A new year has begun, and we piano teachers are always thrilled to acquire the young new students, eager, bright, and restless.
The average attention span for an adult is said to be 10 minutes. I would be happy if that were the case with all children. So in order to survive, I have adopted the United States Marine Corps saying, Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome. I gave a 5 year old student, Molly, her first piano lesson recently. After watching lessons for the past few years with her sister, she expected a sticker immediately. “You must earn the sticker first,” I said,” by playing all the pairs of black keys on the piano and learning a little song.” My improvisation was recognizing her needs. In this case, bribery works. If she got restless, I reminded her of her sticker, so she continued on target for a few more minutes. When a teacher improvises, she is instantly adjusting and adapting her lesson plan to the needs of the individual psyche. For some students, a reward could be a new piece of sheet music. For others it is a cookie at the end of the lesson. And hopefully, you don’t have this motivator : “You only have 5 minutes left until the end of this lesson.” Don’t discount this one though. Once we become familiar with each student’s personality, we begin to understand her modus operandi. For instance, I always had a piece of candy ready at the end of each lesson for one student or else I was in trouble. One day I only had pretzels and she didn’t like them, so I had to rummage in my cabinet for some fruit rolls. I overcame the disruptions but only by recognizing the proper sweet reward. How does piano artistry and technique fit into this picture? Simple. If the student cannot keep still for more than 5 minutes, she cannot master the target teaching point planned for that particular lesson. Keeping them happy on the bench is the best way I know to achieve the lesson objective.