Attention Span, Children and Piano
A common mistake piano teachers make is to misjudge a child's attention span. Usually a piano teacher insists that the student follow their directions explicitly, and without interruption.
Any person who thinks this is a reasonable request from an American child at 4:00 PM after school is living in a dream world.
Remember, first of all, that children have a variation in attention span that can run from 60 seconds to ten minutes. It all depends on the day, the mood, and the setting. You have to take each child on an individual basis.
Piano Is Easy
Distractions Are Common
If the child has a playdate waiting, or it is a sunny day and they'd rather be outside, or they are in a bad mood, you will be facing an uphill fight. You need to learn how to be the solution to their problem, and not just another problem.
Thus you must learn to go with the flow, following their mood at first. Gently see what may be happily accomplished. After all, music and the piano are such vast subjects that a little digression is almost always illuminating and refreshing.
If this means you sit and tell them a funny story about Beethoven or James Brown or Elvis, do it. Perhaps this means the child embarks on a four minute digression about Minecraft. Sit and listen. When you see the child relax, you're on the right track.
Find Music That Catches The Child's Ear
A few days ago a child was bored, so I played a bit of a bluesy riff from James Brown, for no other particular reason except that it was catchy and uplifting. His ears stood up and he said, "Can you play the blues? My Dad loves the blues and so do I."
So we had a very happy half hour learning James Brown and the blues scale. He left that lesson very happy and proud, and returned that way.
I use humor and games as well to make the entrance into the "work" portion of the lesson as easy as possible. When I see the child has finally forgotten the cares they brought into the room, I spring into action and ask for a little real work.
Make An Arbitrarily Easy Goal And Demand It
Sometimes a child will play three notes of a song, and collapse again. I say, "Okay, three notes is your capacity, let's play the first three notes of every song we know and memorize them." And it works.
They happily start the game and we are launched into whatever that lesson will be. If I am careful to not be too demanding, we might get twenty minutes of valuable work done. Even so, I always pull back occasionally during this "work" period, deliberately veering into digression and humor for a few seconds so that they are smiling and ready for the next bit of work.
In some ways, what you are doing is teaching children how to master their mood and still have fun. That's a valuable lesson even for adults. A smiling child is the easiest possible person to teach.
Go with the flow, keep them smiling. Learn how to start real work at the right moment. 99% observation, 1% piano teacher: the opposite ratio is a recipe for disaster.