There are two effective ways to encourage your piano students to fall in love with piano and piano practice. The first, is to to change the way your students physically experience piano with things like practice incentives, games, and motivating repertoire. We talk often about these things on the blog.
The second, is to change the way your piano students THINK about piano, piano practice, and music in general. This is equally as effective, just as important, and yet… often ignored. But not today!
Today we’re going to show you the power of a mental shift…
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Aren’t we fortunate? We were all given the opportunity at some point in our early lives to learn a musical instrument.
Aren’t we blessed? We have a versatile instrument in our own home that brings us joy, relaxation, excitement and pleasure.
Aren’t we lucky? This instrument that we love is also our livelihood and allows us to tangibly see the difference we are making in the world through the students we teach.
Aren’t we ready… to help our piano students foster the same grateful mentality?
A Shift in Thinking… Is it Possible?
One of the goals I have for my piano students this year is to work to instil in them a sense of reverence for music. I want them to truly understand what a gift it is to be able to play the piano… and to banish forever, the “Piano Is A Chore” mentality from my studio.
We all, at some point, can find ourselves speaking of piano and piano practice as a chore… as something that is imposed upon our students and, therefore, as something that children would rather not do. But what would happen if we instead began talking about piano and piano practice as a gift?
What if our students felt that their piano lessons were a privilege? That they were fortunate to learn how to make music?
When I first started to think about this, my initial thoughts were “This is going to be next to impossible. It’s like telling your child to finish her spinach because there are disadvantaged children who have no food at all. Or explaining to a child how other 8 year olds have to walk miles just to get clean drinking water. They hear me, but it’s too abstract… too far removed from their own reality”
But I’m not one to give up on something because it might be difficult.
Project “Piano Is a Privilege”
How do we even begin to ask children to see their piano lessons as a privilege? To understand and comprehend their good fortune in having the opportunity to become a musician?
I’m going to be working towards creating this mental shift… here’s what you can do to join me:
1. An appetite for good music
Encouraging your piano students to regularly listen to a variety music gives them the opportunity to experience the emotions that music can produce and to gain some understanding of important role that music plays in life.
Bring awareness to live music experiences your piano families may want to attend by posting about local events on your studio Facebook page. Continue to help your families develop an appreciation for music by sending home recommended listening lists weekly. Also, include listening activities in your lessons to get your students started on frequent music appreciation.
2. A chance to see the effects
One of the best ways to begin to understand the gift that is music, is to first give it to others. Seeing the joy that music brings to people helps us reflect on the joy that music brings to our own lives.
Consider using your recitals as “benefit concerts” for a family or individual in need in your community for a tangible way to show how music can bring about change. You may also want to provide opportunities for your students to perform for those who don’t always have access to music (extended care facilities etc.). Children need to see first-hand that their music can have a profound effect on other people.
3. Reaching a goal
Every student should have a piece of music that they adore. When I was a kid it was the theme from the TV show Cheers. I heard someone play it in a recital and I worked like nobody’s business to get to the level where I too could play that piece.
When I reached that level, I felt a keen awareness of my own progress and experienced a shift in my thinking towards piano practice; it was no longer something I did for my parents or my piano teacher. It was something I did for myself.
Help your students find the music that makes them tick by providing exposure to lots of motivating and inspiring repertoire. Find that one special piece that your student just can’t wait to play. Keep them excited about reaching that goal.
4. Finding role models
Community building within your studio can result in the formation of role models; older students that your younger ones can look up to and yearn to emulate. There was nothing I wanted more as a young music student than to be able to play and sing like a girl named Lisette. I’ve never forgotten how motivating it was to “become Lisette” one day.
Give your students many opportunities to see your intermediate and advanced students in action. Show them the similarities between their role models and themselves (Jason used to love this piece too!) and give them opportunities to connect with their musical peers. This encourages your students to strongly identify themselves as being musicians.
5. Building awareness
Adding music history to your lessons (even in a small way) is powerful way of having your students understand everything that had to take place for their piece to be sitting on their piano. Some children have never given this a thought.
Bring composers to life through interesting stories and then pair the time period of their piece with visual examples of the art and architecture of the same period… anything you can do to interest them in why their music is the way it is will begin to build an appreciation for the music itself.
If you teach the music of living composers then encourage your students to reach out and connect with them through social media or good ol’ snail mail.
6. Taking ownership
Encourage your piano students to take ownership over their own learning processes by making repertoire selections, bringing in ideas of music they’d like to play, and deciding on the order of your lesson activities with the ultimate goal of having our students make home practice “their project”.
Taking ownership also means giving your students the ability to create their own music. Self-expression and the ability to “compose the music you wish the world had” results in an undeniable gratitude for the ability to play.
7. Changing The Lingo
I haven’t ever put time constraints on the home practice I expect from students (I prefer instead to make it goal-based) but I am going to continue to change the way I talk about practice.
Having my students make the decisions about what they would like to accomplish, using phrases like “You get to play this piece as much as you like this week!” and generally changing the focus and the vocabulary I use away from practice being viewed as a chore is a goal that I’ve set for myself this year.
8. The Best Part Of This Experiment?
As I’ve started this, I myself find that I am more mindful of the good fortune I’ve experienced in having the privilege of music in my life. While working to inspire the idea of piano as being a gift in the lives of my students I’m finding that I’m more aware of the gift it is to my life.
Will I reach every single child and shift their thinking successfully every time? Probably not… but for the sake of the ones I do, my efforts are certainly worth it.
Looking for Hands-On Practice Help?
We hear it every single day… piano teachers want their students to practice more! Check out these articles for some practical help in inspiring practice: