Music Teachers Helper Blog

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.

 

 

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Carols of Christmas (Master Class)

By Robin Steinweg

Sara, Maddy, Chris

 

 

 

 

Each year I’ve observed that students are increasingly unfamiliar with the carols of Christmas. It’s important to me to introduce them to as many as possible, and to enable them to entertain or accompany their families and friends with songs of the season.

Many of them start practicing Christmas songs as early as October. I decided to make Carols of Christmas the subject of our December group master classes.

I chose a Christmas instrumental CD to play as they arrived, and we gathered around my kitchen table for snacks. Food makes everything friendlier! I decided to treat them to sparkling grape juice, which most had never tasted. There was also lemonade and apple cider, grapes, cookies, candies, chocolate-covered pretzels…

Christmas CD acoustic guitar

 

 

 

 

While they snacked, I read them stories of several carols’ origins.

Master Class snacks

 

 

I found a number of activities about the carols of Christmas at brownielocks–scroll to the bottom for more.

My biggest challenge was to find those that could apply to a wide range of ages.

I tapped the beginning rhythm of a number of carols. Even the youngest students were able to participate and guess song titles. Of course, I knew what they’d been practicing, so made sure to use those pieces to give them a good chance.

I also sang the first few notes of a carol, without the rhythm, just to see if they could guess—they did pretty well. For more mature students, I had a Carols of Christmas fill-in-the-notes game. I’d give them a few measures of a carol, leaving out a few notes or a measure or two. They could fill in the missing parts.

Ava, Sam

 

 

 

 

There were activity pages concerning lyrics of Christmas carols. “Where would you go to hear silver bells?” “Who danced with a silk hat on his head?” Some questions read more like jokes, but all of it got them thinking more deeply about songs they may hear while shopping, but haven’t focused on. Talking about lyrics brought up the meaning and history of words or phrases usually heard only once a year: deck the hall/don we now/noel/gloria/yuletide…

For a final touch, I had bent some sparkly pipe cleaners into treble clef shapes, and set out a variety of beads that they could thread onto the pipe cleaners, and either keep or give away as tree ornaments.

Madelyn

 

 

 

 

I’ve had reports from various parents how fun it is to hear their children sharing the carols of Christmas with their families.

How do you introduce Christmas songs to your students?

 

 

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By Robin Steinweg

Piano player, scared

With a recital looming on the horizon, some of my students asked how they could prepare to perform before an audience. So I made it the subject of a master class.

Snacks came first—the best-ever ice breaker. I found out some of their favorite cookies ahead of time, and did a little baking. It’s surprising how food warms the student heart and softens the attitude.  Apple cider and some new flavors of candy corn brought a fall flavor to the table. Some gourds for décor, and we were all set.

I got out my white board and asked the group a few questions about how they would prepare to perform. They recorded their answers on the board in their favorite colors. Let me share some of them. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s this group’s list, and I applauded them for it:

 WHY perform for an audience?

It’s fun

Gives others pleasure

Gives you experience and confidence

Lets you share something you love with others

You can show off how hard you’ve been working

Things to do to prepare to perform: [···]

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