Ever head of a man named Takeru Kobayashi? He is a visionary. He is a genius. He is a 128 pound, world-record hotdog eating champion. In 2001 he doubled the world record when he came out of nowhere and ate 50 hotdogs in 12 minutes.
Obliterating a world record in a sport previously dominated by part man, part monsters takes a very special person with a very special ability; the willingness to take a new approach to a challenge.
In Takeru’s case, he knew shoving hotdog after hotdog after hotdog into his mouth just wasn’t going to cut it. He needed a plan. So he reduced his body fat to allow his stomach to expand without being restricted, he ate the dog and the bun separately to account for the different densities, he soaked the bun in water to help it go down easier, and he performed a little wiggle called the Kobayashi Shake to shift the food around in his stomach.
All of these strategies had never even been considered prior to Kobayashi. He changed the game.
Struggling Piano Students Need A Game-Changer Too
It is easy for piano teachers to become mechanical. The incredible amount of work it takes to be a piano teacher means that having a standardized routine for all of your lessons can make your life a whole lot easier. And for most students… a template-type routine works fine.
Until it doesn’t. And you get the square peg that doesn’t fit into the round hole… the struggling student.
When this happens it’s time to think channel the powers of Takeru Kobayashi and change the piano teaching game.
Because more often than not a struggling student is only struggling because he doesn’t understand the piano the way most students understand the piano. And it is your job to change up the game and present the piano in a new light.
How To Change Up The Game
When I need to change up the game for a piano student I try to keep it simple and focus on these two questions:
1. How does this child learn best (visually, physically, aurally, socially)?
2. How can I change my lesson format to match his learning needs?
For many teachers, the easiest struggling student to relate to is the wiggly, won’t-sit-still piano student. And let’s assume this particular student is a physical learner.
How does the traditional lesson format hold up for this student? Not well! Physical learners cannot sit at a piano bench for long stretches of time. They cannot begin with on-the-bench warm-ups, play scales, and then work in a method book. It simply won’t work.
With a physical learner, a teacher should limit time on the bench to only those activities that need it most… usually repertoire work.
Most other tasks, like ear-training, rhythm work, and theory can be learned in an active way off the bench.
The Wiggly Walters Always Get The Attention But…
When I write blog posts about struggling students I am guilty of giving a lot of attention to physical learners. But be careful not to always assume a struggling student needs more action. Because if you assume a struggling student needs to get off the bench… and then he still struggles… you may begin to feel hopeless, when in reality, you may have just got his learning style wrong.
Remember, some struggling students may naturally learn best by ear (this is not to say you should abandon note reading!), some may need more social interaction, and others may need to visually represent concepts in different ways.
Approach piano teaching like a science experiment. Have your routines, but don’t afraid to break them. Try different styles and approaches with different students… even students who aren’t struggling! When something doesn’t work, try something new, and then try something new again. Never stop experimenting.
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