A PRACTICAL PSYCHOLOGICAL APPROACH ON HOW TO BECOME A BETTER PIANO TEACHER
"Students don’t practice"
"Students don’t enjoy music"
"Students don’t enjoy the lesson"
"Students are not happy"
It's a fact that most piano teachers have come across these or similar problems.
Well, Can we blame it on the student? I guess that’s what some music teachers do and they keep teaching a student that is not happy therefore the teacher is not happy, too.
But what IF we try to understand our students? Why don't we try to understand why they don’t practice or enjoy the piano lesson?
Only when we understand the whys we will be able to help them. Helping them enjoy their lessons will be good for us as teachers, too. Having to teach students that enjoy our teaching and practice effectively is the dream of every piano teacher all over the world, do you agree?
Let’s start with WHY do children want to learn how to play the piano. Why do they come to us at the very beginning? Possibly because they like piano music and they feel that it would be nice if they knew how to play the piano. They probably chose to come to us because someone told them we are good teachers.
So they come to their first lesson with high hopes, they feel excitement, curiosity but also lost and fear.
We, as teachers, have to do everything we can to make children feel safe, knowing that the first impressions of the teacher and the school or studio are powerful and long lasting.
How do we achieve this?
Firstly, by having positive emotions and a warm smiling face and by making sure that our teaching studio is as pleasant and warm as possible for each new student.
Being positive with our teaching
We can, and should be positive with our teaching in many ways.
Focus on what children can do better and what they enjoy doing.
Positive questions like “Which part do you like most?” or “where do you feel more confortable?” are really helpful to make the student feel confident during the lesson.
Give more positive comments instead of just saying “this piece was really good”. Explain which part of the piece you liked most and why. For example “You played it very good, I liked it a lot. Especially the first phrase was very clearly played and you also played it with feeling. Can you try now the second phrase as clearly?"
- "Listen" to your student
Make sure that the student wants to learn what he is learning. Otherwise he will get bored trying to learn pieces that he doesn't enjoy.
We need to ask what the student would like to learn and we should listen to him with sensitivity and consideration.
Students will only learn if they enjoy what they are doing.
Explain to the student why he has to do scales or other technical exercises, aurals or why he is doing a specific piece that wasn't his choice. In that case, the student needs to know that what we are teaching them will eventually give them the skills and knowledge to play the advanced pieces they asked for.
Who should direct the lesson?
Each of our student learns in his own way and pace.
And here comes the question ‘Who should direct the lesson? The teacher or the student?’
Both teacher-directed and student-directed have their place in our teaching but what direction we are going to follow mostly depends on the needs of the pupil each moment.
Teacher direction can be a very good way for the student to learn more new skills from the teacher.
But if the teacher is too directive then the student may feel that he is been ‘pushed’ to learn something he doesn’t really wants to learn, or he may feel angry or bored.
On the other hand, student-direction can be a very effective way for the student to decide what and how to learn.
The student may also discover new things for himself when in student direction.
But too much student direction may not be the best. The student may feel that his teacher is not interested in teaching him and he may feel lost and abandoned.
How do students learn?
Learning to play a musical instrument requires left and right brain activity.
Students tend to learn primarily by ear (aural) but also by physical doing (kinaesthetic) or by understanding shapes and patterns (visual/intellectual) at different ages.
For example the young beginner tends to learn by physical doing or by ear first and an adult beginner tends to learn by understanding shapes and patterns first.
Singing the counts whilst playing a music piece is also useful especially if this is done slowly, giving proper weight to the strong beats in relation to the weak. Then all musical skills will be involved, left and right brain, aural, kinaesthetic and intellectual.
When lesson time is not enough
During a piano lesson teacher and student have to work with the piano pieces, scales, aural, technical skills etc. Sometimes time is not enough for everything we want. Taking some notes on the student’s progress every lesson can be very useful. The teacher will know then, which are the priorities.
But we should remember that it’s very important for the student to start with something he already knows.
Problems during practice and solutions
We all agree that not all students practice effectively. Some don’t even practice at all.
Why is this happening?
What can we do about it?
Students practice a piece only when they feel capable of learning how to play it.
They practice when they feel success about their practicing and they don’t practice when they feel the fear of not been able to bring good results.
That’s why we, the teachers, need to make them feel confidence about their practicing.
What can we do to make a student feel confidence with his practicing?
- WRITE DOOWN IN A NOTEBOOK ALL THEY NEED TO KNOW
They should know exactly what to practice and how to practice.
