We don’t often post on Fridays – after a busy week I think we are all looking forward to the weekend! But today I had something that’s been on my mind all week and I just had to share before I close up the studio for the weekend.
This week I’ve been noticing a specific part of my teaching and thinking about how much it impacts the student. The introduction of each piece. Will Rogers said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” To me, this applies to my introduction of pieces each week. My job is to make piano as appealing and exciting as I can. Yes, practicing can be boring and it takes a lot of discipline to master a new piece. Yet each week we are sending home assignments for new technique, new method book pieces, new sight reading pages, new repertoire assignments and more. And often our students come back with a good part of these assignments having been practiced and partially or fully mastered.
As I’ve watched students over the years, I’ve noticed that usually 50-75% of the assignments seem to be mastered well enough to move on. The rest get a quick review – sometimes there’s something they didn’t understand very well, sometimes there’s a technical skill that they need help with, and sometimes they just weren’t that interested in that piece… As piano teachers we make adjustments continually, and it’s something we become quite good at for each individual student. So I started thinking about how important my part is in preparing them to go home. Did I set them up for success with that assignment or that new piece? Was my introduction sufficient or is that where my teaching was lacking?
When I started paying specific attention to this detail of my teaching, it opened my eyes to the ways I introduce pieces. Now I know when I observed teachers during my pedagogy class years, I vowed to never be the teacher who just turned the page in the method book and said, “Learn p. 34-36 this week. Remember to watch out for the new dotted quarter note rhythm…” Yet when we’re rushed for time and it’s the end of the lesson,… it just comes to this point sometimes doesn’t it?! So this week, I’ve been working on creative ways to make time for introducing pieces so I can send students home excited to open up that book again. I want them to feel the delight I feel in learning a new piece each week!
The first challenge I gave myself was to turn the introduction into a puzzle. When you solve a puzzle, there’s such a rush of adrenaline – you succeeded! Even these ice climbers love the thrill of solving a puzzle! So what if we gave that rush of solving the puzzle to students each week in lessons in small amounts? Not anything risky but something that just showed them, “Wow! I figured that out. I can figure the other part out on my own.” Sounds good right?!
My favorite way to do this with elementary students is to make a copy of their new piece ahead of time and then CUT IT UP. To demonstrate this, I introduced a cute beginner student to Jingle Bells this week and send her home with Susan Paradis’s pre-reading copy (love all of her resources!). Before lessons I quickly made a big printout of the first line of the song which I’m sharing as a free printable at the end of this post.
During lessons I announced we had a new exciting piece of Christmas music, I told my student that I needed her to look at the rhythms and help me put them in order. Boy did she love that! She quickly clapped out the four cards and showed me that the first rhythm repeats. Then she had them in order and we clapped while saying “ta”. Next we played it with finger numbers in the air and marked intervals right on the cards. Finally she was ready to play that line at the piano, and it was pretty much memorized by now. She said, “Jingle Bells is so easy! This is FUN!” We pulled out the full page (just the chorus in this pre-reading edition) and you can imagine her grin when she saw that third line looked just like the first line. She went home feeling the delight of that new Christmas piece and ready to conquer the puzzle on her own.
I hope you will take the time to change your introductions up this week! Try to turn a few pieces into puzzles! Or think of another way to introduce a piece that mixes it up for the student. Can’t wait to hear what you come up with!
Download my Jingle Bells cut out cards here: Jingle Bells Cutting Cards
Whitney Hawker, NCTM, teaches group and private piano at Weber State University, Utah. She loves surprising students with the perfect piece or a new exciting game! After graduate school, she missed sharing ideas and resources daily with colleagues so she and her friend, Spring, began blogging together at 4DPianoTeaching.com