Guilt Won’t Buy Attention


Paying attention is the essence of playing the piano.

When you see a master pianist’s hands flying over the piano, the artist is paying attention to a myriad of details, muscular, musical and mental.

The piano may be the first place that a child is asked to focus attention in this very intense way. Some kids like it, and are drawn to it, whereas and some kids find it very hard to grasp.

How do you get a child to focus in this way, at the piano specifically?

Many piano teachers have great difficulty answering this question with any other word than “guilt.”

That’s right, piano teachers buy attention with guilt. They make the child feel guilty, most of all, for not practicing as they should, and then for not delivering advancement on the very homework they have not done.

Unless the child is extraordinarily inspired and gifted, it will only take a few weeks of the “guilt” regime before they simply give up on the piano in an emotional sense. It may then take months for them to admit this to you, the parent.

“Piano is too hard, and I’m just stupid.” That’s exactly what I’ve heard kids say. How demoralized do you have to be to utter such a truth?

There is only one way to counteract guilt. Praise.

You’d be surprised how well kids react to praise and a relentlessly positive attitude on the part of the teacher.

The hard part is to make the bar so low that the praise is deserved. This is difficult for most piano teachers because children’s difficulties with utterly basic skills secretly frustrates almost all piano teachers. They wish the child would go faster.

But instead, the piano teacher should be fascinated with what EXACTLY makes that child have difficulty with that particular skill. You, as a teacher, should launch an intelligent, compassionate search for a way to teach that particular child the skill that is needed.

The reason for your patience is that no child seeks out failure at the piano. The piano is often made unattainable to children by the teacher’s pointlessly elevated standards.

The key element these kids lack is confidence, brought about by constant and repeated failure to scale the teacher’s rigid curriculum.
Begin by evaluating the child’s general motor skill and mental acuity levels. Do they have the following basic skills? Can they…..

Distinguish left from right?
Understand up and down at the keyboard?
Distinguish the fingers from one another?
Demonstrate awareness of the pattern of 2 and 3 in the black keys?
If they do not have these skills, they will be unable to begin to acquire the finer skills that beginning piano requires. You’d be surprised how many young piano teachers fail to make the above observations and launch immediately into reading music.

You need to delay formal study until the above list is, if not mastered, at least broached. If you do not delay, the child may simply not grasp the nature of the “musical task.”

The best course, in the above example, is to use games at the piano to teach the needed skills. This you must do at the child’s pace. The piano is remarkably suited to learning these skills and perceptions (up/down, left/right, etc.)

It’s pointless to rush a child’s perception of anything. You can prepare for it, you can nurture it with hopes for the future, but you cannot rush it. Children have a way of learning things when they are good and ready.

Thus, guilt is really completely unnecessary. If you make a child feel guilty for slow progress, the real reason for the child’s “failure” is the teacher’s ignorance and impatience.

Let me repeat it for the 10,000th time: any child can learn the rudiments of the piano if you go slowly enough and make it enjoyable. No exceptions, even for kids with disabilities, both medically and attitude-wise.

A joyous piano student, regardless of skill level, is the product of a patient and wise piano teacher.

A guilty piano student bears the mark of an impatient teacher.

Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press

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