Child Pianists Are Like Guide Dogs
If I said to you, "Child pianists are like guide dogs," you'd probably ask for an explanation. My office overlooks streets where guide dogs are trained. A common sight is a trainer with a dog, learning the various skills the dogs must master. I see the dog-trainer teams gather for a rest near their van, which delivers them to the city streets for the training. You can see the dogs close up and I must say I’ve never seen dogs smile quite so much as these happy animals.
As I walked by another team, I saw the trainer gently pull on the dog’s harness and whisper something to the dog. The dog smiled and stopped. The trainer handed the dog a treat. Suddenly it occurred to me, “If only all piano teachers were as patient as these trainers, then all the kids taking piano would be as happy as these animals.”
And patience was the key. You could see that the trainers were very gentle and calm. They never used any negative reinforcement. The proof of this was the smile on the dogs face. The trainers whispered gently to the dogs. That's exactly what I do with children during lessons. And another thing that struck me was the similarity of the smile on the dogs and the children’s faces.
A Sign Of Trust
It was a calm, happy smile of contentment, knowing that they were doing well at whatever their instructor had in mind. You could see the trust between the dog and the trainer. It is the same bond of trust the piano teacher must have with a child. In essence, the child must trust that you will not go too fast and will not be negative.
Imagine the result with the dogs if you were impatient and negative. They would sense it in a second, and would probably be impossible to train or handle in that mood.
Constant Correction Breeds Unease
It’s the same with kids. How do you expect them to do their job calmly and well if they are stressed by the teacher’s behavior and evaluation? A much wiser approach is to simply view the lesson time as an opportunity to interest the child in music, not make a Carnegie Hall star out of them. The teachers of guide dogs are not trying to make Show Dogs out of the animals, they are trying to use kindness to teach the animals the skills they will need.
No Single Piano Lesson Matters
A general rule is that no single piano lesson will make a pianist out of a kid. Not even a thousand lessons will do that. But you can show them that the piano is a fun place to be. The wise piano teacher goes at the pace of the child, even if that is the pace of a snail. That is the only way to gain their undivided attention and personal loyalty.
Use Humor, Not Discipline
Substitute humor for discipline. Find ways to get the child engaged with the piano in their own way. Do you buy a child a toy and then angrily say, "Here's the only way to play with it!" No, you give them the toy and see what their childish brain can make out of it. If they need help, give it to them happily and with a nurturing sense.
Look at the picture of the dog at the top of the page. Do you get the sense that this animal has been rushed, intimidated and forced to form a negative image of themselves? No, they get a little doggie cookie every time they do something well. Every time they fail, they simply and gently do the task again. Keep smiling, kids, so you can lead us blind adults.