Empowering Students on their First Lesson

Weekly Teaching Tip – Oct. 23, 2017
by Aimee Geddes

As I have been helping some of my students in the IVTOM accreditation process, I have been made aware of things that I have learned and relied on for successful teaching.

Something that has been on my mind lately as I’ve worked with these teachers and I’ve also been made aware of as we’ve been getting my own children set up with new piano teachers this year, is the language, both verbal and non-verbal, used in the first lesson.

The fastest way to derail a student and sabotage a new relationship is to judge the student’s previous training. Becoming defensive in your posture and tone of voice shows your insecurities and not their “good” or “bad” previous training.

As I watched my daughter with two different piano teachers I noticed that one, who was less experienced but totally energetic about teaching made some honest mistakes that unknowingly crushed my daughter’s enthusiasm for playing. She assumed my daughter didn’t know how to read music and made a comment like “I don’t know why you’d want to teach students to play by ear first, instead of read notes first.” She probably should have kept this comment to herself. We drove home with my daughter in tears.

The next teacher we went to was very experienced and has been teaching for over 35 years. He has a kind and gentle demeanor and is also excited about teaching, but is very calm and you wouldn’t know how much he loves music just by looking at him. The first thing he did when she played her first piece was to compliment her hand position. He didn’t say anything about what she couldn’t do, he focused on what she COULD do. She became receptive to his coaching and was eager to do her assignments at home.

That is the main point of my tip. If you want to gain trust and empower your students on the very first lesson, focus on what they can do and are doing well.

Suggestions for compliments:

– Wow, you have so much energy when you sing!
– You have beautiful “Oh” vowels (or pick any vowel or word that they did well)
– I can’t believe how fast you picked that up!
– You are so expressive in your eyes when singing
– I can tell you really love this kind of music
– You have so much natural style!
– You are fairly consistent throughout (this is good when they are consistently yelling or consistently breathy. You give them a compliment on what you are going to fix, but don’t make them feel like they are bad because of it. It’s just an observation.)
– You are doing great! This is only your first lesson?

If you notice, all of these compliments are open ended and allow the student to fill in the blank. You just need to act excited when you say them and smile. You are being perfectly honest when delivering these comments and you open the gate for gentle correction that leads them in the right direction. They now trust you and want to sing for you and listen to what you have to say.

I’d like to know what other comments and compliments you give students to help them thrive and give them the confidence to keep going (no matter how long the road looks from your perspective.)

Happy teaching!

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