“I can’t do it.” When your students utter these four words they slam on the breaks in a piano lesson; everything stops… motivation, enthusiasm, and progress.
As teachers, our reaction to these words is often to immediately reassure our students with, “Yes you can!” or any number of encouraging phrases. And while reassurance is nice to hear, it’s really just acting as a bandaid.
The problem behind those words still remains: The student is looking for help… and it’s up to us to delve into the intent behind those words in order to best serve her needs. To help you navigate your students’ frustration and angst, here are the five phrases you can use the next time you hear, “I can’t do it” in your piano studio.
How to Respond When Your Piano Students Say, “I Can’t”
The words, I can’t are usually uttered in frustration and are used as a protective shield that students hide behind; it’s easier to not try than to try and potentially fail. But with a few carefully-planned phrases you can guide your student away from “I can’t” and towards “I’ll try”.
So, the next time a piano student says, “I can’t”, respond with…
- “You will be able to soon!” Reassure your student… but with evidence. Replying with, “Yes, you can!” is less effective than if you reply with evidence-based encouragement. Use the words, “You will be able to soon!”, and then remind your student of a time when she found something else difficult and was ultimately successful. Discuss the steps she took to overcome the difficulty and help her to remember how good it felt once she was successful.
- “Point to the part that worries you”. To help a frustrated student you need to gain some insight into what is causing the angst or frustration. Unfortunately, children often find it hard to put their difficulties into words. So, use the phrase, “Point to the part that worries you.” Once your student identifies what is causing her concern, you can zero-in on the issue and separate the problem into manageable chunks that will provide several encouraging moments of success before attempting the entire task.
- “What would happen if we..” Fear of failure can often cause the “I can’t do it” reaction. Lighten the mood by asking silly questions that clearly show your student that the world will not swallow her whole should she make a mistake. Ask, “What would happen if we just left all of the Bb’s out? It will probably sound so bad that I bet the studio cat will leave. Let’s try it!”
- “Are you ready to try?” Putting your student into the driver’s seat with this phrase gives her a sense of control that can ease anxiety. Asking, “Are you ready to try?” or, “Tell me when you are ready to try,” will put your student at ease and will result in a more willing player than one who is not given the option to say, “Not yet”.
- “What can we change?” If your student replies to the previous question with “Not yet”, then asking, “What can we change?” will help you avoid a complete stop in attempts. Your student can suggest slight adjustments (for example, “I’ll play it hands separately” or “I’ll leave out measures 3-7”).
Turning “I Can’t Do It” into “I Just Did It!”
By continually referring to the five strategies above, you will help your student gradually internalize the procedures so they can be applied to future struggles. The result? You’ll have more confident students who are less likely to say, “I can’t do it”.
Did you know that “I can’t do it” is often the result of gaps leftover from piano books that are inadequate in their presentation of early note reading and rhythmic concepts?
If your students are struggling with confusing or inadequate primer-level books than those holes in understanding can compound and cause frustration in the future. WunderKeys Primer Piano Books were painstakingly designed to build a solid, gap-free understanding for young piano students.
As one Amazon review states: “With more than 40 years of experience teaching all aspects of music I can honestly say that this series is the best I have experienced. The children are engaged and focused, move along perfectly at their own speed and develop solid understandings.”