My mom always tells the story of how she signed me up for piano lessons at such a young age because I was a perfectionist. If something didn’t come easily to me, I became frustrated and ridiculously upset. It was when she watched me try to jump rope for the first time and sob hysterically at the fact that I couldn’t do it that she realized I needed to learn that not everything comes instantly. Sometimes you have to work for it.
As a mom, that is one of the things I see the most growth in when it comes to my own daughter. She displayed many of those same perfectionistic qualities (I don’t know where she got them from). When she first began piano, she would dramatically throw herself down at the piano bench and begin crying if she couldn’t play a piece perfectly on the first try.
It definitely took some patience and creativity on my part to help her work through her frustrations. It took time for her to comprehend that learning a piece of music is something that can take days, weeks and months! Three years in, she still has her moments. Overall, however, it’s much easier to help her work through her frustrations instead of giving up right away.
Working with her — and with many other younger students who can become easily frustrated — has helped me realize that sometimes our kids need creative ways to practice piano.
Students can practice piano without actually being at the piano and still work on skills using a different approach. Focusing on a play-based, relational activity that still has music at the forefront might a better use of time.
Here are some ways to practice piano WITHOUT having to sit at the piano bench.
Practice with Rhythm Instruments.
If you’re a student of mine in Busy Kids Do Piano, you may have noticed that throughout the course, I often recommend use of rhythm instruments. Students who come to my studio for group classes use the drums or tambourines at almost every single lesson. Why?
Well, they’re super fun, and often the highlight of my classes. Plus, trying to hit the right note out of 88 keys can be overwhelming. Practicing with a rhythm instrument helps student focus ONLY rhythm accuracy. This can be difficult when a child is trying to think about everything else he has to do correctly when playing.
For a child who is discouraged with trying to count and maybe ready to throw a metronome through a wall, playing the drums can be just the playful distraction that you need!
Do an art project!
I know this might sound completely unmusical, but doing an art project actually helps develop fine motor skills. Dexterity and finger independence are an important part of learning to play piano! One of the things that can be so frustrating to a young beginner is trying to get his fingers to stay round and firm and move independently of one another.
Playing the C Major scale might feel like a lot of work to your kiddo. Doing things such as coloring, cutting, squeezing a glue bottle, and pasting objects strengthen fingers without feeling like work.
Look for creative ways to tie art into reviewing certain theory concepts or teaching specific elements of a piece your child is working on. If he has a piece that is forte, ask him to draw a picture of something that is loud. Write out all the letter names of the notes and have him cut them out and place the letter names on the keyboard. Ask him to cut and paste pictures from magazines of things that are soft (piano) to make a collage of pictures that sounds like his piece.
Sing the melody of a piece using solfege.
My students LOVE to sing. Teaching them solfege (Do-Re-Mi, etc.) has helped develop their musical ears to recognize distinct pitches. Taking the music away from the piano and analyzing it to match the notes with solfege syllables will help your student begin to recognize note names without even realizing he’s doing it!
Watch the piece on YouTube.
While not every single piece your child has learned will be so renowned that it is on YouTube, many pieces will be. If it isn’t up there, look for some fun music that is! Even if you can’t find his exact piece, the act of spending a few undistracted moments together listening to music might be just the thing your child needs to soothe his discouragement. Seeing a skilled musician play music might renew his motivation and excitement about learning the piano in the first place!
As your child’s musical companion, you may become frustrated when your child becomes frustrated. Take a deep breath, focus on the big picture, and try to find ways to help your child feel successful and confident.
Even if it means walking away from the piano for a bit.