Our youngest daughter just started Grade One this year. She’s officially “not a baby” anymore… and it certainly felt different dropping her off at her first day of school (last year, Trevor and I choked back tears as she looked at us with big, nervous eyes. This year, she shouted a happy “Bye!” as she charged through the front door).
And with this new “grown up phase” comes changes in how we relate to her. She no longer needs us put on her shoes, or to get her dressed in the morning, or to pack her backpack… yet I’ve still found myself doing these things for her when asked. Force of habit.
While it feels good to treat her like my little bitty baby, I realized that I’m not doing her any favors, and so I forced myself to encourage her to do these things on her own. And with each task she independently completed I could see her confidence blossom.
Inevitably… my experiences with Halle led to a piano teaching post. So today we’re sharing a list of the 6 things you should stop doing for your piano students. Not because doing them is detrimental (and you’ll likely find yourself occasionally slipping back into old habits… and that’s okay!) but because NOT doing them for your students gives them the opportunity to practice being independent learners which is, after all, our end goal as teachers.
6 Things You Should Stop Doing For Your Piano Students.
Independent learners are confident students who know how to seek out the answers to their questions by using their books and materials as resources. They readily accept challenges and have the self-assurance to work ahead on their own. Sounds like a dream student, yes? Well, if you try to do some of things below less frequently, you may end up with a studio of dream students.
1. Organizing their materials
In order for your piano students to learn to use their books and materials as a learning aid, they need to know how their resources work and where to find them. This means that, aside from initially providing an organizational system, (like our Blinged Out Binders) they are the ones who are fully in charge of their materials.
Try to minimize a) placing materials into their binders for them (if they do it themselves, they then know where to find it at home) b) opening their books for them to the correct page (if they open their books in lessons then they know how to do it again at home) and c) packing up their bags for them at the end of a lesson (if they learn to pack up they gain a sense of ownership over their own materials and are more likely to look after, and remember them).
2. Answering questions with a direct answer
The next time your piano students ask “Where do my hands go?” or “What note is this?” or “Was that right?”, avoid giving them the answer. Instead, respond in a way that guides them to finding the answer on their own.
For example, in response to “Where do my hands go?” you could say “Where on your page could you look to find the starting note and finger number?” This helps your students learn to rely on their resources rather than on you – something that has a positive impact on effective home practice.
3. Writing on their music… some of the time
Initially it’s always faster to simply write down reminders and notes on your students’ sheet music yourself, but in the long run, having students who feel empowered enough to write their own reminders means they’ll a) actually pay attention to those reminders and b) create their own systems which will be more meaningful and effective to them as individuals. One of the best things I ever learned to do was to simply hand over the pencil and ask “What could you write to remind yourself about that?”
4. Talking to Mom or Dad “over their heads”
Obviously you want to have regular contact with piano parents, but sometimes it can be really valuable for reminders, updates and “look what we did today” messages to come directly from your students instead of you. As a parent, hearing “Mom! Today I learned about 6/8 time!” carries more meaning than if you were to mention it in passing. This helps parents to see their children being active participants in their learning and helps children learn to communicate their accomplishments verbally. It also helps to avoid the dreaded “I dunno.” answer when Mom or Dad asks, “How was your lesson?” Check out our “What’s Inside My Musical Mind” post for an idea on how to encourage this kind of communication.
5. Laying out lesson routines
For the first few months of lessons, you obviously want to be the person in charge of routines (either using a visual calendar or by guiding your students verbally through the various parts of the lesson). However, after the first few months it is really valuable to have your students feel like they have some input into lesson routines. Allow your students to arrange the visual calendar or to verbally tell you the order of activities in which they want to proceed. Often children are more aware of their learning needs than we initially assume. Playing piano games first may seem counterintuitive to what you would normally do – but for some children this actually provides a really good segue into the lessons after a busy day of school. Give it a try and adjust how much freedom you allow your students in this area.
6. Deciding when a piece is “complete”
Initially this may seem an odd thing to “hand over” to your students. However, when provided with criteria against which they can measure their current pieces, your students will learn to make observations on their progress. You create the criteria for what constitutes a “completed piece” and then together you can collaboratively make a decision about whether a piece is ready to be placed “on review” or if it needs another week or two. If you notice that your students are hastily wanting to move on past their pieces, then perhaps an adjustment in repertoire is required.
Have students who want to charge through their method book pieces? A membership to PianoBookClub gives you the flexibility to pick and choose concept-focused pieces that your students will be thrilled to play over and over again. Find out how $8 per month can build the studio library of your dreams.
Learning To Let Go For The Sake Of Learning
Creating independent learners is a skill that we can teach right along with the skill of playing the piano. Our end goal as piano teachers is to have students who are aware of their own learning process, know how to seek out needed information or assistance, are motivated to challenge themselves with new experiences, and can self-assess their own progress.
By removing yourself from the six items listed above, you also remove yourself from the position of being a “learning assistant” and instead become a mentor who skillfully guides your students through the process of learning how to learn.