Disclaimer: I include a fairly even mix of competitive and non-competitive piano games in my lessons. I think that there are benefits and drawbacks of both types. This post is specifically discussing games of a competitive nature.
I love playing piano games with my students. It gives me a chance go kibbitz with them, to reinforce important concepts, to get off the bench and change focus, and to teach a very important life lesson: Sometimes, you will lose.
Teaching Piano Kids To “Lose” Graciously
I first started using piano games in my lessons many years ago. I wanted the games to be a positive experience and I wanted my piano students to love me. And so I would frequently bend the rules, feign ignorance and let them win… almost every single time.
They’d crow with delight in “beating the teacher” and I’d be the gracious loser congratulating them on their “win”.
But then I noticed that, for some, their motivation to play the games had lessened. And I realized that I had (unknowingly) killed the challenge that is the heart of playing games. So I started winning.
Life Lessons in Piano Lessons
For some students this was a serious wake-up call. It was obvious that I was not the only one in their life that was letting them “win” at everything… and it was a new experience for them (one that they didn’t quite know how to handle). But my fears of ruining their desire to play games (or dislike me) were unfounded… they actually begged to play games again and they certainly still liked me. The feeling of having a challenge was re-kindled, and they were desperate to try their best (and their learning skyrocketed as a result).
Did I spend a bit of time teaching certain children how to say “Congratulations” or “Good game!” instead of “Awww! Not fair!” or (my personal favorite) “You cheated!” Yes, I did have to do so. But I considered this to be one more life lesson that my piano lessons had the ability to bestow upon these young kids.
Eliminating Your Unfair Advantage
Now, obviously, as an adult you will have an unfair advantage over your competition; which is why it is necessary to include piano games that incorporate a certain degree of luck (as well as skill). By ensuring luck plays a role, piano students understand that not only do they have a real chance of winning, but more importantly, that if they do lose, luck is partially to blame (and this goes a long way in protecting their self-confidence).
“Be Real” With Kids And Watch Them Blossom
After a few weeks of actual game-play all of my students were both gracious winners AND losers. And this was a great reminder of the careful balance we need to find when it comes to praise… a reminder that piano lessons are a fabulous way to teach children the concept of hard work, of meeting goals, of experiencing personal satisfaction and of building intrinsic motivation. Shying away from these important lessons and “padding” that which is sometimes difficult robs your piano kids of the opportunity to rise to the occasion, to accept challenges, to experience struggle (and the joy of triumph) and to find pleasure in learning for the sake of learning. So, be real with your piano kids (yet still kind). And in doing so, your students will in fact “win”.