Some of my pupils were supposed to sitting their piano exams yesterday. But they couldn’t. The whole of New Zealand is in lockdown and everyone’s plans are changed.

It is an interesting challenge for these pupils. They were all at their peak and ready to perform this week, but the waiting time ahead brings uncertainty. I don’t want them to reach that point where their pieces are over practised and they become bored with them, affecting the future performance. Nobody knows when they will be able to sit the exams, so they will just have to remain as ready as they can.


There are so many life skills one gains while learning a musical instrument. Here is one I didn’t already have on the list: Patience in maintaining a readiness to perform.


Some people are not okay with surprises, but the ability to be flexible is valuable in a musician. It also adds a sort of adventure to the role. You never know what might happen. Somehow, we usually rise to the challenge and are better for it. Here are a few examples of this:

  • As child I had to be ready to play my latest piece at any time. My Dad would often call on us to entertain visitors who had popped in unexpectedly.
  • I can’t count the number of times I have had to sight read something as an accompanist for an instrument or choir.
  • Sometimes a key change is needed. If you are using a real piano, there is no instant transpose button, you must resort to real skills in transposing.
  • Then there are moments when someone bursts into song, expecting you to pick up the key and play along… so you do.
  • There was a time I became a sort of: “composer in residence” for a show where I had started out as rehearsal pianist. The musical director couldn’t make it to all the rehearsals and the producer kept needing songs rewritten and some new ones created.
  • I have a simple little piece for pupils who show up to lessons with a broken arm. Unsurprisingly, it is called Broken Arm Blues. It is the same piece adjusted for left or right hand. I first wrote it when a student thought he would be off lessons for a while. No such luck! (Let me know if you would like a copy and I’ll email it to you.)


An examiner I once heard talking to music teachers referenced the skills a musician needs for coping with surprises. He said that the two skills he uses most in such situations are: Playing by ear and Sight Reading. I couldn’t agree more.

So, we will wait and see when the exams take place. In the meantime, I can just hope that the experience is in some way setting my pupils up for being adaptable, flexible musicians later, with a story to tell and ready for any surprises.