TEACHING THE VERY YOUNG
Winston Churchill once said: “Personally, I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” I think this statement holds true and strong as it seems to sum up the matter of teaching kids to play the piano. Don’t you think?
So, that said, how do you teach young kids how to play the piano? Where do you even begin. Starting well is so important as you know.
I’m talking about those little scampers between ages four to seven or there-bouts. This is a very hard question to answer for sure but never-the-less it can be answered and I will attempt to do so in the following lines.
Honestly though I think it takes a special person. For instance I’m positive it will take a person who is blessed with more than a little gifting of…..
Don’t even think about teaching little kids piano lessons if you don’t have any patience for them. Patience is defined as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
A descriptive and definitive way to describe patience in a short sentence that may coroborate the definition could be “you can find bargains if you have the patience to sift through the dross”. So true.
Do you see your personality in the lines of this definition of patience? If you don’t then better to rethink but if you do then get right to it. You have found your teaching niche. I lay great stress on the definition of the word patience especially when considering the matter of teaching young ones to play piano.
The truth is without patience I see it going badly for the young student. I see them perhaps quitting and never again in their lifetime seeking a piano teacher as the trauma can be that severe for them.
Some other definitive words for patience are: forbearance, tolerance, restraint, self-restraint, calmness and understanding. William Shakespear is quoted as saying “you need to be patient as a gentle stream” and although I’m not sure if he was directing his simile toward teaching piano to kids, still, the phrase gives you a visual to work with.
YOU WILL NEED A PLAN
It’s not like you can just give a four year old a three-volume set of “99 Steps to Effective Piano Playing”. Of course I’m being festicious in order to make a better point which is if you have a plan of approach then about half the battle is over.
What should this plan consist of is a good question to answer right here? The following points are not exhaustive, of course, and some may not work for you at all. But they will give you a plan that will get you started on the right foot:
Keep it Fun
Kids need to have fun in whatever they do. There has to be laughter and joy in it. If you as a teacher can find a way to get this attitude in your system you will reap some amazing results. Music is a wonderful and positive experience so just keep that in mind as you teach little ones.
I should just mention here that the teacher may want to study the Dalcroze method of training children. The Dalcroze method, also known as Dalcroze Eurhythmics, incorporates the basic elements of music—rhythm, melody, harmony—with body movement, to provide a multi-dimensional approach to music learning.
Perhaps you may want to try and appropriate some of the activities taught there. If not that’s fine but remember in the end your goal must be to “Keep it Fun”.
Avoid all negative feelings that you as the teacher may have or that you may be feeling when you teach the little ones. Kids are very sensitive to this and when they feel that something is not right this spills over and affects their learning ability.
We who are older carry around with us the trials of our lives and sometimes this wants to rear its ugly head. Kids don’t have a care in the world. They feel great always and are filled with wonder so don’t let your bad day interfere with this.
One point I will make here is allow the child you are teaching bring your sense of joy back. This can be done quit easily just by watching and listening to the exuberance of children. In that sense the student may instruct the teacher without anyone but you knowing it. Very cool.
By this I mean when you stop the lesson or practice session try to do so at a point where the young student is wanting more. This is a way for them to think about the possibilities of what they are learning.
It will draw them back for the continuation of the lesson. That continuation could be the next teaching session or it could be after a short break but keep them longing to go forward if you can. You’ll see the twinkle in their eyes as they anticipate the exciting new song or pattern they had to leave so abruptly.
It should be mentioned at least to make sure your student is learning and working on elements that are “within their ability”. Give your students tasks and activities that you are 100% sure they will succeed at.
Everyone, even young kids, need to have victories in their daily routines. So challenge them but be sure they can succeed and may the next challenge you give them be only “slightly” more challenging than the previous one.
Try to instruct them to realize the risk of getting away from practice assignments. Insure them that it will not be long before they are into more exciting and free-flowing material. A friend of mine always said to me when under stress think this out loud “BETTER DAYS AHEAD”.
Kids learn best when they are doing that which is consistent to their present lesson format. I suppose we are all like that but I think it is especially true for young developing minds. Routine works. Practice to me means “routine”. The age old adage “Practice Makes Perfect” is overwhelmingly true all the time. So much-the-more when getting the fundamentals down even if it’s in short bursts of five or ten minutes several times a day.
Remember these are very young kids you are teaching and their focus will wain quicker than most adults. Be aware of “wandering eyes”. Also beware of a lapse in focus whereby you ask them something that they have learned and know and yet you get the wrong answer now continually.
This is a sure sign that a short break right now would be beneficial. It is a good idea not to push the youngster through to the finish when these signs are evident. A short break can save the practice session. It will also send them on their way with the teacher feeling good that the lesson was a success.
Get them off the piano bench for short time. This works wonders.
Give Concise Instructions
If you speak only a few concise words of instruction at a time you stand a far greater chance of your students not only understanding you but also following through with assurance. We are all the same in that we have so much to say on a topic because we have been trained and know the process.
It was Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, who said: “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” We teachers of young piano students need to challenge ourselves to think beforehand what we “need” to say and no more.
Limited words that are to the point and well thought through will prove to be your ally.
Be a Motivator
Be a Motivator…..it’s so important…..
I think teachers need to realize that the chief goal here with the young kids is not to get them through x amount of concepts all at once but to teach in such a way that makes them “want” to learn.
For instance, if you teach something and the student doesn’t get it the first time tell yourself “that’s okay” we will come back to this with new inspiration.
Again I will mention the Dalcroze method of training whereby motivation speaks louder than words.
Again, let us remember who we are teaching and once we do we can easily understand that kids are curious. We teachers need to tap into that curiosity. We can do this by phrasing our sentences, at least some of them, to form a question that sends a signal.
For instance, what if I ask a six year old: “I wonder, Ricky, let’s try it this way and see what happens….?” It seems to me that kids are always interested to find out the answer. We need to capture their attention and nurture their love of learning.
A motivational teacher you will accomplish this.
Record the Student
There are various ways of doing this, of course. One of which is you may have a piano even that will accomplish this. It is not uncommon for the newer pianos to have such modern functions within their system. If not use a simple hand held device and even a tape recorder.
Anything that will accomplish this task. Kids love to hear themselves as do we all actually.
This can be a real good motivator in itself. Another advantage of this is that it will encourage correction and attention to detail as the student hears their flaws as well as their potential greatness. It is also real good fun to have this option.
Heavens, I’m a senior citizen and I still love hearing and watching myself play. Some things never get old.
Encouraging the Parents
Teachers need to somehow include the parents in the process. How to do this is sometimes not so easy to figure out but, still, it is not out of the question. On the other hand some parents are naturally on top of this from the get go.
But, for those parents who cannot vision the advantage of their involvement it will take a bit of ingenuity on the teachers behave. One thing to do is encourage the parent to communicate with you as to how the week went. Maybe even keep a journal to show you.
What difficulties their child is having will be the center of the topic. How much time is spent every day practising and playing the piano. Make a real effort to assure the parents of your student that you care and that parental development plays a vital role in the childs success. Get this message across every time you meet them and eventually it will hit home.
Being inventive is not out of the question. I mean, for instance, send home with the parents practice routines and advice but also why not include some short piano games to encourage parent engagement. The internet is replete with games and such that you can copy on paper prepared ahead of time.
Of course you never want to appear “pushy” but never-the-less showing that you care is part of the overall environment that a good piano teacher of young kids finds themselves in.
Written by Duane Graves of Duane's Piano Tuning & Technology