Many parents will warn you, “Okay, but watch out for little Johnny. He goes a mile a minute and never slows down. You’ll have your hands full.”
I have piano students that cannot sit still for 30 seconds. I don't mean wiggling and fidgeting. I mean bouncing around the room, crawling the floor (at six) and almost chewing the furniture. How is one to teach such kids the piano?
The child may have ADHD, or have a host of other issues, plus medication.
It’s not your place to ask what their medical condition is unless that information is offered. Your job is to deal with the hyperactivity in terms of the piano.
The first thing to recognize is that the child may have an attention span of about 12 seconds. Unless you accept that fact, you are going to be a very frustrated piano teacher.
Thus, for a child with a 12 second attention span, I devise games 12 seconds long. Don't expect milk from a stone.
Many teachers simply won’t accept such kids as students. They carefully screen their prospective students and only take those that show both promise and a calm attitude. Behavior problems are a no-no, and they avoid it like the plague. My theory is that the brightest kids are often the most difficult to handle, and I act accordingly in terms of creating a curriculum that works for them.
I have the opposite approach to the teachers who screen out these kids. I accept all who seek to learn the piano, and then figure out how to teach that particular individual.
It will be very helpful if you can find a simple song that they love and want to play. It has to be a song they know, because they will forget in 12 seconds what song they were playing.
Concentrate on learning the most recognizable portion of the song, usually the opening. Use their 12 second window of opportunity to make up games that explain those half dozen notes of the song.
Please be reminded that we are assuming you are using Piano by Number, for if you try this with sheet music, on a total beginner ADHD kid, you will inevitably have a disaster. Piano by Number evens the playing field and makes many things possible for these kids.
Assume you’ve selected Star Wars:
| 1 5 | 4 3 2 | 8 5 | 4 3 2 | 8 5 | 4 3 4 2
Concentrate on getting the child to memorize the first 6 notes:
1 5 4 3 2 8
Let them use any finger, unless it is obvious they are instinctively selecting more than one finger, or both hands. Don’t get in the way of their selection of fingers. This is not about fingering.
Figure out ways that make them repeat it:
You are on a television show. They have to play for the camera
They are in the circus
They are a scientist and the numbers must be entered in a computer
They are an astronaut and must upload cookies to the space station
Don’t call it a piano. Call it a VOLTRON 500 and command them to visit Vector 1155665 (Twinkle Twinkle.)
Go off to something else, but if you have chosen the right song, they will want to return to the above game and play the song as a game in a thousand other ways.
In the larger “game” of piano, you have just given them a first bargaining chip, the song, so they can participate in the fun of playing recognizable songs for themselves and others.
You now have a willing candidate to learn more, and in no way have diminished their enthusiasm.
Don’t make the mistake of showing them how high the mountain is that they must climb.
Just start hiking, and follow them, moving at their pace. If they turn back, follow them like a shepherd and slowly reverse their direction until they are moving once again back up the mountain.
By John Aschenbrenner Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press All Rights Reserved
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