One Half Hour a Week

Here is an example of one day in the week of one of my 10-16 year old piano students:

Wake up at 6 am. On the school bus at 6:50 am. In the classroom at 7:20 am.  In school until 2:50 pm. Soccer practice right after school. Piano lesson at 5:00. Swim practice every evening until 9:30.  Homework until 11:30 pm. Go to bed and start the whole thing over the next day.

No wonder I’ve heard on more that one occasion, “I don’t have time to do the things I want to do.”

Or, as a first grade student recently told me, “My favorite time in school is when we get a time-out so I can put my head down and it’s quiet.”

So what can we piano teachers do in that half-hour from 5:00 to 5:30 every Wednesday afternoon?

Several rounds of Hanon? Nail down the fingering for the f# minor melodic scale? Maybe throw in some Pischna for good measure and finish off with a read through (since there was no practicing) of a couple of Bach Inventions?

Maybe, but I doubt that’s the best way to inspire the overbooked student – one who we all hope will come away from piano lessons with a love of music. One who will attend orchestra concerts and recitals. One who as an adult will sit down at the piano after a busy day at work and read through those Bach Inventions for pleasure.

Unfortunately, most of our piano students are required to spend the better part of their day in what Sir Ken Robinson calls the killers of creativity – the “factory-style” schools born of the Industrial Revolution. This is the very generation of students that has been called the Creative Generation. They are part of a much larger world than the world we grew up in where information is spread faster then ever before and connections are made instantly. They are musicians and artists, collaborators and composers. They are not exactly suited for our current educational system.

In the meantime, private piano teachers are lucky not to be slaves to  standardized testing, lesson planning, and large class sizes.  We actually can make a difference and we can start now. We can make that 1/2 hour time slot an oasis of creativity in each students’ week.

Jeroen Boschma, co-author of Generation Einstein, says this new generation understands our new world better than we do. They are one step ahead of us in many ways.  We will work best with our students when we let them inspire us. When we respect them we will get the respect back.  When we admit we don’t know something we will encourage them to help us find a solution. In other words,  as Jeroen says,  just “be real and be yourself.”

I’ve found that the more dialogue I have in the lesson with my students about what direction they want to go with their music, the more open they become with me and the more we get accomplished. Whether it’s putting together a solo recital for friends and family, finding the best way to practice a difficult piece, or learning a new musical skill – we’re able to work together without one-sided lectures to make that 1/2 hour each week something special.

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