May 10, 2011

Guest Post: Enjoyable Piano Lessons???

Guest Post

Enjoyable Piano Lessons???

Discovering a Relative and Fun Method to Piano Teaching

By Emily Matthew

I believe a tragedy has occurred in both piano studios and student’s homes across the country. Piano students dread going to lessons because their teacher is “boring” or “strict”; teachers are unoriginal and rigid in their teaching styles; and parents are tired of the constant battle to practice. The result? More students discontinue piano lessons. This is a problem that I believe could be corrected by parents and piano teachers, both of which who will in turn influence the students.

This article is not intended for parents; however, I will quickly say this: I believe it is the parents’ responsibility to give their child the opportunity of music lessons. I believe that learning to play an instrument is a necessary discipline in the life of a child, both musically and otherwise. Learning an instrument instills in a child invaluable qualities that will benefit him throughout all his life. I believe it is the parents’ job to support piano lessons just as they do math, history, and science classes in school. If your child did not enjoy math homework, would you allow him to drop out of math class? Of course not! I’ve had parents tell me that they wish their child had a desire to take music lessons, but since their child isn’t interested in music or committed to practicing, they will not be required to take lessons. I really believe that is sad! While a career in music isn’t for everyone, I do believe that several years of musical discipline are necessary for a child’s education. However...that is another subject for another time!

Now for the teachers: I believe it is your responsibility to foster in your students a love for music. Let’s face it: many a student will end up in our studios who really doesn’t want to be there. He, in fact, is determined to hate the piano. Bravo to the parents who make him come! It is now the teacher’s job to convince him that music can be rewarding and even fun. James Bastien said, “The teacher, not a set of books, is the determining factor in quality results.” The teacher should demonstrate to him the great fulfillment and enjoyment that can be had from music lessons.

Private piano teachers today are competing with a multitude of other activities that are vying for their students’ attention. Sports, movies, video games, and other modern entertainment are FUN! Why would your student want to sit 1/2 hour with someone who is twice his age explaining to him how to interpret little black dots on a page full of lines? If you were in his place would that be fun to you? I believe it is time for teachers to step back and re-evaluate their teaching methods. I am NOT advocating reducing a high quality of a musical education. I am definitely not suggesting that you throw out theory, scales, and classical study or that you lessen your high standards for performance. My students spend plenty of time investing in these areas, and they also know that doing less than their best is simply not an option. What I am suggesting is that you adapt your presentation of these musical areas to make them appealing. Ignite your student’s curiosity about theory. Make him want to master the last scale in his book before anyone else has ever done. Fascinate him with the classical masterpieces and the men who wrote them. Make music come alive!!!

I believe piano lessons can come alive by the teacher being real, relevant, and enthusiastic about what he is teaching to his student. Get to know your students. Discover their learning style and use that knowledge as a stepping stone to bring them to the realization that music can be enjoyable. Do crazy things during your lessons to make your students laugh and relax. My students and I have come up with the strangest and craziest stories that express the mood of a song they are learning; but you know what? After coming up with those “silly” stories, they play the song better and they enjoy doing so! It’s amazing! Hold studio competitions for titles in the “Piano Hall of Fame.” Use colored pencils and highlighters in the child’s favorite color. Play musical games, with the challenge that you’re pretty hard to beat. I appreciate what a Chinese Proverb states, “Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.” Make each minute of lesson time count by actively involving students and doing your best to make lessons enjoyable. Be relative to your students, and please don’t lose another student simply because he was bored with you.

In my piano studio, I strive to give my students a quality musical education. We do all the “boring” stuff such as theory books, scales, arpeggios, Hanon, classical music, but *read* it is not boring to the majority of my students. Why? Because I have strived to make it enjoyable for them. I hold studio competitions year round (with fun names, of course). Last June and July, I hosted “Sizzlin’ Summer Studies”, where students could become “Piano Superstars” by completing some tricky assignments. During the majority of the year, I hold a much more in- depth competition. Last year, we embarked on “Treasures from the Past: the Lives of Great Composers.” We spent the year with an emphasis on classical music. My students had the options of listening to classical music, completing extra credit worksheets, playing additional songs at the foremost level of excellence, working extra hard on their given assignments, practicing extra time, etc. all for the purpose of earning “Treasure Chest Coins” which could be traded in for some awesome prizes. I hardly heard any complaints about practice time or scales. Two of my students were so competitive about the contest that they called each other during the week to see how many “Treasure Chest Coins” they were going to earn that week to see if they in turn needed to practice more or do some extra work. Those two students tied as winners of the contest. They surpassed my musical expectations for them! They learned so much more than I required of them and enjoyed doing so! Why? I suggest that it was at least partially because piano learning was made fun.

I believe another huge motivator is simply your praise. I can’t remember where I once heard this suggestion, but it has been a huge help to me! “Never let a lesson go by without praising your student about something they did well.” Now, I will admit, this can be very difficult at times! Maybe your student didn’t practice at all, missed most of the notes in his song, and completely ruined the rhythm...well, use your imagination to find something good that he did do! :) Time for some out-of-the-box thinking! What about his dynamics (on those few notes that were correct that is)...praise him for it. Try this, “Billy, you have some incredible dynamics while you’re playing! I especially like that forte at the very end! It sounded just like a lion roaring!” Of course we need to address the problems too, so then try this: “You know Billy, we really need to get these notes and rhythm right. I can’t wait to hear it next week! I know once you get those things right, it will sound amazing with those incredible dynamics I already heard today!” What do you think? I think that it helps your student see that you’re not “against” him. Find something he did right and tell him how much you like it!

You may be reading this and thinking, “This is all great, but I don’t think it will solve all my ‘bored student’ problems.” You’re right. It won’t. But, you’ve done your part; now, just keep trying! Keep getting to know your students as individuals, and find one thing that they enjoy doing that motivates them. Once you’ve found it, use your imagination and work with that knowledge! On my beginning student/parent questionnaires, I ask the parents their child’s learning style, temperament, and motivators. I have found those answers to be so helpful to me as I teach! If you have a majority of “bored students” in your studio, why not try a few new and innovative ideas? Those bored students just might change their minds!

Are your students having fun during their lessons, or do they dread them? I suggest that you re-evaluate your approach to teaching. Become a relevant teacher and motivator rather than a strict and strenuous instructor. It is our responsibility as music teachers to do our best to instill in our students a love and a passion for the instrument we teach.

Emily Matthews and her husband Jared currently live in Minnesota, where Emily enjoys being a homemaker and piano teacher. You can visit her piano studio website to see what she's all about. Emily is also an avid couponer and blogs about her homemaking and couponing adventures on their blog, Day by Day.

1 comment:

  1. Teaching piano can be one of the most challenging (and rewarding) careers! As teachers, we have to be constantly evaluating our students' learning styles and seeking out fresh and exciting ways to engage them. It's especially difficult as we often don't have the parents' support, as you pointed out. Most parents don't see the need to push their children when they're not enjoying it- putting even more responsibility on us!

    Thanks so much for this post and for reminding us to be relevant, fun motivators rather than strict, uncreative teachers.