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. 

 

 

 

Thomas, age 7 tries Sight Reading Flashcards

A few weeks ago we watched Natalie as she used my Sight Reading Flashcards for the first time. Now we have a chance to watch her twin brother Thomas give it a try. It's interesting to see how differently they approach the same task. Natalie is more serious, Thomas jokes and pranks his way through. Both of them learn all the concepts they need to, and both have a good time.

Here's a peek behind the scenes at my studio this week: 

Having the right materials can make all the difference in your ability to teach sight reading, and your students' success. 

Get your copy of Sight Reading Flashcards (with a studio license) here. 

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!

First Lesson in Sight Reading

It's never too early to start being a good sight reader.

Sight reading is all about getting rid of those little voices inside your head that say, "Is this actually an F? I'm probably wrong." It's all about getting an automatic keyboard response to the visual cue of the music.

This is a short video I shot of my student, Natalie, working for the first time on my Sightreading Flashcards. This shows us working on the very first set—just reading landmark notes in quarter and half notes. It is simple, but challenging for a young student. 

Be sure to watch to the end where there's a little extra footage of a surprise at her lesson the week before. Enjoy!

Get your copy of Diane Hidy's Sight Reading Flashcards here.

Beethoven and Beyonce

I got this email last month from the parent who was hoping I'd take his son as a transfer student. His son is twelve years old.

There are a couple of reasons we would like to make a change. His current teacher chooses pieces for him from the core classical repertory, and challenging ones -- not quite beyond him, but requiring months of work. Jimmy keeps at it and brings his pieces to a pretty good level, but it's not as interesting for him as it could be. I've occasionally asked his teacher for some lighter choices, to give Jimmy some easier successes and a broader musical diet. (He loves Ludovico Einaudi and Joe Hisaishi, but his teacher wouldn't want to work on that music with him.) 

I'd like to say that these emails are rare, but they're not. I get them all the time. It seems like teachers around the world are busy teaching students things that they're "supposed to" be teaching, while neglecting to teach their students pieces they'd love to play.

Out of frustration with this sort of thinking, I made this video. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

Profoundly Gifted

I had a mother call me once and tell me that her child was "profoundly gifted." 

I was concerned. As the mother of two reasonably bright children myself, one of whom had spoken in complete sentences at 18 months, ("Mommy, do octopuses have testicles or just tentacles?" he asked while I was changing his diaper.)

I was sure it was a bad sign. A parent who had bought into a label she thought would bring her child joy and fulfillment. 

Oops.

In response to that call and interview that followed it, I made this little video. 

Advice to an Aspiring Pianist

THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE I HAVE FOR ANY YOUNG MUSICIAN IS TO IMMEDIATELY STOP THINKING OF YOUR FELLOW STUDENTS AS YOUR "COMPETITION." SOON THEY WILL BE YOUR MOST VALUED FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES.

A college freshman recently wrote to me and asked if I had any advice for an aspiring young pianist. In the following advice, I'm not factoring in the "state of classical music." Music will always be a part of our lives. Some people will earn their living as musicians. I consider myself fortunate to be one of them.

I WISH SOMEONE HAD SAID TO ME:

Imagine yourself as a 50-year-old. I know it's hard, but try. It will happen.

And sooner than you can possibly imagine.

If you continue on your current path, where will it take you?

CONCERTS

If you enjoy performing, do you prefer to play solo concerts? Do you enjoy the hours of solo practice and the stress of concert life? Do you hope to play concertos with orchestras? (That's a difficult way to make money - you'd better like to be on the road.)

If you're considering a career that includes large amounts of travel, I suggest repeated viewings of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Remember, it was made in the days before hourlong screening lines at airport.

