My piano students range in age from five to eleven. They're all unique and very enjoyable to teach. However, if I don't keep things fun while they're learning, I might as well be talking to a wall. As a children's piano teacher, I hope these tips on how I keep my students interested in learning how to play the piano will help parents keep the music playing once their child leaves my teaching room!
- When a child first begins piano lessons, establish 'stress free & fun learning' ground rules right away: When introducing myself to a new student, this is what I say: I don't yell or get angry. If you have to go to the bathroom please don't be afraid to ask. If there's a lesson you don't have much time to 'play' during the week, don't worry- we'll learn it together. If you're not having fun while you learn, please tell me! We've got to keep our learning fun, right?
There are a few reasons I use this technique, the most important one being: Children, (for the most part), seem to have so many activities going at once! By the time they get to their piano lesson, they're either stressing out or plain exhausted. I teach kids four days a week who are involved in: karate, dance, Brownies, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, school plays, athletic activities and more. Add piano lessons to the mix, and you've got one busy child! If I don't keep things as stress-free and fun as possible, a very busy child won't want to take piano lessons because it's 'just another thing to do'. I've got to keep it different, fun, full of laughter and learning, and RELAXED.
- When a child's attention starts to wander, gently bring them back by taking a mini-break. No matter how much fun a piano lesson is, when you're dealing with 5-8 year olds, there's an attention span issue to contend with. It's very easy for a child to get distracted, or ACT distracted if they don't understand something, or are just plain bored! Keep your eye out for wandering behavior, i.e., moving around on the piano bench and looking around the room instead of at the keys or music book. When this happens, say something like, "Okay! Why don't we take a minute and you can tell me about something interesting that happened this week? Then, we'll get back to playing and learning."
This 'break in the routine' allows for the student to relax, focus on something new, and creates a feeling of ease. It also shows the child I'm interested in them as a person, not just a student. They matter, and they know it. Because of this, they are more likely to WANT to learn to show what they can do!
- Reward the child with fun stickers, etc. whenever they've accomplished something...even if it's one measure of music! Children learn at different levels and paces. Some take to the piano and the fundamentals of music rather quickly, while others learn at a different pace. It's ALL okay. Whether a child plays an entire song, or spends a whole lesson learning how to draw a quarter note, reward them! Praise is a wonderful incentive, and both the student and teacher are always better off in an environment full of praise and rewards for accomplishments.
I use a fun sticker 'game' with some of my students: I take two sheets of stickers that are alike and give the child a sheet. We then pick out a sticker without looking at each other's choices. After we've picked out our stickers and placed them on the appropriate page in their music book, (being careful to hide our selection with our hands), I count to three and we lift our hands to see if we chose the SAME sticker. When we do, a smile from ear to ear is the result! When we don't, they still smile from ear to ear and want to do it the next time they accomplish something!
- Always end a piano lesson on a good note! Some lessons go better than others, depending on how challenging the lesson is and the student. No matter what, always make the child feel like they've done a good job! It's the learning that counts, even when the end result is a lesson that needs repeating. It's FINE and the child has to know they've got time to learn and will be helped every step of the way. Words of encouragement and praise at the end of a lesson are paramount to the child wanting to return and learn.
Even if there's work to be done, (there always is...), let the child know they had a good lesson by saying things like: Good job today! Great work! When we finish the next part of the page, you'll have even more stickers! Your playing sounded wonderful today! Now that you've learned the song, all you have to do is smooth and polish for next week! Boy, did you learn a lot today!
Never allow a child to leave their piano lesson feeling discouraged or negative. Always make children believe in themselves and their abilities. Whether they continue their lessons to become fabulous pianists, continue simply because they love it, or eventually decide it's not for them, the positive life lessons learned during a piano lesson will be remembered and carried- wherever their future leads them.
Ellen DuBois is the author of I Never Held You, a book about miscarriage, healing and recovery with several other published works. She is also a greeting card writer/poet published by Blue Mountain Arts. Her piano teaching career began in 2007 and she enjoys teaching her little students.