Found in: Student Management
I have a student (female, age 10) who is about to start FL3. She plays well and beautifully. However, for a while now, her parents have been struggling to get her to practice. Actually, it has been so bad that her mom emailed me that she wasn’t going to take lessons anymore. I didn’t realize it had been this much of a struggle for them. I’ve seen her practicing waiver, and I tried some other practicing strategies with her that worked for about a week or two. On the other hand, I was surprised because the daughter had just gotten over a couple of humps in Dreams Arr. 3 & Jackson Blues Arr. 1. It was quite a victory for her! Then I got this email.
I got a chance to talk to the mom today and heard more about the situation. Her daughter is struggling to do anything that is work for her. She wants to be able to get everything immediately, and if she can’t, it’s like pulling teeth to get her to work on it. She’s having trouble in math as well. Her mom has just gotten to the limit with her and piano is just another thing to struggle with right now. At the same time, she wants her daughter to play because she knows she’s very good and it will benefit her so much. We had the conversation about this being a valley and that she would get through it. I told her about the recent article about the girl who had a time like this, but didn’t give up and now is quite advanced—and loving it (sorry, I forget who that was).
I have another student (8 years old) who is actually friends with her. I suggested that when she gets caught up (in a few weeks), we move them into a shared lesson together. I actually had a conversation with the 8-year-old’s mother about a shared lesson before all of this went down with the 10-year-old, because I think it would benefit her daughter for other reasons. They are both open to doing this, for which I’m grateful. I think this will give the 10-year old a short break without the pressure of having to practice, but then get her into a different scenario. I encouraged her mom to have her keep playing her songs to keep her playlist up, but hopefully without the pressure, it will just make it fun.
My question is, does anyone have suggestions for the parents on how they can come at this a different way when we start back up? How can they encourage her and keep everyone from being frustrated and emotions running high? Because this is not just a piano problem, but is a struggle for their daughter in other areas, they really want to get her through this—it’s a life lesson issue.
Patti P., Hawaii
I personally would take a look at the dosages you are giving. This child could just be feeling overwhelmed, with everything being yet another hard challenge piled onto her plate. Piano can seem that way, especially as the streams add in. You might try smaller doses of everything so that it’s only a comparatively small bit she has to accomplish to feel successful.
I’d much rather keep a student moving forward at a snail’s pace than have them give up, as long as they are practicing.
Which is another area to explore: just what happens at home when this child practices? Is she sent off by herself? Can her practices be made shorter ( with smaller assignments, yes.) How much homework does she have every night? Perhaps she could earn TV or computer time by practicing. Is there any area she is motivated in? What kinds of things does she do when she has free time?
Sometimes you can get a clue to an approach if you ask enough questions.
Ian M., Indiana
I agree with Patti, but there’s another layer that I’d like to address:
Smart kids often hear that they’re smart. Then they start to believe that they can do anything they want to because they’re smart – which isn’t technically true. It’s much more true to say “you can do anything you want to if you are willing to work hard at it.” But a lot of things come easily to smart kids, and they start believing that ALL they need is intelligence, and so when they encounter something that *doesn’t* come easily to them, it confounds the picture of their world that they’ve started to settle into – and the reaction can be similar to what your student is experiencing.
There’s a particular psychology to this: if the student thinks she’s smart and ought to be able to get playing piano just by virtue of intelligence alone and then *doesn’t*, her reaction may be – below the level of consciousness – one of self-preservation, along the lines of “If I continue to do poorly at this, I will be seen as less smart.”
I teach a lot of smart kids. So do most Simply Music teachers. A conversation that I have with all my students, but especially the smart kids, is this: You’ve done this song in the lesson now, and you’ve done it successfully, and we’ve controlled the events. Do you know the song now? (Usually they answer correctly:) No. You don’t. You won’t know the song until you have done the work of practicing it at home. Understanding intellectually what is supposed to happen is not the same thing as being able to do it! Being able to do it takes practice. So now you must go home and DO THE WORK.
Learning piano takes work for most people. It doesn’t make you less smart that you still have to do the work. (It may make you smarter to realize that doing the work is more important than being smart.)