My young piano student Kevin tried really hard. He listened well, practiced piano regularly at home, and was eager and enthusiastic. However, no matter how many times Kevin played his piano pieces… no matter how much he practiced or how many times we’d go over and over his piece in lessons… it sounded completely different every single time. He was quite simply an uncoordinated piano student; rhythms changed, fingering was all over the board, expression was touch-and-go, and the concept of articulation seemed to be limited to “Hit those keys HARD… or slightly less-hard”. It was not my most artististic half-hour of instruction to say the least.
Uncoordinated Piano Students… At War With Their Fingers
But I felt for Kevin. His desire to play the piano well was genuine. And it wasn’t his fault that his fingers were more like those of a lumberjack than an artist. I found myself treading a thin line in his lessons between correcting what needed to be fixed and not being a Negative Nelly. It was difficult to let things slide (important things!) just because I had already corrected so much. But I cared about his feelings too deeply to let too many criticisms (no matter how constructive) cloud our lesson time together. He was waging a war against his uncoordinated hands, and he needed cheerleaders… not naysayers.
Feng Shui For Your Fingers
Kevin needed to find a balance between what his brain understood and the capabilities of his fingers, in order to find true peace on the piano bench. And while the other areas of his life (yup…Hockey…we are from Canada here!) were well suited to his heavy-handed brawn, I needed to help him find his inner grace.
If you too are dealing with a Clumsy Kevin, consider trying the following:
1) Choose repertoire that is familiar – Clumsy Kevins have an easier time noticing their inaccuracies if it is a piece with which they are already familiar. Students like Kevin benefit from lots of guided listening to good performances of inspiring music. Listen with him and point out the aspects of the performance that are done well. Help him emulate what he heard and then listen again. Compare together.
2) Persist with technical work – find innovative ways to make technical work fun. Clumsy Kevins benefit from lots of repetitive fine muscle control drills… like scales. And while this is important, you’ll want to be careful to not make his entire lesson into a finger bootcamp. Go slow, set goals, make it a game. Set aside time each lesson to build his muscle coordination with the determination of a boxing coach… but then put it aside and move on to more inspiring activities.
3) Resist the urge to avoid the delicate – my initial reaction with Kevin was to steer clear of anything that he could butcher. The thought of giving him a delicate and beautiful piece seemed like a form of self-torture. However, this was what he needed the most. Resist the urge to limit Clumsy Kevins to marches, ragtime and rock and delve into beauty head first. He will never magically become nimble. Without practicing subtly he’ll never find the ability to be graceful. His future dance partners will thank you.
4) Learn to laugh with him – My Clumsy Kevin was perfectly aware of his uncoordinated ways. And while he could snap a puck into the top corner of a hockey net with his eyes closed, a seemingly simple passage on the piano was often beyond him. The best thing to do is to laugh about it. Your Kevins are most likely not gunning for the concert stage – so make sure his piano education is full of fond memories. He’s more likely to stick with it if he develops a sense of humor about it. And the longer he sticks with it the more improvement he will see.