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Natalie Gibson Grimes: Affirmation

February 2, 2015

Our students are desperate for affirmation; they need to know when they’ve done a job well. Communicate this well and often.

– Marvin Blickenstaff


This statement resonates with me. Can you relate? Have you ever felt desperate for affirmation? I admit that I crave affirmation. Words of affirmation can make my spirit soar, while their absence can make my heart sink. Why does affirmation mean so much?


As teachers, we model mastery of our instrument. When we inspire our students through great playing and teaching, they come to view us as trusted experts of our field. This makes our opinion valuable and even coveted. A teacher’s words hold great power in the life of a student.


Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to teach piano to a unique group of women. They are ex-offenders who have been incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. As they transition from prison to independent life, learning to play the piano empowers them with confidence and creativity.


Most of these women suffer from low self-esteem as they struggle to find jobs and housing with a criminal record. The life experiences of this group have been rough and fragmented, yet many comment that music makes them feel whole again. Most never imagined they could learn to play a musical instrument, but encouragement from counselors and mentors has convinced them to try.


One woman from this group who has made a particular impression on me is Monique. Monique has only seven fingers due to a hand deformity. When I began teaching her, I noticed how praise made Monique shine. She seemed to gather courage with each success, glancing eagerly in my direction for approval.  In Monique’s world, second chances are usually denied or given reluctantly. With piano, there is freedom to try endlessly. Monique has gained so much confidence that she is even teaching other women in the group now from what she has learned.  Her success in piano is likely to lead to success in other areas, now that she has recognized her own courage, creativity, and talent.


As success continues to bloom in Monique’s life, she will still need affirmation. Like sunlight or water, it is a necessary element for healthy growth. Affirming the potential in our students is a way of planting seeds and tending the soil.


Words give us the power to speak life into one another. I have seen this in women like Monique as well as within myself. We can empower others by affirming their strengths, creating a foothold for climbing greater heights. Genuine, meaningful praise can change a life.

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This site is created by the faculty of the New School for Music Study, a division of the Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy.

February 13, 2018

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