CHEMISTRY, EMOTIONS, CHILDREN AND PIANO
It's well known
that when you are happy, your brain secretes a chemical called
dopamine, a potent neurotransmitter that makes you feel good and
Perhaps the major
discovery of my piano teaching years has been the realization that
how a child feels about the piano has more to do with how well
they learn than any other single factor.
I watch piano
lessons, in one sense, from afar, and really have two minds when I
do so. One mind is taking care of business, watching fingering and
getting tasks done, while the other mind is like a silent visitor,
watching only how the child feels, ignoring the minutiae of the
visitor side of me observes how children react to mistakes, and
devises ways to make the child feel better about these errors. I
find that a happy child who doesn't feel bad about mistakes, yet
who is aware of them, will have the energy to try again in the
face of almost certain short-term defeat, whereas a child
motivated in any way by guilt and negativity will only create more
of that negative emotion for themselves.
The key is your
reaction to the mistakes. If you react to such constant events
seriously and are upset in any way by mistakes, the child will
know it instantly, and shy away from the activity in an
intellectual and emotional sense instead of diving in and
embracing it. Kids are very honest in showing what appeals to
children to enjoy an activity that makes the teacher act upset or
dissatisfied. Of course child pianists make mistakes, and loads of
them, but your job is to silently absorb the obvious errors and
look beyond them to what will make the child move ahead.
The mood you want
in a piano lesson is that of two children playing, putting all
their imagination and cleverness into solving a knotty but fun
problem. Think about two kids playing happily in a room together,
and you are moving in the right direction.
Thus my reaction
to mistakes is always comic.
We all know when
we play a wrong note so there's no need belabor it and make the
child feel bad, no matter how many million tries they have had at
the problem. There is no limit to the number of non-judgmental
tries a child may have, and your job is to make it fun to repeat
the problem, not shove obvious defeat down their throat.
Laughing at an
error says, "Yeah, I see the mistake but this music is hard,
everyone makes mistakes, so let's just keep going and have
fun." And lo and behold, if this is your attitude, the child
will act like they are playing Nintendo, trying again and again.
But you must also
know when to pull the plug, and stop all effort to "correct
mistakes." If all you do is correct mistakes, the child will
wither quickly. You want a fresh child, in the same sense that you
want a fresh horse: don't ride your mount too hard.
Thus after a
short bout of intellectual struggle with musical perfection, we
change instantly into fun mode, having a good time with the piano.
If that means I play a silly song, I do it. They might say, "I
want to learn a Christmas song" or whatever is on their mind.
Learn how to
musically educate a child without obviously appearing to do so.
interest at times says to the child, "This time belongs to you,
If you give the
student this breathing room, they won't feel trapped by the
difficulties of music, but rather will be re-energized as to why
we do music in the first place: it's supremely enjoyable even
though it takes a lot of work.