So here’s an interesting experiment you can try with your piano students this week. It requires two questions and 30 seconds… and the results will surprise you.
The experiment is simple… ask your piano students the following (and time how long it takes to get a response to each):
- When you play a piano piece, what do you struggle with the most?
- When you play a piano piece, what are you really good at?
Not To Skew Your Results But…
When I asked these questions of my piano students early in my teaching career, they were able to rattle off a list of things that caused them problems when playing a piano piece; remembering where their hands go, keeping a steady beat, reading notes beyond steps and skips…
When it came to Question 1, their response times were great… which was not great.
Question 2 resulted in a different, but equally concerning result. My students’ response times were not great… which was also not great!
My Results Were Depressing And Here’s Why…
As teachers, we are hyper-focused on helping students grow as learners. And often we think that the best way to help piano students grow as learners is to improve upon their weaknesses.
This, unfortunately has unintended consequences… when we hyper-focus on piano student weaknesses we are drilling into our students that they are not very good at something.
This was a real eye-opener for me. I had assumed my perky attitude and fun lesson planning was enough to make my students love learning.
But it wasn’t.
Something Had To Change… Here’s What I Did
Looking back, the answer seemed so simple and I kicked myself for not realizing it sooner but, hey, we’re not all born with a collection of World’s Best Piano Teacher Awards 😉
Instead of hyper-focusing on finding and improving piano student weaknesses, I searched for that one thing each of my students did really well.
And when I found that “one thing” I helped my students make that one thing, “their thing”.
If a piano student had a knack for playing from lead sheets, I let her know that she was an improviser at heart. In addition to my standard piano lessons I began to nurture the improviser’s natural ability. A section of her piano binder became devoted to improvisation and lead sheets. At piano recitals my “improviser” was given the opportunity to accompany some of my singers.
In short… she was an improviser and she knew it!
But What About Those Weaknesses?
Just because I became focused on piano student strengths doesn’t mean I gave up on my quest to search and destroy weaknesses.
But because my piano students now had an identity as a piano player, weaknesses were simply something to improve on… but not dwell on.
And in the end, my students’ passion for piano lessons went through the roof.
What Strengths Do You Look For?
The improviser is just one of many “personalities” I search out for in my piano students. What piano student strengths could you help your students embrace and run with? We’d love to hear in the comments below!