OK… So Why Is There a Hippo In My Piano Studio?

If there is one thing I hate to see it’s the look of discouragement on a young child’s face.  Some kids show this outwardly – their shoulders slump, their legs start to swing, their faces fall.  Some kids internalize, and some kids act out.  My teaching is very focused on preventing my students from feeling discouraged… I’m the queen of the “pre-emptive strike”; striving to eliminate all factors that could potentially cause my students to deflate.

But piano is hard.  Kids are young.  

This past week I was teaching an 8 year old boy.  There was one part in his piece that continually tripped him up.  We drilled, we took it apart, we drew it, we moved to it, we laughed about it.  But I could tell he was getting ticked.  He loved this piece but his fingers just weren’t connecting with his brain and as soon as he hit that bar he would mix it up, twist it up and mess it up.  Part of me wanted to just close the book for him and let him quit.  But the creative part of me just couldn’t admit defeat.

A Hippopotamus In Your Piano Studio

The word Hippopotamus is my way of creating a mental landmark.  When playing the piano our brain can switch over to autopilot easily.   But the opposite of autopilot is being hyper-aware… and that’s just as dangerous.  By creating a mental landmark you can either create a place in your piece where you are switching your brain back on… or distracting it.  

Jackson needed distraction.  He knew the bar inside out, he was just over-thinking it.  Enter Hippopotamus.  Once I showed Jackson how to use Hippopotamus we had a good laugh… and then he tried it.  And it worked.  And the “working” stayed.  For weeks.

How do you use Hippopotamus?  Are you ready?  It’s actually insanely simple.  Have your student stand up, wave their arms and shout “Hippopotamus!” followed by the specific part of the bar that is causing problems (ex. “Hippopotamus!  Three on F!” or “Hippopotamus!  Third on C!”)

I’m not crazy.  Promise!

This works for three reasons:  

1)  It takes the tension away from your student.  Discouragement causes tension.  Tension hinders learning.  

2)  Your student will never forget.  It’s such a silly word and such a silly exercise that it will stick with them… and so will what you’re attempting to fix.  There will be a permanent mental note created that will stay with them longer than any explanations  or markings on their page.

3) It engages other learning styles – aural, verbal, kinaesthetic and visual… they’re all active when you do this.

So the next time you see your student struggling, haul out the Hippopotamus… and stomp out the problem once and for all!

My 8 year old boy students used to get discouraged… not because the pieces in their method books were difficult, but because they weren’t motivating to them.  The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo was created to excite these boy students and give them a reason to want to work hard on their piece. Check out this awesome book of comic-based supplementary repertoire and watch your boys light up with excitement!

5 Responses to OK… So Why Is There a Hippo In My Piano Studio?

  1. says

    I read your blog every morning and have a good chuckle before I start my day and take some great new concepts with me. I’m primarily a voice teacher and wanted to share with you an experience I had this week with a discouraged student that turned out better than I could have imagined:

    This student has been with me the longest of all my voice students. When she came to me, over a year ago, she was a bit pitchy, VERY shy and afraid of her voice. She was 9. At the time, she wanted to audition for a musical at her school. She didn’t get into the show.

    A year and a half have passed. We’ve worked hard on technique and her voice is MUCH stronger. This year, at 11 years old, she was chosen to audition for an All State choir that is very difficult to get into. She was one of 5 in her school to be allowed to audition. We worked on the music in conjunction with her choir teacher and the audition tape was sent last month.

    In the weeks that we waited, her thoughts about her abilities continued to decline, somehow, as we tackled a new genre she was interested in. I left her lesson that day feeling quite sure she would quit. Yesterday, I recieved a text, “Miss, Ella. Guess who made it to All State? ME ME ME ME!!” There were about a thousand different smiley faces that followed. I called her mother’s phone immediately to scream (a healthy, singer’s scream, of course) and celebrate with her. Her mother told me she is 1 of 8 in the ENTIRE COUNTY to be chosen. She’s no longer doubting her capabilities:). Thank you for letting me share.

  2. Tiffany G says

    So much fun! I used this today with my guitar students and it was perfect for removing the tension with tricky spot drills. Thank you for your fantastic ideas. You seem to be able to put to ideas and paper exactly what I have been feeling like my lessons needed more of, but what I have been unable incorporate consistently. My goal is not to just teach music but to teach the kids to love music – but my perfectionist tendencies seem to so often take over and take the fun out lessons. But your ideas are able to teach quality and love of music. Thank you.

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