Setting the mood of children’s piano lessons is under the teacher’s control, and it needs to be consistent. A child needs to know you will never get mad.
Until the child knows these emotional facts, you will get nowhere.
You can decide whether there will be smiles or frowns in your piano lessons. Both are the result of your attitude.
There are two other factors to consider: the mood of the child, and the general personality of the individual child.
Some children are quiet, attentive and eager to be shown how to play. They have patience with themselves, don’t beat themselves up for mistakes, and have no expectations for themselves other than the present, pleasant moment.
Other children, perfectly delightful, are hyperactive, unfocused and couldn’t care less about the piano. They are impatient, get mad at themselves and make a fuss for each mistake, and have the expectation that they will fail to please the teacher.
Add to these two broad categories the daily mood of children, and you begin to realize how careful one must be to set the right mood for a particular child on that day.
By daily mood I mean that any child can have a good or a bad day. The very best can just fold up and say, “I need a break,” and you better know how to give it to them. The slowest and most hyper can suddenly grasp things and you need to be ready to seize that moment of lucidity and push it farther.
Here are four things I never do in piano lessons:
1. Never act like we have to rush because there’s so little time. This attitude will have you teaching at YOUR pace, not the child’s. Time is irrelevant to a child if they are having fun at the piano.
2. Never have a set goal for that day’s lesson that you aren’t willing to change. You will be sadly disappointed most of the time, worse, you might lose golden opportunities to teach other aspects that might present themselves in a more natural flow of events. Of course you have a curriculum, you just don’t need to make the child aware of it, or be driven by it.
3. Never get mad, frown, be impatient, lose a sense of humor. Why? I’m a pianist, so I have daily experience with how long it can take an adult brain to learn the correct procedures, much less the brain of a child of six. Use common sense: it takes thousands of repetitions, in some cases, to drive an idea home, and thus it will take tremendous creativity on the part of the teacher to disguise this rote regime. Some people grasp in seconds, other will take years: accept it and embrace it, and try to find clever ways to make those years into seconds.
4. Never ignore a child’s digressive story. Sometimes, a child has something to say, usually irrelevant to the lesson, and you would do well to waste the five minutes it will take to patiently and genuinely listen. The reason is that a child who wants to talk to a teacher needs adult contact on some level, and it is best to give them what they need and then proceed. I’ve noticed that they calm down, and want very much to participate in the lesson once they have spoken their what’s on their mind.
When I watch a child learn the piano, I am struck how similar it is to a professional; pianist: we stumble, we repeat, we quit, we take it up again. All the moods a child has are there in an adult’s serious quest to master the instrument. But you must remember that the child’s toolbox is practically empty. It is you who must fill that toolbox, and the first thing you must put in it is the desire to build music at the piano.
If you can’t get the child to love building a song, they will not really enjoy the experience, no matter how sophisticated the tools.
Most conventional piano teachers load up the child’s musical toolbox without giving the child a reason to build in the first place.
Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press
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