Eighty-four seconds was his magic number. I had exactly eighty-four seconds before I had to somehow wrangle him away from the window… or away from my bookcase… or off of the floor. To say he had a short attention span would be kind. To say he had absolutely nothing resembling an attention span would be closer to the truth. It was, without a doubt, the most frustrating 30 minutes of my life.
And it happened every Tuesday.
Teaching Piano to Kids Who Just Can’t Sit Still…Your Two Choices
Something had to change… and that something had to be me. I had two options: 1) Drop him as a student or 2) Deal with it. It had to be option 2 as, at that time, I was in no position to be choosy.
So, over the next two weeks I spent my Sundays planning instead of fretting. I broke my 30 minutes of crazy into 8 (yes 8!) segments that were carefully crafted to keep him humming through the lesson with no chance for antics… or curtain climbing.
The first lesson I taught in this manner he actually stopped dead in his tracks and stared at me with his melt-your-heart brown eyes. It was as though he actually heard me for the very first time. My Tuesdays drastically improved from that moment on.
If you too have a “30 minutes of stab-a-fork-in-my-eye” in your scheduled teaching time, check out my 4 tips for how to teach piano to the busiest of kids.
4 Ways To Teach Piano To Kids With An Uber-Short Attention Span
1) Divide your lesson into at least 8 parts. This seems excessive, but it’s not. In a 30 minute lesson, this means that each activity lasts approximately 4 minutes give or take. How do you possibly teach anything in 4 minutes? Very carefully! Choose only one goal per lesson and find 8 ways of teaching this goal. 2 minutes is spent “teaching” and the other 2 is spent having your student demonstrate their understanding.
This means you will need to seriously adjust how you give information and your expectations for how much you can accomplish in a typical piano lesson. Being willing to be flexible on both accounts will save your sanity.
2) Don’t change focus. Keep your eye on the prize so to speak. If your goal is to have your student be able to play the first two lines of their piece hands together than don’t deviate from that. Every single part of the lesson should be carefully crafted to meet this goal. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t shift focus away from his or her book, but rather as you change activities, ensure they are still working towards your set plan.
3) Be clear with your expectations. While you’re working hard in the background to adapt your teaching style, your student also needs to hold up his end of the bargain. Be very specific and make a visual representation of what will happen. I had a chart in my studio with events like “Clap the rhythm using only your hands” or “Play your piece without kicking the piano”… all of the things you never ever thought you would say as a piano teacher when you first started out 🙂 Read each expectation to your student immediately before they are to begin that task.
4) Be Fun! Part of the reason I dreaded my Tuesday afternoons was that I can’t stand being a kill-joy. “No!”, “Stop” and “Don’t” when repeated infinite times are really a downer. It’s just not me to be stern or strict. I like to joke with my students, but I felt as though joking with this particular student would be like a match to a bonfire. When I decided to change my teaching approach I also decided to change my personal approach. Kids like my student are very used to hearing “No!”, “Stop” and “Don’t”… so much so that it goes in one ear and out the other. Once I allowed myself to kibbutz with my student he really started to listen. I became interesting. A word of caution: there is a fine line between fun and circus… I strongly suggest staying away from the circus.
By making a few adjustments to my approach and to my expectations, my Tuesday afternoons quickly became much easier. He may not have been my most shining student, he may have only accomplished half (okay, probably a quarter) of what my other students were able to do in the same amount of time, and he may have still driven me crazy at times… but that was all okay with me. I was teaching him to play the piano and he was listening for more than eighty-four seconds; that’s all that mattered.
One of the biggest favors you can do for students like this is to tap into their interests. There is no reason for your challenging students to be playing something they find to be boring or un-motivating… it’s frustrating for the both of you. My Tuesday student was a very big part of why we created The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo… I had such a hard time finding music he connected with, and this book series was the answer! Check out book previews and more here to see if it too can make your life a little easier!