TEACHING CHILDREN’S PIANO
To be a children’s piano teacher, you’ll need all the musical skill that profession requires. As a parent who wants to introduce your child to the piano, you may need only enough musical knowledge to nudge your child in the right direction.
Piano by Number and other “easy start” methods make home teaching and musical nurturing possible for parents, and have proved to be of immense value to professional children’s teachers as well.
Let’s examine what is required mentally and emotionally to take one child, perhaps on a weekly basis, and show them the rudiments of the piano, making it enjoyable in the process.
Below are the most important traits that a successful children’s piano teacher should have. Many of these qualities are needed as well by parents trying to nurture early musical exposure.
You must have a genuine affection for children. And this means children who are sick, lazy, tired, ill-tempered and generally unsuited to learning the piano on that particular day. If you’ve ever tried to teach a kid who has just been on the computer for two hours, you’ll know what I mean.
Many kids are just not in the mood to learn anything at four in the afternoon, so you had better be clever enough to make it fun for them.
When kids are at their worst you will be tested the most. Be prepared for it. Remember what it was like when you were a child, and how difficult it likely was to weather the storm of youth.
Kids instinctively know what’s going on inside of the teacher, and they must like you personally to give you their best efforts. Be friendly and let them know frequently that you will go just as slow as they need. It’s not a race or a contest.
To say that teaching piano to children requires a relaxed attitude on the teacher’s part is a gross understatement. The ideal children’s piano teacher needs to have an almost Biblical patience, and the craftiness of a fox as well.
If you’ve ever tried to herd birds, you’ll know how hard it can be to engage a child’s interest even with a fun subject like the piano. Some children require months and months to barely grasp concepts like fingering and sight-reading, but if you keep trying and are not impatient, any child can toe the musical mark.
One trick is to set the speed of the lesson by the child’s mood. What this means is that you may have to joke around a bit when they get tired, just to let them catch their breath. This is what I value piano games for, to relieve tension and start a new “beat” in the lesson.
That’s just following human nature. Mixing work and fun appropriately for the particular moment is a recipe for success with children’s piano lessons.
Be funny. If there is one thing that helps a piano lesson, it is laughter. You’ll get a million times farther with children if you adopt the attitude of a game show host. Being arch, unfriendly or harshly critical are attitudes I don’t allow from myself. They are pointless and counter-productive. The child doesn’t even know where Carnegie Hall is, after all.
Proceed at the child’s pace, always testing their mood and mental status. You may find that the work done in between the laughter and musical games is more beneficial and long-lasting than old fashioned “practicing” (at its worst, the old way was “repeat ad nauseam.”)
Let them be kids, make up silly songs, at the right instant, and always look for that perfect time to try a little more work. Bait and switch persistently, fun, work, fun, work.
You must develop a thousand and one ways to disguise rote tasks as fun piano games. Kids can smell rote repetition from miles away, and they zone-out and won’t pay attention properly unless you are careful to structure the work cleverly, and are prepared to change your own teaching scenario in a second.
Try the PIANO FOURS GAME when all goes wrong!
Here’s an example of a piano game, called PIANO DICE, which I play with kids to get them to repeat the same songs over and over without the feeling of drudgery associated with “practicing.”
Here’s how it works. Show the child the first bars of six songs they know, like Jingle Bells and Star Wars. Then number the songs on a piece of paper. Take a dice and let the child throw it. Yes, the dice will fall under the piano. Laugh and bring extra dice.
The child has to play the song associated with the number on the list. If they roll 6, they have to play song number 6. You would not believe how many times you can get a kid to play a song, enthusiastically, using this corny device. Give mock points and prizes. Move on to the next roll of the dice before they are bored.
This is how one disguises rote tasks as entertainment.
Before each lesson, as I am driving there, I remind myself that the child is having a day of their own without me, a good day, maybe a bad day, who knows?
But I imagine myself helicoptered into their life for half an hour, and make certain that they enjoyed that time with me, learned something, and will be eager for more next time.
I’m absolutely determined that each child will love the piano more than the last time they had a lesson.
A piano teacher’s real job is to forward a child’s piano education by making them want to learn it by themselves.
Once the child is launched at the piano, steamed up with their own interest, the teacher can easily move from task to task without drudgery.
Keep feeding them fun songs that they know, from films, from your childhood, anything they have heard and recognize. Make them play that song.
Listen to the child’s mood and you’ll never go wrong.
Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press