several things that children find annoying and boring in piano
lessons. It is not the music itself, but how it is presented.
verbal skills are not that of an adult. Abstractions mean little
to a child. 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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Yes, you must
go slowly, but remember that kid's metabolisms are set at about
2000% of the adult model.
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
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.
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
means is probably the best lesson to learn. Often, it is the secret
If you really
want a child to understand something, put it in terms they can
Your manner is
the lesson. Keep repeating that.
A kind manner
will get you ANYTHING.
gruff manner will get you so little that it is useless.