Dixie C., Washington
I have two brothers, 2 years apart. The older one has been in lessons longer & is in L. 6. The younger just getting ready to graduate from L. 3. The problem is that everything the younger one learns has already been done before & his older brother blows it off by saying things like, “Oh, that’s easy. No big deal.” etc.
Also, the older brother is literally a genius & excels in school & everything else he tries. The younger brother is just reading on first grade level still, although he’s starting 4th grade this year. Younger brother is losing his incentive to continue piano. Wants his own instrument to learn, namely cello.
I’m planning to give the younger some arrangements that the older hasn’t had yet, so he’ll have some new things to learn. I’m not sure what else I can do. Anyone have any suggestions for encouraging the little bro’?
Teri D., Iowa
How fortunate the younger brother is to have you as a teacher realizing his situation.
I would suggest that you really have the younger brother focus on the arrangements as you stated and definitely, composing. Let him write a new left hand accompaniment, add an introduction for his pieces, or a coda,.
That way he can still learn the basics but can have his “own” voice without the brother’s “one-up-manship”.
I’m glad you brought up this topic. I find it happens to me frequently, with two different sets of siblings. In my case, the siblings both started lessons at the same time, but one learns faster than the other. Teri — you gave a great answer for a situation with two siblings at different levels. What would you recommend for those at the same level?
I just started a young boys group of friends – all 6-year-olds, and two of the boys are new, while one did a 5-week workshop with me. As you can guess, the “workshop” boy is ahead and motivated. The other two seem to lose focus when they aren’t playing at the keyboard. I’ve been making up games, and yet I feel like it’s very challenging to keep them all focused. Any suggestions? (They’re just at Level 1… but the “workshop” boy already knows four songs besides Dreams.)
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
How about talking to the older brother about it? He may not realize how arrogant he sounds when making those flippant comments. They probably feel demeaning to his little brother.
From the little bit you shared, it sounds like the older brother has an opportunity here to make a big difference in his brother’s life. The younger one probably lacks confidence, especially if he is reading below grade level. Then add in the brother who is extremely bright, whose comments regarding piano are discouraging. It’s no different than those adults who have such anxiety about playing because of even one comment they heard as a child, typically from an authority figure, regarding lack of skill or ability. Those negative communications can be really powerful and long-lasting. As can positive communication.
So, to flip the situation around and encourage the older one to say something positive or supportive instead – that has huge potential.
Obviously I know nothing about their personalities or relationship or family situation. In whatever way is appropriate, consider having a conversation with the older brother and share the following:
- Acknowledge his successes and the fact that he is very bright, which gives him some unique opportunities.
- Be honest about how he sounds to other people. Not gonna be a winner if he always reminds people that he’s better than them. You are being honest with him because you care about what kind of person he is.
- You also care about his brother, who is likely very discouraged by his comments. Here is his unique opportunity to use his gifts for good. The kind of ‘good’ that might last a lifetime for his brother. Even if he doesn’t listen or take it to heart now, it’s a great seed to plant.
Ask him point-blank to consciously refrain from ever making negative/flippant remarks that probably discouraging to his brother. Give examples.
Suggest that he play duets with his bro (improv while younger one plays an accomp. arr, etc.). With NO discouraging remarks. Role-play with him. Mess up so he can practice not saying anything, or practice saying, “that’s okay, just keep going”, or “where should we start?”. You could tell the younger bro that you asked his older brother to do this to make his (younger one’s) practicing more fun. Maybe even have them do a run-through together with you first if possible.
I love Teri’s idea as well – make sure he always has a project that the older brother has not done so he can feel his own sense of accomplishment.
This is one of those situations where the “Being Truthful to Children” audio in the Educator Support library could be really helpful. Also see the chat transcript in Simpedia titled “Telling the Truth to Children”.
Hopefully the mom/coach can be very supportive as well. Great opportunity here!
I was thinking the same thing, Laurie. The problem is not the younger brother, but the older one. A discussion about how you need him to react with his younger brother regarding piano could be very helpful. I would even ask him to stop and think every time he has the thought to saying something negative, to turn it into a positive statement as well. Things like “I really like playing that one.” It would be helpful for the younger brother and encouraging, and it would help the older one as well to not sound arrogant and superior – a good life skill.
Lynn, one thing you could do is make sure the boys are carefully observing when they are not at the keyboard. I’d suggest keeping a careful eye on where their eyes are, and train them to keep their eyes on the keyboard. Children often need reminders at that age where they should be looking, which will help their brains focus on the correct thing as well. I’d also ask them a lot of questions about what they see happening when the workshop student is playing something he knows but they don’t – get them to describe what he is doing in their own words.