The danger zone in kid’s piano lessons is when the teacher begins to get impatient. Tread carefully.
The child is going slowly because they must.
Get over it.
I find myself approaching it constantly: that impatient feeling, my mind saying, “Why can’t this kid get it?”
Of course, that’s the very moment you know you’re off the track, because you’ve stopped watching the child’s reaction and instead you’re listening to your own reaction.
Kids can’t go as fast as you, not by a tenth, not by a factor of 10,000.
The best question to always be asking yourself is, “What don’t they understand?” not “Why don’t they understand?”
The “why” is obvious: They’re kids.
I watch their hands, I watch their fingers, I watch their faces, I watch their eyes for clues of what’s going on. As soon as you stop watching the child, you’ve taken your eyes off the road.
If you watch the child, you’ll find the reason.
If their eyes aren’t on the keys, they aren’t paying attention so you’d better find out what is distracting them before you attempt to engage their attention. You can’t demand attention; you have to earn it, somehow.
If their eyes aren’t on the page during music reading, you have to find a way for them to negotiate the difficult task of looking two places at once: the keyboard and the page. Make a game of finding one note on the page, and then on the keys. Make a race out of it.
In watching their fingers and eyes, you will see if they are unsure of direction and the up/down progression of notes. If so, stop and play games that solidify their sense of direction.
Often the danger zone is reached when trying to read music. Try to see if they are generally tired, or are just having a problem with one specific idea.
PLAY IT AGAIN GAME
Since many children do not practice, I am quite comfortable with having them practice with me, although they may not perceive that’s what we’re doing. Thus, if I really think they ought to know something, but have not learned it due to lack of practice, I resolve to practice the song right there, right now. I just don’t tell them that’s what I’m doing. And I never get mad.
The angry words, “So you haven’t practiced it, have you?” have never fallen from my lips, I am proud to say. Instead, here’s what I do:
I play a game called “Play It Again,” in which I foolishly write the words “Play It Again” on one Post-It and “We Have A Winner” on another.
Then, like the Oscar announcer, I present the “envelope” to the child. Strangely, kids will repeat anything happily if you play this silly game with them.
The result is usually 10 minutes of very intense happy work attempting to get the announcer to say “We have a winner in lane 5!!”
I usually choose some simple passage, a few notes long and a small portion of it that we work over, again and again, just as a professional would practice, except that the child thinks we are playing a game called “Play It Again.”
The advantage of this “let’s practice it together but not call it that” approach is this: instead of a humiliated child who didn’t do their work, you now have a happy child who knows the passage and is ready for the next stage on that piece.
The lesson is children don’t practice because they are children, not because they are lazy, or untalented.
In playing this game, you are really showing them how to properly practice, a lesson that may take decades to sink in.
So there’s your choice: enter the danger zone of anger, or solve the problem head-on by getting the child to learn the music with you by making the repetition into a game.
Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press
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