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Chapter 1 focused on helping children deal with negative feelings, and Chapter 2 focuses on helping parents (or teachers), deal with negative feelings. I just love the idea of cooperation in the context of a piano lesson – two musicians working together towards a common goal. How energizing! Isn’t this much more exciting than the exhausting task of constantly correcting and lecturing?
Here are the authors’ five main strategies for engaging cooperation:
1. Describe. Describe what you see (or hear) or describe the problem.
When grown-ups describe the problem, it gives children a chance to tell themselves what to do.
2. Give information.
Information is a lot easier to take than accusation. When children are given information, they can usually figure out for themselves what needs to be done.
3. Say it with a word.
Children dislike hearing lectures, sermons, and long explanations. For them, the shorter the reminder, the better.
4. Talk about your feelings.
Children are entitled to hearing their parents’ (or teachers’) honest feelings. By describing what we feel, we can be genuine without being hurtful. It’s easier to cooperate with someone who is expressing irritation or anger, as long as you’re not being attacked.
5. Write a note.
Sometimes nothing we say is as effective as the written word.
Borrowing an exercise from the book, let’s consider how each of these strategies could be applied to problems relating to practicing, musicianship, and technique in the piano lesson.
Unhelpful Statement: “You didn’t practice again this week. You are never going to progress at this rate.”
Describe: I don’t see any practice days checked off on your assignment sheet from last week.
Give Information: We cannot learn new pieces if the old ones haven’t been practiced.
Say It with a Word: Practice.
Talk About Your Feelings: I’m very disappointed to see that there are no check marks on your assignment sheet.
Write a Note:
I want to play some new songs with you this week!
Unhelpful Statement: You aren’t following the dynamics. You’re not listening to yourself while you play.
Describe: I didn’t hear any dynamics in your performance today.
Give Information: Dynamics bring the music to life, create the moods, and help us tell the story!
Say It with a Word: Dynamics.
Talk About Your Feelings: I felt bored during your performance because everything sounded the same.
Write a Note:
Remember to listen and tell the story of the music with your exciting dynamics.
Unhelpful Statement: You’re not concentrating on your hand position. Why don’t you listen when I tell you to play with round fingertips?
Describe: I see flat fingers.
Give Information: Flat fingers can slow us down.
Say It with a Word: Fingertips.
Talk About Your Feelings: I’m frustrated that we still have not fixed our flat-finger problem.
Write a Note:
Fingertips, fingertips, fingertips! I want to go faster next week.
C Major Scale
The first three strategies, Describe, Give Information, and Say It with a Word, felt very natural and comfortable. It was easy to come up with a response because I think, as piano teachers, we employ these strategies frequently.
I found creating responses for the Talk About Your Feelings and Write a Note strategies to be more challenging. Talking about my feelings seemed to go against everything I’ve been taught about keeping lessons student-centered. Is it OK for us, as teachers, to feel frustrated or disappointed, and to express this to our students sometimes? The authors do note that it’s important to be authentic when using these communication skills. Kids may not listen or take us seriously if our emotion doesn’t match our words.
The Write A Note strategy is something I have not used with students before (other than reminders on the score, or on assignment sheets), but I think it could be particularly effective with very young children. Making the critique come from any source other than the teacher (the composer, the piano, an imaginary figure), allows the student and teacher work together to solve the problem. I used this third-party approach in my examples above.
I’d also like to try this with a slightly older, but very imaginative student who is a chronic non-practicer. I wonder how he might respond to opening a special, sealed envelope each day this week. Maybe the letters will be themed to fit the story of one of his pieces . . .
We’ll see how it goes! I look forward to reading your feedback on Chapter 2 in the comments section below. See you next week for Chapter 3.