Have you ever taught a piano student with a “busy brain”? I have.
She was a fidgety student, but it wasn’t just her body that was in motion. Her brain was in constant motion too (and this meant that her mouth was also in motion). She was eager to learn, but her lack of focus got in the way of her progress.
When I decided to employ the four strategies below, everything changed… for the better.
Teaching Piano Students How To Focus
Many piano students who appear to have behavioural issues are likely children who simply haven’t been taught how to focus. There are, of course, students with diagnosed (or undiagnosed) disorders like ADD and ADHD but then there are others who just need more guidance when it comes to managing their own learning. Today I’m sharing four tools I use with students who have the ability to focus, but do not yet have the necessary strategies to do so predictably…
1. Body Check – Before beginning an important task during a piano lesson, teach your students to do a “Body Check”. A Body Check is a verbal assessment of what their body should be doing when it is time to focus. For example “My hands are in my lap, my words are put away, my legs are still and my eyes are on you.”
The above Body Check became a bit of a mantra for my student mentioned at the beginning of the post. Just this quick moment of awareness was often all that was needed so that her brain could focus on the piano lesson.
2. Self-Assess Distractions – An important part of teaching students to focus is to have them self-identify what is causing their distraction. Asking “What is it that is distracting you right now?” is a great way to bring awareness to the fact that they are a) distracted in the first place, and b) affected by their environment.
Some children are stimulated by noise, temperature, light, sounds, and smells more than others. If they are taught to stop and identify what is causing their distraction, then a lot of frustration can be eliminated for both the students and the teacher.
3. Visual Timers – When you need your student to focus for an extended amount of time (keeping in mind that a child’s attention span is equal to their age plus 2-3 minutes) it really helps to have a visual timer. This could be a typical hour-glass filled with sand, a countdown clock, dimmed lights, or anything that is easily identified as being an indicator of required focus.
For example, if you would like your student to play through his piece from start to finish without interruptions or distraction you would first dim the lights to signal a time of uninterrupted focus. When the task is completed, the visual timer is removed (lights are brightened again etc.)
4. Practice Concentrating – Turning concentration practice into a game is a great way to teach your students how to focus on one thing at a time. With my student, we practiced concentrating on what I was saying as I gave her verbal directions. She knew that our secret concentration word “fascinating” would sneak into what I was saying. When she heard the word “fascinating” (inserted at random while I talked) she would raise her hand and earn a point. We’d add up the “fascinating points” at the end of the lesson and it would mean extra time for the parts of the lesson she found particularly enjoyable (piano games, whiteboard drawing, bean bag games etc.)
One Extra – Sometimes a little time off the bench is all that is required to keep your piano students focused. But to make sure this “off-bench” time keeps the learning in motion and is not simply a “lesson break”, consider using a resource like Pssst… My Piano Teacher Thinks This Is Theory with 88 theory activities that are absolutely, positively, most definitely NOT BORING!
Help Your Students Learn to Learn
In addition to the strategies listed above, it is also important that piano teachers sympathize with our active students’ need to move, to change focus frequently and to share stories. I recognized this in my student and therefore designed my piano lesson structure to suit her personality. Occasionally it meant that less was accomplished than would be with a child who had mastered the skills to focus, however it also meant that my student absolutely adored her piano lessons. And, she was learning how to learn… and that to me as a teacher was the greatest triumph.