Pick One: Ignore the Rest

Imagine this: 

You've finally decided to clean up the kitchen. You don't want to but you're going to. As you stand, up to your elbows in soapy water, your spouse strolls into the room and announces, "You know, the bedroom is UNUSUALLY messy today." 

That's exactly how your student feels when you ask him to do more than one thing at a time. He feels unseen, (he was already doing his best which you didn't seem to notice) and he's confused.

Should he keep trying to do what he was doing?

Are you adding this to the task?

(Should you be trying to make the bed AND wash the dishes at the same time?) 

This video is a particularly successful example of working on only thing at a time. The student, Cole, is wonderfully diligent, careful, and completely understands his task. 

We were using Feeling Thirds to get him used to skipping over fingers to play thirds with different parts of his hand. This is his 6th lesson and he is nine years old. He has excellent natural rhythm, which is not evident here. Remember, one thing at a time. 

These are among the things I chose to ignore:

  • wildly flailing fingers 
  • collapsed joints
  • goofy rhythm
  • inconsistent tone quality

I didn't ask him to maintain an excellent hand position while playing. He's not strong enough yet.

I only asked him to do one thing: return his hand to an excellent hand position when he was done with each phrase.

By making each phrase a self-contained unit, we are teaching breathing at the end of the phrase.

Even more important,  we're giving him individual, discrete tasks: each one capable of being done successfully.  

After we finished this, we moved on to transforming C Major into C Minor. He loved doing it with the animals. We also discussed how to line up the animals in a "V" shape so his fingers will be more comfortable playing the black key. We left the animals on the keys as a reference for his hand. Kids would far rather be "corrected" by a set of brightly colored animals.

Are there any students who are up to the elbows in dishwater and you're asking them to clean the bedroom?

Be kind. Pick one. Ignore the rest.


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Cole using Japanese Puzzle Erasers to teach himself how to transform major into minor. 


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