Piano Candy and the Case for Bribery

Piano Candy and the Case for Bribery

Piano Candy, and the case for bribery, is one way of getting kids started at the piano. You may well accuse me of bribery, even poisoning, and you would be right.

In the course of being a piano teacher, I discovered Tic Tacs, a tiny breath mint that was effective against mouth odor.

Let’s be honest. A piano teacher is often less than a foot away from a student, sitting on the bench beside them, or on a chair next to their bench. The last thing you need is a kid saying, ” Ewww, you smell like cheese and fish.”

So I quickly became sensitive to having a good smell, and thus adopted Tic Tacs, which work well.

But the kids noticed me having a Tic Tac, and many asked, “Can I have one?”

This brings up several issues. Do the parents allow the child to eat sweets? Do they want me to reward them with candy? Are their health issues, like allergies, or diabetes, which may be present?

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Remember your childhood relationship with candy? As an adult, I’m a health-conscious consumer of organic foods, but as a child I craved sweets, just as my students do.

The mere presence of sweets raises a child’s mood, instantly.

I quickly realized that a simple game could be devised using a small innocuous candy such as Tic Tacs.


Let me preface this by saying that I don’t use it on all kids, because there are many kids who don’t want or have been trained not to accept, candy. And it won’t work on older children, who obviously are bored with mere candy.

But, when the child asks for a Tic Tac, I become a game show host who awards a treat to the contestant who plays a significant portion of a song, or some other task they need to learn.

I might start by giving them a treat, and then say, “And there’s more behind door number five if you can play STAR WARS memorized,” or whatever song they might be able to play.

Now you will witness a scramble of mad concentration as they try to learn the task to win the prize. I make it fun and lenient, but they have to show me some skill to win. They expect the prize to withheld if they fail, and try harder because of it.

I find that skills presented in this way have a much quicker reception, mostly because it has been made into a “sweet” game.

And it is no problem to withdraw the game and say, “No treats today, the Tic Ti factory was closed.” Just knowing that a teacher appreciates their candy enthusiasm helps motivate them at times when they are apparently or actually unavailable.

The real reason for this bribery is this: it doesn’t matter how you get the child to sample and master the simple skill involved in the game. What matters is that they have the idea of what the skill is, and are willing to compete and try to learn more skills that build on the first skill.

Once you get them started acquiring piano skills, the desire for candy starts to lessen, and approaches a reasonable rate. And by that time, the child has the skills you have pleasantly taught them.

In the beginning, you will think it is a candy lesson, not a piano lesson, but if you handle it intelligently, you’ll find that the child learns the skills needed, and is thus more able to progress.

Piano is like a pyramid, with each layer above more difficult, and only approachable from the layer below.

Thus resolve to get the children climbing up these levels as fast as is comfortable, through any means that prove successful and pleasant.

Laughter, candy, games, or any means will work for a child and their willing and seemingly childish instructor.

Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press

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