The changing face of piano lessons
My early years as a piano teacher were about teaching music. My young students got music concepts easily. They ran rings around me those first few years, until I had enough teaching experience. Because they could remember what was taught even without practise and I’d get fooled into thinking they’d done their work!
They were flexible thinkers and asked questions when they couldn’t understand. I had a few students with learning issues later, and I wrote a post about them – ‘Coping with the overscheduled child in piano class’. But mostly, it was just about teaching music.
It’s so very different these days, as a lot of beginner level piano teachers now need to be skilled in remedial teaching. Because the percentage of children who struggle with learning and comprehension grows each year. Teachers in different parts of the world often notice the same trend.
‘Developed intelligence’ and the formative years
Those early years of teaching, I had students who had very high ‘developed intelligence’.
I say ‘developed’ because I believe that every child has a vast, often unexplored capacity to be creative and bright. All it takes is a learning environment that brings this out, ‘developing’ a child’s innate abilities.
My young students with very high ‘developed intelligence’ tended to come from families for whom education was about learning that started at home, and was later ‘built upon’ in school. And a lifestyle where families spent time talking to and interacting with children, without technology and television, during their early years.
- Early childhood routines in these families usually included bed-time stories, morning wake-up routines with conversation, and some singing, rhymes and little games.
- These families tended to keep television, cell-phones and iPads away from their young children and their children played and interacted with other children more, developing stronger motor skills, as well as social skills.
- Parents read to their children daily and later read ‘with’ them, until they’d learned to love reading and would read independently.
- These kids often learned to play with their toys independently, when they needed to keep busy because spending time glued to the television or cellphone was not an option for them.
Children learned to think and ask questions in their mother-tongue and this way of learning continued during kindergarten, even if English was a second language. Because their families made English language exposure a daily routine, so that their child’s ability to reason didn’t get hindered by poor English language skills when they were preschoolers.
Link : A very interesting TEDx talk by Aditi Avasthi about how learning layers on itself. Listen from 2.00 onwards.
These were families that understood that the first 5 years of a child’s life are the formative years. The most important part of a child’s development, during which their children learn ‘how’ to learn.
I hope this section helps those families that are looking to improve the quality of parent-child activities at home, and just don’t know how.
Difficulties many beginner piano students have :
- Quite a few students these days, from preschoolers to teenagers have difficulty copying easy actions. A basic exercise (I clap 4 times and asking my students to copy me) during the first piano lesson often confuses my beginners.
- Many take time to accept new ideas that are off ‘their’ regular thinking track.
- Many 10 to 12 year olds are poor readers and don’t get context when they read, because they read with poor punctuation.
Piano teachers today often need to combine piano teaching with special education skills in order to get across to students that have different learning needs. Students who appear to be slow at first, often develop into creative students with ideas of their own. After some time, they come to class with questions. That makes me happy, because this shows me that my student is thinking and trying to understand, rather than learning by rote.
There’s one very important factor that helps the piano teacher here – supportive parents that see value in music education, and a home environment that supports effective piano practise. It’s mostly the Piano Mom who’s responsible for this, that’s why I wrote A tribute to the Piano Mom’s
Why we need evaluations and assessments at Nursery and Kindergarten.
What really shocks me, is that many of these students who can’t copy basic actions, who can’t read well enough for their age, and who get totally confused with simple new ideas are students who do excellently in school here in Navi Mumbai!
I’ve had students who do well when they have a pattern recognition test, but can’t spot patterns they see unless they’re specifically told it’s a pattern recognition exercise and they need to find matching patterns. There’s something going wrong here.
Aren’t these things that should be assessed and caught at preschool and primary school level. Shouldn’t children need to have grade specific comprehension skills, before moving up to the next level?
The truth is, that our education system is so filled with academics and learning by rote, and has little room for children who are not so inclined. School hours are long, and filled with classroom sessions with little or no physical activity. Students with interests and hobbies other than the accepted academic pursuits don’t get credit for their talents. And they can get so busy with academics, often leaving their hobbies behind as the years advance. Losing touch with hobbies that could later be a vocation and a profession or a second career option if they want to change later.
Is assessment for learning difficulties necessary?
In this age of busy lifestyles, it’s really not surprising that remedial teaching is becoming a part of regular piano teaching.
Playing the piano requires the brain to multi-task, so piano teachers spot learning difficulties immediately. But talking to parents about getting their child assessed is a risk. Parents can get upset, afraid that a school system and a society that doesn’t tolerate differences will label their child for life. And they’re right, ‘cos that’s the way it often works here in India.
Remedial teaching works very well as long as there’s parent support. Children learn to think in piano class and this often flows into their lives, changing the way they do other things. These kids do fine without assessments for learning difficulties, as they have parent support to change.
Teachers here usually only recommend an assessment when they can see that a student is struggling and needs help, and is not getting it. It’s unfortunate that some parents prefer to think learning difficulties are a discipline issue and won’t follow through with an assessment.
And it’s unfortunate that our education system can’t catch these issues while they’re still small. When they’re really more of a lack in learning environments, and easily remedied.
The opinions expressed in this post are my own, based on my experience as a piano teacher. I have some experience teaching children with mild ADD, difficulties with comprehension, and mild reading difficulties and my teaching methods have evolved over the years, to include some remedial teaching.