A teacher wrote to us recently feeling overwhelmed. “I feel as though my lessons have become 30 minutes of “shock and awe”… I have so many awesome activities and ideas that I feel as though I’m pulling my bewildered student through a lesson that we both emerge from breathless and exhausted. I don’t want to be boring and I have so much to accomplish in those 30 minutes! Please help!”
I loved the saying “30 minutes of shock and awe”… I’ve been there too (usually with my wiggliest of students in an attempt to keep their attention… but also with my seemingly complacent students to win their loyalty).
In our quest to keep up with other extracurricular activities pulling our clients in all directions, we piano teachers have become masters of musical entertainment. And don’t get me wrong – this is a great thing! But without some sort of governor on the fun… we’re robbing ourselves and our students of the enjoyment that comes from the simplicity of loving music for the sake of music and revelling in the beauty that is learning.
When doing some soul searching of my own…
… I realized that the pressure I was feeling to pack a punch with my piano lessons was coming from my perception of progress. And to change my approach at times I needed to truly define what my idea of progress was. Was it a repertoire check list a mile long? Was it skills acquisition? Was it musicality? Was it level of enjoyment? I realized that my problem was the fact that I considered good progress to be all of these things… all progressing equally… at the same time.
When I looked at it that way it seemed a bit absurd. If I wanted my students to truly develop their sense of musicality, why were we on a mission to complete a “piece per week”? If I wanted my students’ level of enjoyment to flourish, why were we hammering away at a mile-long list of skills acquisition goals? If I wanted to show off a list of completed repertoire, how was I going to produce well-rounded pianists in the process? They go hand-in-hand but they are also fierce competitors. One will win out over the other… and the struggle is frenzied.
My Answer Was Simple…
… and I think it will be a freeing feeling to many who see this tug-of-war for progress in their own teaching. I decided that it is okay to spend an entire lesson doing one thing. It is okay to not assign a piece in a method book every single week. It’s okay to take the entire 30 minutes to compose. It’s okay to play that favorite theory game twice when requested. It’s okay to take 10 minutes to listen to beautiful music together. Because my new definition of progress has become “anything that furthers my students’ connection to the piano”.
Do some kids still need that multi-focus lesson where you’re movin’ and groovin’ the entire time? Yes! But in those moments where they’re completely engaged in a particular activity or moment it is really freeing to me to stop and stay there.
If the question of “But does this interrupt progress?” popped into your mind, spend some time deciding what your definition of progress truly is. And then, if you find the “shock and awe” approach isn’t working in a particular lesson, you’ll have the clarity to decide what will be most important to reaching your progress goals. And you’ll know exactly what to do.