Let’s assume that you have the requisite musical education, regardless of your age, to teach a child the basics of the piano.
With that requirement in hand, no small accomplishment itself, you are ready perhaps to embark on a career of piano teaching.
“But wait,” you say! “Won’t I need a few other things to become a piano teacher?”
That is true, you’ll need a car and a studio, a piano or perhaps two.
But we’re not here to consider the physical nuts and bolts of piano teaching. We’re here to consider the psychological requirements for sitting with one child, a half hour at a time, again and again, day after day, showing them how to play the piano.
If you’ve guessed some of the qualities already, let me enumerate the most important:
Don’t even think about being a piano teacher if you don’t really love kids. I mean “love kids” on those days when they’re tired and hot and sticky and in a bad mood and don’t want any more education right now, thank you. That’s when you’ll really be tested. So unless you have an affection for kids and an understanding of how hard it is to grow up, don’t bother to become a piano teacher. The children will know who you are the moment you walk through the door, and they better like you a lot.
You will require the patience of a block of stone. If you’ve ever herded cats, you’ll have an idea of how difficult it can be to grab and hold a child’s attention, even with a great big noisy piano at your disposal. I’ve witnessed kids who took years, literally, to figure out the basics of the piano such as fingering and reading music, but if you wait long enough and keep trying, you can do this with any child. The key is to let them set the pace, at least on the surface. By this I mean that if they need to fool around for a few moments, it may be more productive to go along with it, even encourage it, so that they are able to blow off a little steam. Then they are ready to work because they know you will let up when the pressure is too much. It’s simple child psychology.
A sense of humor will get you 10,000 times the reaction and results than a gruff attitude. Gruffness and disapproval are two qualities that I utterly banish from my manner while with a child. It’s THEIR piano lesson and I need to go at their pace, aware of their mood, always on the lookout for that momentary opportunity to press their musical knowledge forward. You will get a lot more done by using the little spaces in between the fun. Let them be happy, sing, make up songs, then when the moment is right, they’ll be ready for your next point.
You had better love repetition and have an almost biblical ability to disguise a simple task in a thousand and one different ways. No child accepts blind repetition gladly. If you disguise it as a game, they will adopt it wholeheartedly. Let me give you an example. Recently I instituted a game using a pair of dice, or a single one. Kids call it PIANO DICE. I teach the child six songs, like Jingle Bells and Star Wars, etc, and then number the songs from 1-6, writing this list down on a post-it which I put on the piano. The child rolls the dice and then has to try to play the piece with the number on the dice. Not play it perfectly, but as well as they can. It’s an excellent opportunity to point out a fingering idea, a wrong note, a pattern in the keys that might help them. And the kids respond, because we go on to the next roll of the dice right away, not dwelling on the piece but trying to get the entire list more clear in their minds. That is an example of disguising repetition as a game.
In closing, let me give you the image in my mind that allows me to start each piano lesson with a child and make them happy about it: I imagine the child before I arrive, having their own happy day. And then magically I appear. I say to myself that whatever has happened to ME that day is irrelevant, and all that matters is how that child feels about THEIR lesson on THIS day.
And I resolve that no matter what, that child is going to feel GOOD about playing the piano on that day. It doesn’t matter if they have practiced or not, if they are in a good mood, or if they make great progress. It matters only that they sat at the piano, gave it their best try, enjoyed it, and were praised for their honest efforts.
It’s my job to make their musical education a happy one by accurately gauging their mood and acting appropriately. It works every single time.
By John Aschenbrenner Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press All Rights Reserved
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