Music Teacher's Helper Blog

“It’s Too Hard!”

5 ways to Help a Student Get Past Overwhelmed

By Robin Steinweg

 

"It's too hard!"

“It’s too hard!”

 

“I can’t do it!” “I won’t do it!” “It’s too hard!”

 

 

 

 

Have you ever heard this from a student? One minute you have a sunny, happy child sitting at their instrument. The next, storm clouds and even threat of waterworks. And all you did was to place a new piece of music in front of them. Or remind them of a technique on which they’ve been working.

You want me to do WHAT?  You want me to do WHAT?

If distraction doesn’t work , and neither do our words of reassurance or encouragement, how can we help them get past the tunnel vision that comes with feeling overwhelmed? How can we empower them to see solutions instead of the pessimism of believing they are bound to fail? (try this iPad tool for a distraction technique: Piano Maestro)

Dane shows how he'd look if he felt overwhelmed

Dane shows how he’d look if he felt overwhelmed

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are 5 ways to help a student get past “It’s too hard!”

1. Pull out a piece you know the student will love. Maybe it’s a little beyond her level, but she has a passion for this piece.

2. Wait—don’t show the new song to her yet. Copy the piece. Cut apart the treble and bass lines. Start with either one. Place Post-its over every measure but one. Reveal only one measure at a time. If necessary, re-cover the ones she’s already done.

Post-its

 

 

 

 

3. Stay low-key. Be blasé. Act as if it doesn’t really matter to you—she can play it or not, it’s up to her. The reward is the look on her face when she recognizes the song.

4. If the problem is the stress students feel when they hear themselves flubbing up, have them try out a measure on their lap. Then they’ll have gotten through it pain-free before trying it on their instrument.

5. Use humor. Example: a piano student got stressed about lightening up a heavy hand. I’d tried images of a bird lighting, a feather floating down on the keys… those only caused frustration. But when I said to imagine a hippo plummeting to the keys, he found it hilarious, and the problem was solved! Now all I have to do is sketch a hippo head on the page (or use hippo stickers) and his hands are balanced and light.

Malea Niesen

 

Next time you hear “It’s too hard!” give one (or all) of these a try.

 

 

About the Author

Robin Steinweg has found music to be like the creamy filling of a sandwich cookie--sweet in the middle--especially making music with family.
A great joy is seeing her students excited to make music for themselves. From her studio in Sauk-Prairie, Wisconsin, she teaches ages 4-84 piano, guitar, voice, woodwinds, ukulele and recorder.
Musically, she composes, arranges, performs, directs, consults... [Read more]

9 Comments

  1. Roland De Aragon

    Good article. When I’m teaching a student and they’re not particularly motivated I found that telling a story really helps. People of all ages can relate to stories. Keep a handful of stories in your back pocket and make sure the story relates and motivates of course.

  2. Robin Steinweg

    Roland, that is a terrific suggestion. I love stories, too.

  3. Lori Lipsky

    Helpful article, Robin. Humor is a huge asset, and makes a more pleasant lesson, to be sure. I appreciate that reminder. I also like the post-it idea. I might reveal a line or two at a time, though. I’m not patient enough for one measure. Thanks!

  4. Robin Steinweg

    Thanks, Lori! I need to remind myself to use humor, too. Oh, and covering up all but one measure was a reflection of my student’s level of frustration, not an indicator of my patience! 🙂 I’d make it a line or two for other students.

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