Overcoming Frustration in Piano Students
Overcoming frustration in piano students is a problem you should never let develop. Be clever enough that the child never enters the frustration zone. As soon as you see them step across that threshold, you have to quickly figure out what it is that they need to know.
From a creative piano teacher’s point of view, a child who is frustrated hasn’t been properly prepared for the task at hand. It’s the teacher’s fault, not the kid’s. Back off, regroup, break the ice, change the mood. A frustrated kid is telling you that you’re going too fast.
If They Falter, You Haven’t Prepared
As soon as you see them falter, you should realize they are not prepared for the next step. Think of a sheep dog. They watch both the herd and the fringe of the herd, looking for anyone that starts to wander off.
You must do the same, watching always for what they don’t understand, but never letting them know they haven’t got it.
Cleverly Constructed Victories
The child’s deficiency at the piano serves one purpose. To tell you what to teach, not what to punish them for. Done properly, piano lessons are a set of cleverly constructed victories into which the teacher has gently led the child.
The only question is, “How high the hurdles?” That is easily answered with each individual child. You can feel when a child starts to lose understanding. When that happens, pull back.
How High To Set The Hurdles
Today I taught a bright 5 year old. He can’t really figure out the complexities of reading music beyond finding Middle C, and this is a bright boy. And he can’t comprehend fingering beyond the first three fingers of the hand, which he can barely control.
I could push him, but if I do, I feel him shrink back. He tries as best he can to keep up, but he’s just not ready. What do you do? If he can’t read music or understand fingering, there’s not much left you can teach him, right? Wrong.
Give Better Preparation
You should change direction and teach every precursor skill you can find. We play memorization games, fingering games, counting games, listening games.
There’s an endless list of skills that need to be filled in before any child can really start the “standard” curriculum. Thus, realizing that the child needed “precursor” work, we switched course immediately, and solidified those skills until he is ready. He wants to learn now, and you should find a curriculum that suits his immediate needs.
Time Is On Your Side, Use It
Most of all, what kids need is time. It takes lots of time for a young mind to grasp some things. If you expect comprehension on the order of an adult, you shouldn’t be teaching children’s piano. Using this rule, I give them time. I come back to things very briefly to see if it has “marinated” long enough in their brain.
Just keep gently repeating what it is you want, and know when to back off immediately. Most of all, show don’t tell. Kids hate lengthy explanations. If you can’t make a fun game out of it, you’ll have to wait until they are ready. After all, it’s the child’s piano lesson, not yours.