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Reverse Psychology and Children's Piano

Reverse psychology and children's piano go hand in hand. You not only have to lead the horse to water. You have to get that horse to drink the water. Some children can be guided directly to an appreciation of playing the piano. Others cannot be approached directly and need to discover it on their own, usually as part of a humorous game. Humor is almost always a part of this ploy. Here are common situations and reverse responses.

I Don't Want To Play

Say, "Neither do I. Let's not." The child will be very surprised. Tell them there is a secret device that will explode or emit a terrible smell if they play Middle C. They won't want to play that, will they? Block them physically from playing and beg them not to hit the Middle C button. Once they play that, add other keys and claim it's a secret spy code. From another planet. Demand they memorize it. Sooner or later they will have played enough notes for a song. Put it all together, and you have a child making music in spite of their stated desire for the opposite.

Just Don't Make It Boring

What they are really saying: "I don't mind playing but don't make it boring, and see if you can engage my mind instead of just my obedience." In such cases I also play a game called The Atomic Piano Lesson. The child is on the sofa. They don't want to budge.

The Atomic Piano Lesson

They want to play ipad or watch TV. So you tell them to stay on the sofa, you'll just ask one thing. ""Stretch out your arm and play a C chord," I say like a carnival barker. They laugh and look up. "I can't reach," they say from fifteen feet away from the piano. "Well, then, just explain it to me, and I'll play the C chord," I say, luring them into my snare of logic. They hum and haw and then say, "Play three keys down there, the lowest one is C, then skip a key until you have two other skips above the C."

Drawing On The Bank

Obviously, we have worked a lot on chords previous to this incident, but now I am "drawing on the bank" of that hard work previously done. Eventually, they find that interacting with me is actually more interesting than the ipad or TV. And if you lose, you lose. You have to find a way to get them to the piano, not with guilt, not with threats, but with humor and wit.

I Don't Like This Song

Say, "Neither do I, it's a terrible song. Worst song I ever heard. What's a great song you like and would like to play?" Be prepared to play four dozen songs until you find one the child likes. If it turns into Name That Song so be it, but there's a lot to be learned from a session of Name That Song. Sometimes, if the book they are reading from is old or discardable, I tear out the page they don't like, which always startles them. No one rips a textbook.

Surprise Them With Things Teachers Don't Do

Find a song then child likes and then be clever enough to disguise learning it as a game. If you can't do that, you shouldn't be teaching children's piano. What kids are really saying: "I thought music was pleasurable. You deliver drudgery." Here are a few further rules or pointers:

The Only Possible Reaction Is Amusement

No matter what happens, it is a cause for amusement. If you are disappointed the child didn't practice, express it wryly, humorously, in a way the child can understand. And with no tone of guilt, which is the opposite of what they are expecting. The point is, your anger or sourness isn't ever going to get them to practice. Finding a way to interest them will get them to play. Perhaps later, to practice.

Sweet Works, Sour Doesn't

Always go with their suggestion. For example, if a child idly plays a bit of a song by themselves it means they are interested in it. Drop whatever curriculum you have prepared and work on that song and see where it leads. Often you can find a way to use the song to subtly illustrate the very curriculum you were about to teach. Never leave a lesson with the child feeling guilty or down. A child remembers how the lesson felt emotionally. Leave them feeling that you had a fun time, tried to learn a few things, and wouldn't mind trying it again. Four dozen piano lessons later, you'll be glad you did.

Kids Fear Anger

Never forget that most children's secret fear is that the piano teacher may get mad and humiliate them. Once you establish that this will never happen, the sky is the limit, and you have a willing candidate who can work at his or her own speed, with occasional gentle prodding. Children at the piano are expecting drudgery. Reverse psychology demands that, instead, they get absurd, uplifting fun. Train them to expect that, and you have a budding pianist.

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