I wouldn’t consider myself to be an overly verbose person. But I never felt more like a blabber mouth than when I first started teaching and had several excessively shy piano students. Apparently I can’t stand silence… so I fill it. And, if I analyze how the piano lessons then went, I spent most of my time talking at my student, waiting for a reply, and then quickly moving on when I didn’t get one. I’d end up answering for my student instead of enduring the uncomfortable silences; therefore assuming they “got it”.
Shy Piano Students and What You Need To Know
My most shy student is one I have taught piano to for years (like since she would arrive at lessons in a booster seat in the car). She’s now driving that car… with a boyfriend in the seat beside her (yikes I’m old!). She’s still not all that talkative but she inadvertently taught me many important things about how to teach piano to shy students.
1) It’s all about the atmosphere – First and foremost you need to be sure your shy students are not shy because they feel intimated in their piano lessons. It is so important to create an atmosphere of mutual respect; an atmosphere where making mistakes is okay (in fact they should be celebrated… we learn from our mistakes!) It is your mission to make each and every piano student feel understood, cared for, and valued. You have immense amounts of influence in your position as their piano teacher. We’ve all heard recounts of “knuckle-wrapping” piano teachers… most students in these situations learn and retain very little. It’s hard to learn when you’re scared. You may not think you are intimidating (and I’m sure knuckle-wrapping is a thing of the past!)… but do a quick self-check just to be sure. Little piano students can be extremely sensitive.
2) Silence is not Golden – While you don’t want to drown your shy piano student in excessive chatter, you also don’t want to put them on the spot. Avoid creating situations that could possibly result in uncomfortable silences or forced whispered responses. If you yourself have a “large” personality, reign in your enthusiasm slightly so as to not overwhelm your shy students… however, if you yourself are shy, force yourself to become a bit more outgoing. Find a balance that makes for a comfortable amount of conversation.
3) Be Predictable – Shy students often take comfort in routines and in knowing what to expect. They feel most secure when they know they won’t be suddenly thrust into being the centre of attention. You will gain their trust much faster if you are predictable and consistent.
4) Demonstrate, Don’t Describe – Shy students are often uncomfortable voicing their understanding – but it doesn’t mean that they don’t get it. It’s important to not answer for them (although it’s tempting at times!) but it’s also important for them to somehow show you if they do or do not understand. Demonstration can often be the best way for them to show you. Instead of asking them to answer you verbally, tell them, “show me”.
5) Embrace Humor – It’s tricky to be shy when you’re having a really great time. Engage your piano students with a good sense of humour. After all, Serious Teacher+ Shy Student = Painfully Boring Lesson. Get them giggling to bring them out of their shell.
6) Make a connection – Find out what makes them tick in their life outside piano lessons and engage them in conversations about things they love. By gently nudging them to share their world with you you’ll be creating a strong bond that will eventually allow them to open up even more to you.
When thinking of how to teach piano to shy students, I’ve often thought that I’d rather have a squirmy, chatty, firecracker of a student on my bench than a shy student. I am the kind of person who relishes a challenge – and those firecrackers can certainly be difficult to rein in. And while they may initially seem like dream students, our shy piano students are actually even more of a challenge than the outgoing ones. While they are certainly easy to teach at, they can be difficult to teach. By being cognizant of their needs, we as piano teachers can have a large part in helping them gain confidence…. (and apparently even a boyfriend!)