New Student Frustrated Already
Leah P., California
So, I just recently signed up a 6 year old soon-to-be seven year old. She has had one lesson… and I got a phone call from her mom today stating that, her daughter had been getting frustrated. Putting her head down on the keyboard, and not wanting to practice. She stated that her daughter was able to play the first sentence on her own, but not the second sentence of dreams…she stated it was giving her problems. She wanted to give me a heads up. Before the lesson which is tomorrow.
I have some ideas on how to deal with this situation. But I was just wondering how any of you have dealt with similar situations like this.
This mom is very sweet! But, I can tell she is very strict both in parenting and in practicing. Advice would greatly be appreciated.
Elaine F., South Carolina
After I read your email my first question was how you could tell the mom was strict? It sounds like the child is testing to see if the same rules / expectations apply to piano.
Kerry V., Australia
One student I had a few years ago, a young boy of 5, was one of those children that teachers at schools dreaded as he is supper hyper. He had many, many issues to deal with in his young life. He had been abused by his family so much to eventually being adopted out to the family I work with now.
During the first week at home his practice was stressful, and of course for the family too. He cried and was so uptight. The next week they shared with us all (group) of the problems he had. All I did was acknowledge that this was absolutely fine that he had trouble with the playing. That if he practiced taking away the frustration of it he will improve. I acknowledged too that it is not okay to take the frustration out on the family but was to talk to them about how he was feeling. If it became all too much, to leave it for a while and then go back.
A couple of weeks later, you could not have seen the most beautiful smile as this little fellow had. He had mastered (to a point) DCT. This was the turning point. This would have been one of his most important learning curbs in life – Instead of being frustrated, be patient and practice, it will happen.
He is now 8 and one of my best players. He plays for the ‘fairies’ outside, has positioned his piano for them to hear him :}. He plays at school. Teachers have learnt from him not to judge a child, he has wonderful skills they never dreamed that he could have had. He LOVES playing for anyone at any time. A few times we had to remind him when he starts feeling frustrated about his experience with DCT and then you see him relax.
He is so wonderful to teach. A beautiful boy with many things he still has to deal with in his young life but he is so happy with his music. So much so that he wants to be a musician. A wonderful story.
The short of it is –
sometimes it takes time – takes as long as it takes – to get something. A lot of young ones these days seem to put so much pressure on themselves to have everything perfect. Show them it is okay to make mistakes, in fact, expect them to make mistakes and then you see a change.
Your little one probably needs to sit with sentence one and then do sentence two later. Play them separately, not as a song. Break down the events and find out from her what is going on in her heart and head to be so upset.
Mary R., Michigan
You’ll have to assess when you see her, but it is possible the dose you administered was too big. With young kids I often teach just sentence one. Praise her lavishly for what she did and spend this lesson on re-teaching sentence two. Always remember Neil’s answer to EVERY question about how long something should take….. “As long as it takes!”
Victoria S., California
The first thing that comes to mind is to have the girl play her 1st sentence and praise her copiously. Then switch to black note improvisation so she doesn’t have to be structured. Then praise how well she did exploring sounds and then come back to the second sentence of the song.
Make sure she is taking tiny structured steps and giant exploratory steps. Get mom in on the act by having her play the left hand for sentence one as a duet with daughter. Then have them switch back to black note improv as a duet. Then come back to sentence two with mom playing the LH. Then switch. Of course, all of this will probably not take place in one lesson.
This will help train mom to go slow and give her daughter lots of praise and permission to explore so her daughter will maximize the likelihood of having music as a companion for life. Assure mom that over time, her daughter will be able to absorb more and more of the structured approach and look forward to it, but never to push to the point of frustration where she might want to quit.
Remind them both that music is about having fun and feeling good in the process. Otherwise, what is the point?
Shanta H., Minnesota
I have a 6 year old in a similar, though not so extreme situation. Julia is very hard on herself and I have to regularly reinforce that she is doing great, that she’s going about learning the right way, and that she is commanded to be nice to herself at all times. I actually had to institute a “no tummy aches” rule. If she gets frustrated enough that her stomach starts to hurt (at home practicing or in a lesson), it’s time to take a break and say something nice to herself. The LTR with piano may have it’s ups and downs, but I don’t think it’s ever worth a stomach ache.
With my little Julia, the solution is to SLOW DOWN the learning process. We typically take two, or even three weeks to learn an entire song. She is in a shared lesson with her Dad, so this means I regularly give him arrangements to keep him engaged. Neil said it best – You only want to present enough material for the student to experience a victory. This is especially true for young children who are easily overwhelmed. Last week, with Chester Chills Out, We haven’t even added the black notes to the right hand yet. Another SM teacher gave me the excellent advice to be very cautious putting both hands together with young children – remember, the neurology to use both hands at the same time is still developing for them, and you don’t want to push it until they’re ready.
I can tell when I’ve moved too quickly with Julia because she has trouble retaining the material from week to week, and starts saying “this is hard” in the lesson – This is even with diligent parents who watch the SHM with her and monitor practice time. In her lessons, I regularly check in with her, Dad, and myself to see if any of us feel like Julia’s brain is full for the day. As soon as one of us thinks so, we don’t do anything else new. I’m getting better at stopping before it’s too much, but it’s a constant feedback process.
If I were you, I would also be sure to explain to her that you were moving too fast and you’re so sorry she was frustrated all week. I’ve found that it means a lot to a little kid when an adult admits a mistake. You can’t promise that piano will be constant fun (LTR conversation) but your goal for her is to generally feel good about piano. Make sure she knows it isn’t her fault, and she didn’t do anything wrong, and that you, her, and mom will work together from here on out to make sure her brain doesn’t overflow like that again. Then backpedal to the first sentence of Dreams, pick up where she feels comfortable, and move on from there.
Hilary C., Australia
I agree – the most important thing is to encourage a student, so i would praise her for what she came back with – probably an enthusiastic ‘well done’ and depending how the conversation went, let her know that we are all human and none of us is perfect and that’s OK and i would probably apologize that I seem to have given her too much. It’s great that this young girl is able to finger what is giving her problems – I’d praise her for this and use this insight to explain that everyone has problems with something, sometime ….. As Neil says in the promotional video people ‘don’t struggle with this method’ – so we need to ensure that this is a truth. I would follow up that her mother had watched the student video with her and gently but firmly insist that this is a way to make things easier, if that aint so.
Letting go of my expectations of what a student should do is fundamental as far as I’m concerned (and yes, not entirely easy) – I think we need to focus on what a student is doing while using the carrot of future goodies – what’s the length of the string.
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
Firstly, if she has only had one lesson, I’m wondering how you got through Dreams Come True? Did you do the foundation session and the basics?
I go very, very slowly with younger ones in the beginning – meaning, I don’t even start Dreams until they have a pretty good handle on 5SS. Otherwise they can’t focus on the sentence because they have no command over their fingers yet. Single thought processing. Then, make sure they have a good command over sentence 1 before moving on to sentence 2.
I have found that, even with some older kids and adults, it sometimes takes several weeks before things start “clicking” – using the diagrams, getting fingers to do what they want, getting a little finger independence. If they start getting frustrated right away, I talk about this with them and ask them to be patient with themselves. And give very small doses. Another teacher responded with some great suggestions for using improv to fill in during this time. This also gives them some freedom and helps develop finger dexterity.