Oh, dear delightful piano we love you and your beautiful ebony and ivory 88 keys! We love that we can play you with two hands and make lovely music. So do our students, except that it’s hard. It’s not a thing anyone is born with being able to do. It takes coordination. The struggle is real.
Dear fellow piano teacher, ever had a day when your student was really struggling with the coordination of putting hands together? It happens-right? You know that moment when the student is just about on the point of shutting down? You can feel the air constricting around you? You have a choice in that moment. You can keep trying to play it on the piano- with the tissues close by, because the waterworks are nearly here- or you can leave the piano now! If you are teaching a class you can have all the students do the activity together. Another option is you can put the students on headphones while you take the struggling student aside and do this activity with them.
(Cue the Siren.) Rescue 911! This is a time for an emergency off-the-bench activity! No need to wait for the frustration level to be beyond the tipping point! Here’s how to help your student-now!
Here’s the rescue strategy* for redirecting the frustration into a tangible and fun exercise:
- Tell the student to hang tight.
- Leave the piano and get a hand drum and a mallet or a tambourine and a rhythm stick. (If you don’t have these- you could just use your hands and the floor.)
- Invite your student to join you on the floor where the percussion is waiting.
- You each get a stick for the right hand and a tambourine for the left.
- Place the music on the floor in front of the percussion.
- Tap out the right hand of the passage with the stick by saying, “Right.”
- Tap out the left hand by saying, “Left.”
- Tap out both hands by saying, “Both.”
- Make sure your student is saying it out loud!
“Both Right Right Left Both”
The student will quickly gain the coordination. Their brain is now connecting with the hands. They had fun doing it. No one cried. Your student leaves the lesson smiling. You remind the student that they could do this at home by tapping with their hands. Everyone is smiling! Musical Mocha Win!!
*This stick/tambourine strategy was taught to me by a wonderful mentor- I have tweaked it a little for my students- but shout out to Allison G. of CD’A- thank you!