That's why they should always have a student's notebook with them while they come to the piano lesson. I personally buy one for each one of my students at the beginning of the school year and ask them to bring it with their piano books every time they come for a lesson.
Some teachers write in their students’ notebook what they want them to learn by practicing until the next lesson. But what they don’t explain is how to accomplish that. They don’t give specific directions to the student while they should.
How do we do that? It's simple!
Here is an example of what a teacher should write:
"Practice 30 minutes everyday.Focus on the chords in the right hand.Try separately first. Practice slowly first".
It would be even better if the student wrote down these helpful notes himself instead of the teacher.
It’s significant for the students to know what, where, when, how and why to practice.
- SPEED OF PRACTICING
The speed of practicing is really important.
Have you noticed that some students start practicing in a quick tempo but they give up after a while because of no results?
What is the right speed for a student to play a piano piece?
The answer is, as my tutor said years ago,
"THE RIGHT SPEED IS THE SPEED OF NO MISTAKES".
The student should play no faster than the speed at which ears, fingers and intellect can work comfortably in unison.
- PRACTICE SHEETS
Give students or their parents practice sheets to fill in.
Practice sheets are like short questionaires that the student has to fill in every day of his practice.
The practice sheets may include how many minutes or hours they spent practicing each day of the week, what part of the day, what did they enjoy practicing, what did they avoid practicing.
Filling in these practice sheets can be very useful.
It’s a point to start a discussion with the student that will help both teacher and student understand each other more.
Practice sheets are important to the teacher for other reasons, too.
They show how interesting the specific music is for the student, how well he understood what he’s been told by his teacher about it, what he didn’t like and why.
Besides, filling in the sheet shows that the student cares about the lesson and he is doing the work his teacher gave him.
You can have the practice sheets I use for my students for FREE by writting your name and email in the form below.
- BE OPEN AND MEET YOUR STUDENT’S FEELINGS
Be open and positive when a student says
“I can’t play this! It is too hard and long for me. I’ll never be able to play it!”
What should you do then?
Well, reflect these feelings.
Teacher: “You are right. It is too hard. That’s too much for you.”
This reaction will help the student see his own problem with more clarity and find the way to deal with it.
Student: “Yes, I can see that. But I still want to play it!"
Give students what they need.
Let them set their own goals and direct their own learning.
Give them safety.
Don’t judge them.
When a student feels stressed, frustrated, helpless or bored it’s good idea to have a discussion with him.
Asking the student 'open' questions like
“How do you feel about this piece today?” or
“How do you feel about your playing at the moment?” or
“What would you like to do about the exams/concert right now?”
can be very helpful.
- BLOCKED STUDENTS
Sometimes students are blocked. Maybe they don’t want the teacher to come closer.
What do you do?
Again, be brave enough to be open and meet these feelings.
Tell him for example
“I feel a little tired…how about you?” or
“I feel this is too much for today, what about you?”.
When the teacher meets these feelings, the student feels relieved. He feels he is not the only one who has these negative feelings.
It’s important for him that the teacher understands him.
Countertranference in piano lessons
Did you know that we easily pick up the student’s feelings and we mistakenly think they are ours?
This is called Countertranference.
Because of this emotional reaction, our feelings may be telling us how our student feels.
For example ,if a teacher feels stress, this might be telling us that the student feels this way and the teacher should give the student some space.
If the teacher feels confused then the teacher should give the student safety.
Give your students what you think YOU need because whatever the teacher or the student want or need is mutual.
You can read an article about Countertransference in the classroom in english by clicking here.
You can read an article about the subject in greek here
Working with parents
Building trust between teacher and parents is very important.
Both teachers and parents need approval from each other. They need to feel like they are doing well in their roles.
Therefore giving appreciation is a priority and makes both teachers and parents feel safe.
Make the lesson more fun
Holding the student’s attention, concentration and interest for 30 or 45 or 60 minutes is really challenging!
We need to make the lesson more fun for our students by using our imagination.
Add some music games while teaching.
Add activities with dancing, walking or clapping can make a huge difference and bring smile and joy to the students.
You can read more on How to make a piano lesson more fun on my upcoming blog post.
Make sure you subscribe to my email list so you won't miss any post.
We became piano teachers by choice.
That's maybe because we love music and we love piano. Because we love children and we enjoy teaching.
So considering our students’ feelings and thinking of how to make them feel safe and worthy during the piano lessons is what is going to make the difference and tranform us to a BETTER PIANO TEACHER.