Teaching Piano to “Wiggly-Pants” William
We all have at least one student who can’t seem to sit still, listen, or focus on one thing at a time. We have to keep telling them what to do. You ask them to play their five finger C scale and they start talking about the Nick Jr. show they watched that morning. You try to explain note values, and they start looking around the room as if you aren’t talking at all. You’ve tried everything! The last thing we want to do is let a student go. Giving up on students is setting a bad example. Most of the time we teachers just need to reevaluate what we’re doing and try something new. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results, right? Below are some ways we can keep our students engaged and encourage them to learn how to control their energy.
Set the tone for the piano lesson
Children mirror our actions and energy levels. If you match the energy level of a Wiggly William, they’re going to mirror that energy the whole lesson(fun, huh?) This method can also be applied to our daily lives. For example, if you have children, would you have a dance party right before bedtime? If you don’t want your student too distracted or pumped up for a lesson, do you think you would act like a football coach?
Pay close attention to the student and innovate
What are they really saying or thinking? If you’re trying to clap quarter notes with them and they would rather talk about their new red ball or the Nick Jr. show they just watched, what is going on here? Most of the time this is nothing against you as the teacher. They are just telling you they need more interaction. Sometimes they need connections from their world to the music world. Try using that new red ball to bounce consistent note values with them. When does their mind start drifting? Is it during that dreadful method book song that they hate? You’re more than welcome to find another way to practice that, but maybe skip it and move on to something they like. You can always come back to it later. When we teach our children, we have to remember there is plenty of time to get every topic in!
Try implementing off the bench activities
Think outside of the box. Some great activities to keep students motivated are music games (create your own or check out Pinterest and Youtube), flashcards(you can even make these yourself), and educational videos. As long as they’re learning, it’s okay if students don’t feel like they’re having a music “lesson”!
Strengthen their listening skills
Do activities that stimulate their minds and require them to listen and be in the moment. You can listen to different genres of music with them, and have them talk about what they heard. Ask questions such as, “does this song sound sad?” “What story do you think the composer is trying to tell?” “What instruments do you hear?” More great tools I have found to work are “repeat-after-me” games.
One or more of these methods may not work for every child, but keep in mind that sometimes they need something fresh and new. Try different methods, or come up with your own. It is our responsibility as music teachers to be creative, innovative, and determined. Most importantly, be patient. Just because one method doesn’t work for one child doesn’t mean that another won’t. Our job is a continuous learning experience for ourselves and our students.