If your child has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), you probably are aware that practicing piano presents challenges. I have worked with many piano students who have ADHD. One of my own children was also diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago. Piano practice for kids with ADHD does not look the same as it does for a typically developing child. I am happy to say that through my own experiences as a mom and piano teacher, I’ve discovered some truly effective strategies when it comes to piano practice for kids with ADHD.
ROUTINE IS IMPORTANT
Children with ADHD do best when they know what is coming. Developing a predictable practice routine is essential. For some of my younger students, we have used an app on my phone with visual schedules. (I personally use the “First Then” app.) For older students, I’ll write our schedule on a small dry erase board and allow them to erase the items as we work our way through the session. Having this structure also makes expectations clear for kids with behavioral challenges.
Piano practice for kids with ADHD shouldn’t necessarily take place ENTIRELY at a piano. Look for opportunities to move your bodies. Do things such as standing up and marching to the metronome beat of a piece.
One of the things I’ve learned from some of my children’s most effective school teachers: their classrooms are very simple. They don’t have colorful distractions everywhere. The lights are often dimmed and the toys, prize boxes, etc. are out of sight.
I’ve found that removing any distractions from my studio during lessons or piano practice for kids with ADHD is incredibly helpful. It keeps their attention focused on the task at hand. I keep the many rhythm instruments I own in a drawer to be pulled out when I’m implementing the whole “include movement” strategy. I close the lid of the keyboard when I’m talking so the student isn’t tempted to play. If a student is particularly wiggly or distractable, I’ll even remove the piano bench and have him stand for a portion of practice.
provide praise/rewards often
During piano practice for kids with ADHD, I am always on the look out for opportunities to give specific praise. Often, students with ADHD are being constantly redirected and told what NOT to do. I love having the chance to build them up during their piano practice.
Implementing rewards — and including them on the visual schedule — has also been a helpful way to keep students motivated and on task. At the beginning of a practice with a student, I will tell them what “jobs” we have to do for our time together. I will let him know that when he completes his “jobs”, he earns a prize. Usually I keep the prize music-related, such as playing the Note Rush app for 3 minutes or getting to play a favorite song. Some students respond well with sticker rewards or earning points towards a larger prize.
Set small goals
I advise ALL my piano parents to set small goals, whether your student has ADHD or not. I find that students who experience success during a piano practice are much more motivated to keep going and less likely to get overwhelmed. Work in small sections and don’t structure your practices based on a specific length of time. Build up self-esteem and confidence as you practice piano!
I’m a big fan of using games during piano lessons and practice, and especially when I have students who have difficulty focusing. Hands-on, tactile experiences engage students. Read some ideas for implementing games during practice here.
AVOID VERBAL OVERLOAD
Keep your instructions short and sweet. Avoid lecturing or using sarcasm or a lot of words to explain a concept as it can result in sensory overload and a student might immediately lose focus and interest.