Do you ever hear “I played this so much better at home!” from your piano students? This statement often comes after they stumble through the piece they supposedly practiced all week and sigh with despair.
Most times I believe my students when they say this; after all, it’s a true statement! We all play the piano better at home in our PJ’s. My favourite description of this phenomenon came from a 8 year old student of mine who wrinkled her forehead with a frown and pouted “There’s just bugs in my fingers when I come to my lesson!”
Can tell that your student actually did practice, but there is something preventing them from demonstrating their true progress to you during lesson time? This is the time when you need to spring into action; this frustration leads to feelings of insecurity which dampens enjoyment and squelches creativity. Here’s how to help…
The “Finger Bug” Solution for Piano Students
I’ve adopted the “bugs in your fingers” description to help ease my piano students’ frustration when this happens (putting a funny label to a frustrating problem works well with kids). And I’ve come up with 4 strategies to ensure those finger bugs don’t make it through my studio doors:
1. Always begin with fun warm-ups. It’s not uncommon for your piano student to arrive at their piano lesson after a good solid 7 or more hours of physical and mental activity. School is exhausting! Their head is full of everything but piano and that mental switch takes time. Jumping right in to have them play their pieces or their technical work for you is the ideal environment for finger bugs. Instead, begin your lessons with some warm ups that require very little thought but that help them to transition to piano lessons. You can practice rhythm on bongo drums, practice legato on playdough, use a floor piano mat for interval practice etc. etc. These activities are often saved for the end of a piano lesson but they work really well as starting activities too!
2. Avoid asking for a start-to-finish play through until you have asked for small sections first. Without having time to settle into piano lessons a start-to-finish performance will never be the best it can be. Give your student the chance to get “back into the piece” by working on smaller sections initially.
3. Zero in on the ‘buggy bits’. I bet you twenty bucks you would always be able to point to exactly the part of your piano student’s piece that will attract “buggy fingers”. Apply some serious insecticide by employing 3 different teaching strategies to work on that area before your student plays the piece. Even if they’ve been playing it for weeks, nothing but good can come from extra practice where it counts… and you’ll be curing the finger bugs at the same time!
4. Laugh about it. The problem can compound if we don’t stop and let our students know that we empathize with them. We’ve all been there… ignoring the problem just makes it worse. Have a good laugh about how uncooperative fingers can be sometimes and let your student know that you understand and that it’s okay. Finger bugs hate empathy…
Using these 4 strategies, your piano studio’s finger bug infestation should disappear completely! Stellar performances will no longer be saved for the pajama party in the living room, and your piano students will leave their lessons satisfied that they were able to show you exactly what they accomplished each week.
Of course finger bugs sometimes masquarade as plain old lack of practice. If you’re dealing with this kind of pest in your studio, you’ll want to check out one of our most popular resources “Shhh…Your Piano Teacher Thinks This is Practice”. Says one piano teacher: “The kids are going to love all the crazy things they have/can do with the music we are working on. It is going to keep them excited and motivated, especially with the pieces we work on for a few weeks. I may just try a few of these myself!!“