What bores children in piano lessons? Talk and repetition. There are several other things that children find annoying and boring in piano lessons.
It is not the music itself, but how it is presented.
Children’s verbal skills are not that of an adult. Abstractions mean little to a child. Just because you know a lot about 18th century harpsichord fingering doesn’t mean a kid wants to listen to more than 5 seconds of monologue about it.
Show, don’t tell.
The best method of demonstrating something to a child at the piano is to physically demonstrate it, or move their fingers like a puppet so they feel the muscles from the inside.
I’ve seen piano teachers drone on and on, delivering a ten-minute monologue on fingering or some arcane subject that would interest only another professor of piano. While the teacher froths on and on, you can see the child’s interest slipping away before your eyes, never to return. You’ll work twice as hard to get their attention back after such a foolish lecture.
REPETITION WITHOUT GAMING
Ask a child to play something once, and they will comply. Ask them to play it again, they will do so but not really understand why. Ask them to play it a third time and they sigh and comply without gusto. Ask a fourth time, and you’re likely to hear them say, “But why? I’m tired of it.”
This impatience is human nature. You’re not going to change the result unless you find a way to make the repetition interesting.
1. Tell them the notes are a secret code and the earth will explode if they can’t get it right. Of course, then they will make a mistake just to hear the world explode, so change the game to, “Play it correctly and the world will explode.” Just stay one step ahead of them. Any piano teacher can get six happy repetitions with this step of the trick.
2. Tell the child that the notes are a secret message to the spaceship and we need them to transmit it exactly to the mother ship.
3. Pretend you’re six years old and need to be stimulated. Use your imagination. After all, that is what the child is doing every single second of their childhood. If you want to get into their brains, you’ll have to do likewise.
ANGER, GUILT AND RECRIMINATION
Many teachers employ guilt as a means of getting attention. You will get attention, but it will be the most grudging, reluctant attention you have ever experienced.
Kids are hyper-sensitive to criticism because that is almost all they experience from teachers. All day long, “Do this, do that, you’re not good enough.”
My approach is the opposite. I want that kid to feel better about themselves in a piano lesson than they feel anywhere on earth. If I make the child feel good about themselves and the piano, they will pour themselves into it, working hard and playing just as hard. I want the child to feel like a fellow scientist in a lab, mutually searching for a solution to a problem. We work together.
As we work, I am constantly making quiet comments, praise, and joking comments about the obvious mistakes. We generally don’t stop for mistakes unless they are disastrous, because it is enough to point them out and keep moving. If you are positive and friendly about your observations, they will remember.
GOING TOO SLOWLY
Yes, you must go slowly, but remember that kid’s metabolisms are set at about 2000% of the adult model.
Never forget, keep moving. As soon as you can hear that clock ticking loudly, boredom has set in. Danger zone. Look at it from the child’s view. Like someone keeping a balloon in the air, your job is to keep it interesting by gauging their pace and interest.
You need to keep moving, never belaboring a point. If a point is so important, make a game of coming back to it. Remember the TV detective, Columbo? He always seemed to be leaving the interview, only to slyly return for just “one more question,” usually the same question.
Use the Columbo guise. Keep coming back to the same question later, when the child doesn’t feel cornered. Also, keep feeding them the answer if it is slow in coming, so they start to respond correctly. Don’t let them fumble. If they fumble, supply the information they are struggling for, again and again without rancor or the slightest hint of impatience. It is a game.
For example, if a child is having trouble finding Middle C, keep finding it yourself in various ways: dive bomb, sudden attack, with a pencil, in any way that captures their attention. The information they need is seeing Middle C played, making a mental movie of it. I play MENTAL MOVIE all the time, where I pretend I have a camera and am filming them for live Australian Television. They love it and try to do well for the camera and their “viewers.”
I play this game: MIDDLE C RACE. We both get about 6-8 feet away from the piano, and then I say “Go,” and the first one to find Middle C wins. Yes, there will be injuries (just kidding) as the child slides to the piano, dashing to show their knowledge. One kid called it a “combination of football and piano.”
The result is a child who knows where Middle C is, the real object in the first place. All we’ve done is use a childish method to teach a child.
Using childish means is probably the best lesson to learn. Often, it is the secret weapon.
If you really want a child to understand something, put it in terms they can embrace.
Your manner is the lesson. Keep repeating that.
A kind manner will get you anything.
A gruff manner will get you so little that it is useless.