hear Yuja Wang play at Davies Symphony Hall tonight. She’ll amaze me with her technical prowess.

But this afternoon I’ll be teaching Jimmy. And there’s plenty of joy in that for me.

© 2019 by Diane Hidy

You'll wonder how you ever taught without this 32-page book. I made these cards for my students to give them plenty of opportunities to practice all the different skills they were acquiring. This series starts with the simplest possible rhythmic patterns on the Landmark notes Middle C, Bass F and Treble G. Each set becomes incrementally more difficult.

Here are a few of the many different ways to use these cards:

  • Encourage students to write in their own fingering. This paves the way for making true fingering choices later on

  • Circle the thirds before starting to read the flashcards. This helps the student focus on the difference between steps and skips.

  • Help your student write in their own staccatos and slurs. Try them out. Talk to them about why they do or don't like them. 

  • Help the student add dynamics and phrase marks.

  • Print these in their entirety and use them as a book.

  • Print them on heavy paper or card stock and cut them into separate cards. Trying sending home a set with a student and ask them to become proficient with each one. At the next lesson, mix them up and play them in random order. It’s a nice combination of preparation and reading.