I write a LOT of music. Most of it is written at the piano. Most of the time I love being at the piano… most of the time.
But sometimes I find myself staring at a blank piece of paper propped up on the piano, or resting my forehead on the keys, or chewing on a pencil… or repeating all three of the aforementioned in a musician’s version of writer’s block.
But… then our dog will scratch on the front door, reminding me it’s time to head out for our walk. And more often than not, I return from our walk with an almost-complete tune composed entirely in my head.
Funny how a change of scenery works.
UnSticking “Stuck” Piano Students
Our piano students can experience “writer’s block” too. Maybe they’ll struggle with fingering, or a challenging technical exercise, or a difficult rhythm, and no matter how hard you try to break the block at the piano, chances are both you and your students will end up feeling like hammering your heads on the same set of piano keys.
When this happens, you and your piano students need to “take the dog for a walk”… figuratively speaking of course.
Here are three things you may want to try:
1. Switch up the music
To unstick piano students you don’t always need to change the scenery; sometimes changing the music will be enough.
When students are stuck to the point of frustration, they have most likely committed the troubling mistake to memory. And no matter how hard they focus on correcting their error, muscle memory kicks in and leads their poor little fingers down the same incorrect path.
But when you change the music, your students are able to start with a blank slate; that difficult rhythm they were struggling with in one piece will be a thing of the past when it appears in a new piece. And then… voila… the old piece can make a re-appearance and those old troubles are often forgotten.
2. Switch up the roles
Stuck piano students are like actors who suddenly develop stage fright… their ability to think clearly is blurred by the pressure of a thousand staring eyes. In the case of piano students, there may not be a thousand eyes, but there are at least two very important eyes… and sometimes that can be worse than a thousand.
So, bail out your stuck piano students and let them be the teacher. Let them explain to you how to fix whatever it is they are struggling with. This switch in roles will give them a chance to breathe, and an opportunity to organize their thoughts and their own suggestions may actually be just what they themselves need!
With the pressure off, you’ll be surprised at how quickly they become unstuck.
3. Switch up the scenery
Finally, if you have piano students who just won’t come unstuck, switch up the scenery… and by “switch up the scenery” I mean, change where you are working and change how you are working. But don’t change what you are working on.
Just as my walk with the dog unlocked my brain to compose music, learning a challenging concept in a new location and in a new way will unlock your piano students’ brains.
How Do I Change The Scenery?
When I have stuck piano students who won’t respond to a change in music or a change in roles, I change up the scenery… which for me, means pulling out my basket of piano games.
Piano games get my piano students away from the piano while still keeping them engaged with the skill that may be tripping them up… and since my basket of piano games weighs as much as a small car, I always have the perfect game for any skill or concept being studied.