Forget The Prize, It’s The Piano Teacher Game

As the founder of Lessons In Your Home I have the privilege of working with 100’s of teachers from across the country in a type of mentor-ship role. It’s one of the favorite things I do everyday. I can get a call from a teacher with a dilemma or situation that they may need help with and offer advice.

Piano Teacher
Piano Games

Recently I received a call from a piano teacher, Maria McDonald, who teaches in Atlanta, GA. She had an issue. One of her students, who has ADHD, wasn’t responding to her normal techniques that usually bring her a lot of success, and make her a favorite teacher of parents of piano students with ADHD.

The Question

I have a piano student with ADHD, he’s bored with his songs, and isn’t interested in rewards to make it to the next level. Add to this, his mom is feeling his frustrations and wants him to move on to the next book of piano music because he’s becoming increasing discouraged about continuing to play piano.
If you are a teacher or a parent of a private music student that needs rewards or games to get motivated, it’s smart to say that it’s either one or the other that makes him/her tic.

Piano Can Be A Game Instead

My advice was a technique I’ve used a bunch. In a nutshell when you have a piano student that doesn’t bite the reward bait, most of the time they enjoy the game rather then the Prize.

3 Times In A Row

In the lesson, break the challenge down. In this case hands separate for 2 measures. Be quick; don’t give your student time to be discouraged. Don’t give the Piano Lesson a second to be boring. You, the teacher, has to do the work.
“Ok, right hand lets go. Fix that rhythm, it’s like this (give the example and don’t teach to much… lead!), lets try it again, there you go (positive reinforcement), etc.” Feel the pace?
Now, without letting them know define the rule of the game. “Ok, now that you have those two measures, lets do them 3 times. If you make a mistake, and I’ll be the judge, the game resets and you owe me 3 all over again. Good, 2 more times… oops, that wasn’t right you’re back down to 0, lets go again.” Again, pace is everything; do not give them time to think.

The Game Is Natural

This game is the way a Piano Teacher practices, sometimes we don’t realize this but our repetition of a small idea until it is correct more then once in a row is the only way we moved through what we once could not do. It’s natural if you want to succeed but a lot, and I mean a lot of piano students don’t know if they want to succeed. We can’t change that, but what we can change practice, with the use of a game like this, its how a successful student practices naturally.

The Game of Piano Practice Continued

Now your students can do the right had, first two measures at a passable level of play. No time to dwell, on to the next hand. Same game, same intensity, times a-wasting! After the left hand reaches it’s goal then hands together. Now what? You got it, the next two measures, and same game. Right hand three times, left hand three times, hands together three times.

Lessons Over, What Will Your Piano Student Do?

This may be the most important part of the lesson. We (all the piano teachers in the world) want to write down an assignment of new sections or music that the student will need to work on and show us next week. WRONG! Don’t do it. Try this instead:
Instead of giving this student something new to do, give them what you have worked on during the game session. Nothing new. Do ask them to play the game (3 times correct before moving on) if they find themselves not able to play anymore what you already learned in the lesson.
If a student is having a tough time needing motivation to achieve, they most likely are not practicing, as we’d like. You also have already asked the parent (unsuccessfully) to help you help the student practice.

Change You The Piano Teacher, And Student’s Might Practice

Students not practicing and parents not enforcing piano music practice are things that you can’t change, but you can change your expectations of your student. Once a piano student feels the positive feeling of doing what you asked, in this case, what you’ve already done with them during the lesson. They just may learn to like the feeling of meeting your expectations. If you can gradually (serious on the gradually part) introduce, after many successful game type lessons, the idea of making up the next game (new music) on their own, you can teach a student to practice.
PS, it worked for Maria’s Student:).

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