Thoroughly Equipping Music Students for Life – Part 1

We often hear parents make statements about preparing their children for “real life.” As teachers, we need to be equipping music students for life, preparing them to take on the challenges they will face as an adult musician. Specifically, our students need to be trained to act in branches of music in which their instruments are most commonly used.

Most Christian musicians are going to be involved in church music at some point in their lives. Every church needs a pianist. Most churches desire some, if not all of the following: special music, offertories, preludes, special seasonal programs involving music, and more.

Over my years as a teacher I have developed and am still developing goals for my students relevant to the instrument they are studying. Of course, it is vital to their success as a student and mine as a teacher that their personal goals for learning the instrument are considered. Some want to reach the highest level of mastery possible, while others are learning for pleasure’s sake. Most are eager to develop the skills necessary to become church musicians, and others study music as an extra-curricular supplement. Whatever their goals, I endeavor to help them reach them. The road is two-way, however, and because I am hired as an educator to share what I myself have learned, I make a point to share my goals with the students and their authorities. Sometimes this is done with a long overview discussion, but always it is at least a small element to our lessons.

So what are good goals for teachers to have for their aspiring musicians? I’m going to break this discussion up into articles based on the instruments I teach, because each one is unique, so keep an eye out for future entries. Let me take a moment here to state that my ultimate goal is to raise students who will play skillfully and heartily as unto the Lord, for we serve the Lord Christ. (Psalm 33:3, Colossians 3:23-24)


There are myriad aspects of a pianist’s life. It can be a bit overwhelming to set out to master all elements of being a well-rounded pianist, but with time, perseverance, and the blessing of the Lord, it can be done. I will not go into extensive detail here on the nitty-gritties of theory, composition, and other intensive fields that could be mentioned, but will focus briefly on some of the broad, primary skills necessary for mastery of the instrument.


Piano Performance typically refers to the ability to play, and to play well, the works of the Masters: Bach, Haydn, Chopin, Beethoven, Brahms, and Debussy, to name a few. Included in this study are also scores of technical studies that can be used to prepare for and enhance the learning of the major works. While this type of music is not what we would play in church, and consequently not what a lot of people find as their focus in learning, the knowledge and skill gained from studying “classical” literature is invaluable to being a well-rounded and ready-for-anything pianist. Goal: To be able to play well – technically and artistically – the foundational works found in advanced piano literature.


There is no single instrument as commonly used for accompaniment in all realms of music as the piano. Consequently, it is essential to the well-trained pianist to be a confident accompanist in several different realms of music. Accompaniment is a sort of middle ground for a pianist between Performance and Church Music. The foundations for it are laid in Performance, and some of the most common needs for accompaniment for the Christian musician lie in the area of Church Music. Another area of accompaniment beside Church Music is playing for other performing soloists and ensembles in the “classical” field – another reason to lay a firm foundation in Performance. The primary duty of an accompanist is simple: follow your leader, be it a soloist, ensemble, conductor, or otherwise, and play your music as a supporter, not a soloist. Goal: To be able to play various styles of accompaniment, including but not limited to the following – “classical” (soloist and ensemble), sacred accompaniment (soloist and ensemble), choral music, and congregational.

Church Music

This field of pianistic occupation is probably the primary one for most people reading this article. It includes several different aspects, and is where the hours of hard practice begin to pay off for the ministry-minded musician. The largest percentage of a church pianist’s time is going to be put into accompaniment, either for the congregation, the choir, or other soloists and ensembles, and using music that is written for soloists, choirs, or maybe just out of the hymnbook. Because of this, the next element that is crucial to the church pianist is improvising from the hymnbook. This skill will be used more than most of us could ever measure, as the quantity of hymn playing that a church pianist does is immense. The hymnbook is used for congregational accompaniments, preludes, postludes, sometimes for solo and ensemble accompaniment, and sometimes for the choir. It is important that students develop this skill fluently. Depending on the church that is being served, there are commonly many opportunities to use beautifully written hymn arrangements as a soloist, which is yet another kick-back to the study of Performance music. Goal: To be able to play fluently in the four primary fields of Church Music – improvised accompaniment, written accompaniment, solo improvisation, and sacred solo.


The ability to pass on what they have learned to others is the crowning feature of the trained pianist. To be able to learn is one thing, but to teach it is another. This is what the future depends on in all areas of life. Just as parents are commanded to pass on their faith in God to the next generation (Psalm 78:5-7, Ephesians 6:4), so musicians should be prepared to endow others with their skills and knowledge for the glory of our Lord. Goal: To be able to be ever-learning, teaching themselves so that teacher-induced limitations may be overcome, and to have the potential to instruct future generations.


If you found this article to be helpful, please consider leaving a review in the comment section below. Also, check out my previous articles here.


Written with church musicians in mind, Heartfelt Hymns for All Seasons is a collection of beautiful and artistic arrangements to enhance in your weekly gathered church worship.

Cover tiny file look inside Heartfelt Hymns for All Seasons Composed by Shelly Hamilton. Sacred. SoundForth #70/1994SF. Published by SoundForth (S2.70-1994SF).


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One Response to “Thoroughly Equipping Music Students for Life – Part 1”

  1. As a new piano teacher, I’m soaking up these posts. Thank you, Victoria – keep them coming! 🙂

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