I have always dreamed of owning a dog that would become my running companion; a happy tail-wagging friend that would trot happily by my side. A Goldendoodle seemed like the perfect fit… a medium sized dog with a decent amount of energy.
And then we got Marley.
I waited over a year to run with my new buddy; protecting his developing legs and hips. When they day finally came, I hooked Marley to his leash and away we went trotting down the trail… for about 50 feet.
That’s when Marley jammed on the breaks. I gently tugged, bribed with treats, patted his head, gave an inspirational speech about the benefits of exercise. Nothing worked! I walked Marley home and took off down the lonely path on my own.
To this day Marley flat out refuses to run. A big, fat NO is his answer whenever I suggest some exercise… which leaves me out on the road… alone.
When Piano Students Say “No!”
Thankfully piano students are not puppies. And although some can act like crazy animals from time to time, it is much easier to reason (eventually) with a piano student than it is a puppy. The key to success with piano students who frequently refuse new repertoire, exercises and even games is to ignore the power struggle and focus on the positive.
If you’ve had any experience with a stubborn piano student then you’ll know that trying to force your way when a student simply says “No” can be virtually impossible. Like Marley putting the breaks on, an ensuing power struggle will only inspire a student to dig in their heels even deeper. So when a piano student says “No”, resist the urge to say “tough luck”.
Getting From “No” to “Yes”
When a piano student enters refusal mode in my studio I don’t push the issue. Instead I talk with my student about how it will feel when he finally says “yes”. I know that sounds airy-fairy but here’s how the journey to yes looks.
1. Resist the urge to push the issue.
2. Discuss why you personally would like them to give the task a go…”I have an awesome piece to play next but we need to learn this piece first because it teaches us all about syncopation, and you need to know syncopation in order to rock out.”
3. Highlight what they can accomplish easily because of skills mastered previously. Doing so will let them know that saying yes does not mean they’re entering into a world of frustration.
4. Make them aware of the extrinsic rewards associated with saying yes (ie. making progress on a practice incentive).
5. Change focus and reintroduce the issue a little later on. This will give your piano students the opportunity to mull it all over and will undoubtedly lead to an easier yes.
Change Your Piano Students’ Default Setting
Stubborn piano students are pre-programmed to say, “No”. Curing them of this habit will not happen overnight. Do your best to stay calm. Do your best to stay motivating. Do your best to avoid power struggles. Inspire your stubborn students to say, “Yes”.
And when they do say, “Yes”, I promise it will be a victory like you’ve never experienced!
Additional Help For Step 2
In Step 2 above we discussed using a “rockin’ piece” as repertoire to get them moving from no to yes. If you need a rockin’ piece for guaranteed inspiration, check out our comic-based piano book series, The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo.