Repeated Victory Will Make You Invincible
"Repeated victory will make you invincible," is a statement made by Stonewall Jackson to his soldiers. But it seems to apply to children at the piano as well. As a children's piano teacher, I strive to get a child to have the right attitude towards the instrument itself, for that is half the battle.
Have you ever seen a child in love with a toy they cannot operate? Of course not! The child will get frustrated and turn away. And it is the same with the piano. Thus one of your major objectives, in the beginning especially, is to engineer the child's experience of the piano so that "victory" is very easy to achieve.
Having achieved that victory, raise the bar. You can then make it a little harder, but never exceed that child's actual grasp.
Piano Is Easy
Lower The Bar Initially
If you confuse and frustrate the child, you achieve defeat for the child. Repeated defeat will inevitably lead to the end of the child's enthusiasm for the piano. Children quit piano at the rate of 90%. Their piano teacher, who adheres strictly to the standard "reading music" curriculum alone, has served them defeat after defeat.
Of course the child loses their enthusiasm. They're kids! So how do you maintain enthusiasm? By delivering victory to the child by any means necessary.
Approve The Child's Enthusiasm
Here's an example. I have a nine year-old student who is very, very bright, but personally not the best master of his time, tending to go on tangents and waste time. He learned a piece called Toccatina Twister, a fun teaching piece that kids actually enjoy. Over the course of a year, I would come back to that piece, over and over, asking him to play it for me.
After a while, he started adding bars, and repeated sections that he liked. It was fine musically, but it was not what was on the page. The truth is that his arrangement was far harder to play than what was on the page!
Correct Or Disapprove Honest Effort
There were two possible courses: I could correct him in fifty different spots, which would be difficult given the habits he had developed. And it would destroy his gusto for the piece. Or, let him play it the way he wanted. I did just that, telling him, "Hey, nice arrangement!" I gave him victory, snatched from the jaws of defeat.
What difference does it make if he repeats a bar or adds a section? If he were to play for the State Teachers Board they would tell him it was wrong and unacceptable to not follow the notes in the score. Guess what would happen to his childish enthusiasm then?
Reward Is Appropriate For Creativity
What did my approach reward him for?
The result was a child who wants to make music at the piano, on his own terms, with your expert guidance. Think about Stonewall Jackson leading his troops in the Civil War. He kept them from conflict where defeat was inevitable, and prepared and planned their actions so that they always produced victory. Repeated victory at the piano makes children enthusiastic.