A Piano Teacher’s Emotions


Piano teachers have emotions, too, just like their students. They have good days and bad days, days when they are sick or tired, and days when the idea of piano doesn’t really summon up any enthusiasm.

Working with kids all day, some as young as four years old, and all immature at any age, can be a frustrating business if you don’t know how to deal with kids.

The first thing you need know about kids is that they are more human than adults. They hurt more easily, and have almost no patience.

You can’t assume they understand concepts like up and down, left and right, dark and light, much less subtleties like slow and fast, or the thousand and one mental and motor skills that the piano demands. But you can be sure they can distinguish between the qualities nice and angry.

The older they are, the more motor skills they will already have, but the piano is a windmill of multiple skills, juggled together in delicate balance; the piano is harder than anything you have tried, yet it is one of the easiest instruments to get started on.

Since a piano teacher’s real job is to build confidence at the piano, it would be wise to limit the first steps to those that the teacher is certain the student can easily perform.

A child overwhelmed by difficult tasks is a ripe candidate for frustration and then disinterest.

And, emotionally, such a child is fragile, for they feel confused and the teacher may add insult to injury by being gruff or impatient with the child’s repeated fumbling.

A teacher may be a serious musician or have a serious appreciation for real music making, and thus unconsciously feel impatient with the child’s progress.

Many teachers use state piano association lesson plans, and groom children for recitals and competition using their criteria. Their thinking becomes geared to these hurdle-jumping activities, rather than making a real assessment of the individual child’s prospects, needs and rights.

By this I mean that, in all honesty, no children are headed for Carnegie Hall. We seek to make hobbyists who can enjoy this noble instrument, not more Horowitzes.

There is no popular audience for new piano virtuosi, just as there are no major classical record companies and ancillary businesses needed to manage performing careers. These elements of culture were destroyed by the relentless marketing of corporations like Disney and the advent of the computer.

Kids today barely know about classical music, and many never, ever listen to any of it willingly. That’s just a fact in 2009. Few parents play it at home, and schools are too busy to really expose them to it.

Today, Mozart is piped in through the speakers in shopping malls to clear out the teens at midnight. The mall operators discovered that kids hated classical music so much that they physically ran from it.

This is what you’re up against.

So if you feel frustrated, it’s understandable. If you feel impatient, we all sympathize.

But if you show either of these emotions to the child you are in essence punishing them for your own method’s shortcomings.

As soon as I feel these feelings, I discard them,

Experience has taught me that guilt is the cheapest way to buy a child’s cooperation at the piano. If you are patient and buy their attention through cleverness, you will both feel better about it.

So when a child keeps making a certain mistake, I see it as a challenge. I pull back, sigh, laugh, and try to figure out what it is about this musical concept that causes them such problems.

My reaction is always a laugh or a whisper or light sarcasm. The child generally knows they made a mistake, so why belabor it and ruin a good mood by doing anything other than laughing and saying “Oops?”

Have the wisdom to be enough of an actor to not show negative emotions.

If you do this, the child will begin to trust you, and you can enter their mental space and see what can be taught.

Forcing the child to come over to your mental space, or piano method, or whatever training and dogma you may be carting around, is a foolish mistake that flies in the face of common-sense child psychology.

From a child’s point of view, considering the physical and mental difficulties of the piano, there is no reason for an adult to be anything other than patient, forgiving, and persistent.

Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press

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