When You Want to Teach One Sibling, but Not the Other

My mother with the three youngest kids in our family. I'm the baby in her arms.

What a dilemma. I faced just this situation a few years ago when a mother came to me with three children. I immediately wanted to teach the older daughter and the younger daughter, but didn't want to teach the boy in the middle. There were lots of reasons why I wanted to teach the oldest and the youngest—they were interesting children, completely ready for lessons and I immediately liked them. They'd had some "lessons" with another teacher, but I could tell right away that they would be successful piano students.

The boy was completely different. He was definitely hovering at the edge of the autism spectrum and had great difficulty controlling himself. That wasn't what actually mattered in making this decision. Yes, he had some physical challenges that would make piano playing difficult for him. But even more important was the fact that he was fiercely competitive with both of his sisters. Even in the interview, he compared himself to them constantly. Trying to teach the three of them would have set him up for nothing but frustration. 

Years ago I might have thought the only options were to take all of them or none of them. I've gotten wiser in my dotage.

Here was my solution:

I took the mother out for coffee. Sometimes it's easier to have difficult conversations in person. You can make eye contact and use non-verbal cues to convey your sincerity and warmth. Email can be particularly treacherous in situations like this, especially if you're just getting to know someone.

We met in a Starbucks to discuss the situation. I explained why I thought that having all three kids playing the same instrument was, in this case, not advised. I clarified exactly why I thought that playing the piano, specifically, would be more challenging for him than it would be for his sisters.

She agreed with me that he was too competitive to tolerate watching his sisters shoot ahead as he struggled. He needed something that, by definition, would make him special and make comparisons more difficult. I felt that it would be better if her son played a completely different instrument and suggested the guitar. (The guitar is easier to play, especially at the beginning, and almost impossible to compare to the piano.) I was completely honest with her about my assessment of the situation. And though I was kind and understanding, having raised a difficult boy myself, I didn't offer to take on her son as my student. I took the girls and, as I'd predicted, they did quite well. 

Here's the thing: if you can see heading into a situation that it won't be successful, follow your instincts.

Any healthy parent would always prefer your honest opinion as long as you are kind, gracious, and offer another solution that will work better. You'll be doing no one a favor if you teach a child that you think isn't a good fit, even if the siblings are studying with you. It's far better to follow your heart and speak the truth kindly. 

 

 

 

How I Create my Studio Calendar

Hi Diane,
I'm a piano teacher in Orange County and have been working on building a website for my studio. I really love the calendar feature of your website because it is very clear and easy to make sure all the students receive the same number of lessons. Would you mind sharing with me which calendar you use? Thank you for your help.

Sincerely, 
Carolyn

I create my studio calendar using  google docs. I exported the document as a pdf and put it up on my website. (Full disclosure, I had to turn it into a jpeg to post it to my site.)

I made mine look a little fancy by using a cool site called canva.com that you might enjoy exploring. If you don't want to be this ambitious, just download your calendar as a pdf. You can print it and hand it out to your students if you don't have a website of your own. 

Here's a link to my 2017/2018 calendar. This should be an editable copy, so please feel free to use and modify as you need. Under the pull-down "File" menu, simply "Make a Copy" and you can then edit your personal copy to suit your own needs. 

Click here for a video about teaching slurs using role reversal AND some Halloween music inspiration!

Throw Out Your Ruler

"So, Diane,  tell me - is Ellen in your top three?"

Ellen, a seventh grader, was a new transfer student. She'd come from the prestigious preparatory division of a big-city conservatory. (Her parents had told me that in their first phone call.) She'd only been with me a few months. Her dad, a stock broker, was anxious to know how she compared to my other students.

"Hmm...to be honest, I wouldn't...

Read More

Cole "Cleans Up His Hand"

Cole started piano lessons a few months ago.

"When you've made a huge mess playing with your Legos, what does your Mom or Dad tell you to do?"

"Clean them UP!" replied Cole.

"When we play the piano, it's just the same with our fingers. Sometimes our hands get messy and into some pretty goofy positions. The best thing to do is to clean up our hands so they're ready to play again the next time."

Sounds simple, and it works remarkably well. Since younger beginners have such a hard time maintaining a solid hand position WHILE they're playing, I suggest that they try to RETURN to a healthy hand position when they've finished their piece. 

With enough reinforcement and practice, this hand position will become their new norm. 

What's on your wish list this year? Mine has some pretty yummy things.

Halloween's Magic

Leo has always loved Halloween. This year he out did himself!

A Halloween Recital can be just the boost you and your students need heading into the winter months. Because Halloween falls so early in the fall semester (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) it takes a little planning. You'll have to hit the ground running in the fall, but it's completely worth it.

The studio fireplace decorated by the students this year.

If you've never done a Halloween recital before, pencil one into your teaching calendar for next year. Spend the year tucking away pieces that amuse and charm you and in October you will be ready to have a recital experience that will :

  • Give your students of all ages a practical, substantial and light-hearted performance opportunity early in the year. This is especially useful for new transfer students and absolute beginners.
  • Afford your students a myriad of ways to explore sounds and modes in an appealing, nonjudgmental way.
  • Engage your students' imaginations and free you, the teacher, from concerns about assessments and auditions. 
  • Expose you and your students to the wide range of of fabulous Halloween music. 

Added bonus: It's hard to get worried about one's performance when dressed as a shark.

 New kid in the studio meeting the other girls her age.

New kid in the studio meeting the other girls her age.

At our first master class of the year, we decorate the studio for Halloween. It's an excellent way to build community within the studio as younger and older kids help each other transform the usually much more conservative studio space.

 Mary working on the cobwebs in 2015

Mary working on the cobwebs in 2015

I schedule the recital on the Sunday afternoon before Halloween, whenever that may come. We follow it with a big potluck supper. (Another chance to build community.) 

 The twins in true Halloween spirit.

The twins in true Halloween spirit.

Here are some highlights from my studio's 2015 Halloween Recital. What will yours look like next year? 

Pieces in the Video:

 Sabine and Iliana in 2014

Sabine and Iliana in 2014

 

 Be sure to check out my new  Holiday Wish List for 2015 .

Be sure to check out my new Holiday Wish List for 2015.

 Decorating in 2014

Decorating in 2014