CHAMBER MUSIC

If you like to play Chamber Music, do you also have excellent social skills? How's your Emotional Intelligence? The hardest part of holding an ensemble together isn't musical. It's getting along with the same people day after day doing work that can be tedious, exhausting and often under-appreciated. Throw in some travel and you've got a recipe for disaster. Have you learned to give and receive criticism with skill and tact? Both are important. If you don't say anything of critical substance, rehearsals will be smooth and silky. Of course, your ensemble will sound atrocious, but you'll all feel great during the rehearsals.

TEACHING

If you hope to teach are you taking full advantage of every opportunity to learn to be the best teacher you can? Take that pedagogy class seriously. It may be the only genuinely practical class you take in college. Being able to recite and discuss the Beethoven Sonatas by Opus number and nickname may seem crucial at the moment, but you may wish you'd listened when your pedagogy teacher was discussing the differences between the piano methods of Faber and Piano Town by Diane Hidy & Keith Snell. You'll wish you knew names like Frances ClarkJames and Jane Bastien, and William Gillock. Not to mention Robert Vandall and Elissa Milne.

COMPOSITION

What kind of music do you like to write? Can you find a way to market that music? With the internet available now, the opportunities for self-marketing are endless as long as you're willing to do them. Finding a publisher and persuading them to hire you is no longer the only way to market yourself. 

SOCIAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Are you someone who likes to be alone or do you like more social situations? Do you want to live in a big city or somewhere more rural? Is that location important to you? Do you want a relationship and/or a family? I gave up on the idea of a university teaching job because I was unwilling to live anywhere but San Francisco. Even for a year or two. That limited my options. I have colleagues, however, who are extremely happy in places I would never want to live. I'm thinking of Michael GurtSandra Shapiro, Boris Slutsky andThomas Hecht,  to name only a few. These are all brilliant musicians who live places I would not. (Baton Rouge Louisiana, Cleveland Ohio, Baltimore Maryland and Singapore respectively.) One of my favorite people in the world, Frederic Chiu, lives with his wife, Jeanine, at Beechwood Arts in Connecticut. I could live there, but I'll have to settle for visiting.

Think about what you LOVE to do. What feeds your soul and makes you thrive? I love being around people. I have developed a community of families with whom I have long-term, close relationships. That's the main reason why I stopped pursuing a concert career and focused on a locally-centered life. (That, and I really like plants. Seriously.)

 I earned money the summer before I went to Juilliard as a singer/dancer at an amusement park. The performing experience was invaluable, and it gave me great appreciation for tap dancers.I'm fourth from the right. Yeah. Really. It was a very long time ago.

I earned money the summer before I went to Juilliard as a singer/dancer at an amusement park. The performing experience was invaluable, and it gave me great appreciation for tap dancers.I'm fourth from the right. Yeah. Really. It was a very long time ago.

I played a lot of concerts after I won the American Pianist Association fellowship. After while I didn't like being on the road. I wanted to have a family. I loved teaching. Each person is different. I have made a career by recording, teaching, playing concerts and writing teaching materials for pianists. Sometimes I also play for theater and do improv with an amazing group of improvisers. When I was at Juilliard I tried to hide things like my hidden talent for playing by ear and not really liking Liszt. Now I just laugh and say, "Hey, you know what? The best Liszt is any Liszt played by someone else!"

 Wink Martin, the host of Tic-Tac-Dough. I won $14,000 in cash and prizes in the fall before I entered the Van Cliburn Competition.

Wink Martin, the host of Tic-Tac-Dough. I won $14,000 in cash and prizes in the fall before I entered the Van Cliburn Competition.

 

I've also worked as an accompanist, paid vocal soloist, a side-kick on a live radio show (I did this for 10 years and I met my husband there!) and on-stage in a theater production with Bebe Neuwirth. I even earned the money to prepare for the Van Cliburn competition by going on a game show. There is no "right" way. There is only "your" way - which will only work for YOU!

YOU'LL FIND YOUR WAY, BUT YOU HAVE TO FIND IT BY BEING YOURSELF AND NOT WHAT ANYONE ELSE THINKS YOU SHOULD BE.