In order to survive as a piano teacher, you’ll need to know how to teach piano to over-scheduled students. My piano studio hallway has become a hockey gear locker more often than my air fresheners would prefer. I’ve stored trombones, dance costumes, lacrosse sticks and figure skates in my entrance while their pint-sized owners sat on my piano bench. I’ve taught students who are still chewing their dinner – squeezing a quick meal in between activities.
I’ve taught students adorned in every conceivable uniform from ballet to wrestling. I’ve even taught a father when his daughter’s debate team ran late and the “transfer” that was supposed to happen in my driveway failed to happen.
I will never forget a phone call I had with a mother who was registering her 5 year old. Piano lessons were the seventh (seventh!) activity she was signed up to participate in each week. Their gas bill must have been astronomical. Somehow the piano lessons were squeezed in amongst sewing lessons and soccer. And, as most piano teachers would, I felt a small seed of dread when picturing what her piano practice schedule would look like.
But that dread was short-lived. Because I had a plan.
Over-scheduled Olivia and Piano Lessons
Piano teachers today compete with a wider variety of activities than ever before. Children have access to an astounding number of different teams, clubs and lessons, and parents (eager to give their child nothing but the best) are happy to register ‘till the cows come home. It is rare that piano is the sole focus of a child’s week. So, how can we successfully guide Olivia through her piano education when she is stretched thinner than cling wrap?
4 Ways to Help Piano Lessons Win
With students like these, your role expands to not only be her piano teacher, but also the orchestrator of her home piano practice. Expectations need to be clear, goals need to be established and lessons need to be entertaining enough to keep her coming. With time, your goal is to emerge as the champion instructor… when the teen years hit and activities are inevitably whittled down, YOU want to be the one left standing. Here’s how:
1) Think small: Set small, attainable goals. As much as we’d like to load Olivia up with practice homework for the week and hope for the best, if she views it as too much she’s less likely to practice at home at all. Instead of two pieces per week, assign one. If you’re used to assigning just one, give her half. If she has frequent small and measurable achievements she’s more likely to accomplish what you ask of her. If she feels continually successful you’ll have a happy and progressing student. If she feels like she is constantly behind and dropping the ball you’re likely to lose her (in more ways than one).
2) Jump on the scheduling bandwagon: Over-scheduled Olivia is used to being told where to be and when… so join in! Find days and times that work amongst her other committments and clearly set them aside for her as her home piano time. Use a visual calendar (she probably has several already) and make it easy for her to see how and when piano can fit into her busy life.
3) Help her to find relevance: When teaching students who are uber-involved, your activity needs to compete with the rest. Help her to find personal relevance in her lessons. Why should she still come to piano lessons? You and I have our own reasons we think she should, but it’s up to you to help her find her reason. Adjust your teaching approach accordingly and you’ll end up with a long-term and committed student.
4) Show her she matters: Kids respond best to instructors whom they feel are invested in them 110%. If she’s treated like one of many, she’ll act as such. If you treat her like your number 1, she’s likely to rise to the occasion. You have the potential to shift her self-concept to one of “life-long musician”. So do it!
Finally, Don’t downplay the importance of her other activities. We all know piano is the most important activity out there 😉 but Oilvia’s current passion may be highland dancing. Be willing to ride out the other activities, confident that your skills as a piano teacher will have a lasting influence long after she’s hung up her dancing shoes and kilt. Resist the urge to preach “Piano only or the highway”. They’ll almost always eventually choose the highway if you do. “How to teach piano to over-scheduled children” is actually just “how to teach piano to kids”. Be organized, be relevant, be invested.
For kids like Olivia, it’s important that their practice time is effective and efficient. And sometimes this means they need that extra bit of guidance. Our practice book contains 88 different (fun!) exercises designed to teach your piano kids sound practice techniques… wrapped up in a very kid-friendly package of enjoyment! Check it out here.