A child should never leave the piano feeling frustrated.
That’s my goal for home practice. That’s one of the main things I work to achieve during lesson time.
It’s probably what all teachers should aspire to. And whether they know it or not, my guess is that most successful teachers consciously (or subconsciously) create practice routines and habits that support this goal.
I’m not saying students shouldn’t or won’t experience frustration… but rather that students shouldn’t leave a practice session feeling frustrated with the piano.
I suppose it’s kind of like the old marriage cliche, “Never go to bed angry”…which is corny, yet pretty good advice.
Applied to piano, this becomes, “Never leave the piano angry.” I like it!
Yet, as you likely know… this is not an easy task. I love the piano… but even I regularly get mad at it… so I know my students probably go toe-to-toe with the piano every now and again too.
Today, I wanted to share with you some “Never leave the piano angry” strategies that your students can use to deal with those occasionally frustrating practice sessions. These strategies are not intended to solve problems occurring in particular pieces. Those can be easily solved with your guidance at the next piano lesson.
Instead, these strategies are alternative activities that your students can use when they need to “take a break” from whatever it is that is making their musical blood boil. These are activities that keep them at the piano long enough for the negativity to seep away and those warm, fuzzy “I love the piano!” feelings to return.
6 “Safety Nets” To Rescue A Frustrating Home Practice Session
The truth is, your piano students are going to get frustrated during home practice. In some cases very frustrated! Even if you have prepped them perfectly for home practice… they will still get frustrated.
But this post is not intended to encourage your students to give up when things get tough. It is important, (in fact it’s essential!) that students have the skills to problem-solve and keep moving forward.
Yet there will always be times when piano students get so frustrated that they will want to walk away and admit defeat (we’ve all been there ourselves, yes?) It is during these times that piano practice safety nets should be employed… or deployed 😉
Here are 6 piano practice safety nets to try:
- Getting goofy with an old piano piece: Nothing builds confidence like playing a previously-mastered piece from the past. However, merely reverting back to an old piece often isn’t exciting enough. Instead, during a “break from frustration” tell your students to take an old piece and mix it up by adding pedal, changing the tempo, replacing the dynamic markings with their own, and/or creating a powerful and dramatic ending.
- Creating a clap, snap, tap rhythm: If you students are feeling the frustration, have them clap, snap, and tap the treble clef rhythm of any piece of their choosing. All they have to do is assign “clap” to quarter notes, “snap” to half notes, “tap” to eighth notes and launch into some powerful percussion.
- Composing a tune: All of my piano students know how to create their own music. Why? They have all used our composing resource, The Curious Case of Muttzart and Ratmaninoff and they all have copies in their binders. This means turning to composing when practice gets frustrating is a cinch! Very young students can use their own invented notations to preserve their masterpieces (and the results are often tape-to-the-fridge worthy!)
- Simple improv: Using their knowledge of primary chords, encourage your students to find basic left hand patterns to which they can add simple right hand melodies. This doesn’t have to be anything difficult… even just a held chord in the left hand with a simple repeated motive in the right hand can evolve into something magical.
- Play a piano game: If you have a huge collection of piano games (as our PianoGameClub members do) you may want to create a lending library of games that kids can take home with them each and every week. This way, if ever your student gets frustrated beyond the point of no return he can at least pull out a game, get a parent or sibling involved and still learn some really valuable piano theory.
- Create a soundscape to a children’s book: Kids love creating soundscapes. With this frustration buster, students can have a parent read a children’s story while they use the piano to make sounds and create bits of melody to represent the events taking place in the story. This is a simple and effective way of getting parents involved in home practice (and also diffuses a potentially explosive situation of frustrated child vs. well-meaning parent).
How Should You Implement These Piano Practice Safety Nets?
It’s important to frequently talk with your students about “good frustration” (where you’re mildly confused, yet still able to work through an issue) vs. “bad frustration” (when you’re feeling angry and upset and are not learning anything). Your students need to know when they should take a break and how to “employ a safety net”.
How your students choose to use these “safety nets” is entirely up to you! In the past I have sent students home with a “safety net of the week” and other times I have sent them home with a checklist containing a variety of safety nets from which they can choose their favorite. You will know what works best with you and your students.
Do you have any activities that guarantee a smile during home practice to add to our list? We’d love to hear it! Share in the comments below.