I can remember being small and thinking consistently “I cannot wait to be an adult”. This was caused by every person who was older and therefore bigger than me, telling me what I could or could not do. “No” and “Because I said so …” were common answers and retorts. The thing is, even little people, children, have thoughts, feelings and desires that we as adults often neglect and thoughtlessly trample on. We often impose our will on them because we simply, “know better”; or, do we?
I recently finished a lesson with a three-year-old student and his mother who is immensely proud of him. He is not an anomalous prodigy, or from a long line of musicians; at this tender age who knows what his future holds. However, one thing for certain is that he loves his lessons. There is no bribery or coercion; he turns up, I teach him piano, and he leaves excited for his next lesson.
The secret is respect.
When this little man arrives for his lesson, I talk to him like I would my adult learners. I ask him about his week, which he would always respond to by telling me about the turmoil of his favourite Paw Patrol™ characters and the economic state regarding his shares in -- or rather, his collection of -- Hot Wheels™. Once we are caught up and acquainted, we begin.
I listen to him, so in turn, he listens to me; when I need to arrange his hands on the piano keys, I ask his permission, to which he says “Okay”. When he gets stuck, I do not barge him out of the way, I ask his permission, saying “May I help you with that?”, to which he says, either, “No” and he corrects himself, or “Okay”, to which I proceed to help.
When I first met this young man, I was teaching his mother. He would sit in silence for 45 mins while his mother had her lesson. Again, the secret here is respect, taking the time to explain rather than impose goes a long way. I simply explained to him, when the big hand gets to the ‘9’ the lesson is over, to which he sat watching the clock until it happened. Obviously, I am respected by his family enough that they listen to my instruction; furthermore, this family values respect and discussion further facilitating this type of interaction.
Fanny Waterman, writes in On Piano Teaching and Performing:
“Parents then share the experience of the child’s lesson and, in recalling the points raised by the teacher, can supervise practice at home and play a vital role in the child’s progress and enjoyment of the piano. (I am sometimes asked how I choose my pupils, and I reply: I don’t choose the pupils, I choose the parents!)”
When dealing with children, we are never dealing with the child, we are always dealing with the parent who then deals with the child in our absence. A parent who contradicts the advice of the teacher inhibits the learning of the child. A parent who does not respect a teacher then hands that disrespect to the child sub-consciously who then does so to the teacher. Ultimately, every parent who decides to suspend lessons is making a statement about that teacher's teaching, stating, “I do not agree with your methodologies and will go elsewhere”; frankly, to linger under these circumstances is a glorious waste of time, effort and money.
I have little interest in pandering to an ego, but I certainly do want to teach people to play the piano and to do so well; this means that we need to learn the basics. This three-year-old student has no concept of what piano playing is, so therefore I can give him my complete knowledge and understanding from the very beginning without preconceptions or bad habits. When dealing with a parent who thinks they know better than the teacher, we are then dealing with what is most likely an incorrect preconception that would need to be dismissed before lessons can begin properly; a lengthy and difficult task that can take up to a few years depending on the notion in need of dismissal.
In just a few months’s of lessons, this young man has learned to count pulse in four-time, and is gaining control of his hands enough to play a five-finger scale; when the time arrived to add up his marks for that lesson, he did so diligently using his fingers to arrive at the correct answer. To remind you he is three-years old; one must never draw comparisons, however, when a nine-year-old student struggles to add single digits the problem starts to show itself: these skills were not respected or a priority for their parent; pointing that out and finding a solution as a teacher is my job, much to the embarrassment of the parent.
Unfortunately, in western culture, we favour the result and ignore the process; we -- analogically speaking -- love the sausage but would rather not know how it is made. This means many parents will effectively tune out until they are explicitly needed using the mark from an exam, test or report to gauge progress.
Recently, I finished a lesson with a three-year-old student and his mother who is immensely proud of him. She was listening to and watching every moment of the lesson and so witnessed when he finally could play his five-finger scale. She cheered him on with encouragement when he wanted to give up. She respected my teaching and the process of learning so she did not need a mark to tell her what she could see with her own eyes.
Dylan completed his music training with honours at Colchester Institute, where he studied piano with Australian pianist Lesley Young, and composition with British composer Dr Mark Bellis. While studying, in 2009, Dylan won Colchester Institute’s Canon Jack Award for Solo Piano adjudicated by Andrew Ball. A composer, promoter, and advocate of contemporary classical music, Dylan joined the membership of Colchester New Music in 2014.
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