Every start of a new piano year brings excitement and fond greetings from parents and students returning to lessons after a summer vacation break. And this year included flowers, homemade cards and even peanut butter cookies! But for students who took most of the summer off, that first walk in the front door of the studio is often accompanied by some moderate amount of anxiety. This used to surprise me, because I have a good working relationship with my students and I had always assumed that they would be as happy to see me as I am to see them. Fortunately, parents have confided in me or sent me an emailed warning note that their student was worried. They were worried that I would be disappointed in them because they didn’t get a chance to practice very much during the summer.
I send a list of fun summer piano projects home with each student at the end of the school year. And while some students walk in the door having completed many short, simple projects on the list; others are fearful that they didn’t do enough or even that “they didn’t have time to do anything.” But the last thing in the world I want for my students is to start a new year of private music lessons feeling guilty!
For whatever reason, this year in particular, students were coming in apologizing for not completing their project list….or even starting their project list. I was taken aback at first, but what could have become a week of shame for many students turned into a lesson of opportunity. I simply started to ask students for a “show and tell.” I had the project list…complete with built in rewards…at the ready. Once students, with prodding, started to share with me the things they did over the summer at the piano, on their own, even with whimsy, even doodling, turned out to have been an action on our summer list. Slowly and surely, each student started marking off things on the list and every student left their first lesson having achieved so much more during the summer then they thought could be possible. Students composed; they listened to youtube and learned things by ear; they played with music apps; they found pieces to review that they liked; they performed over the summer for friends and family; they heard live music concerts; they improvised; created ending and grand entrances for some of their pieces; they taught a song to a sibling or parent; they could demonstrate to me that they could change the key of a piece…transposing; they learned new pieces by flipping through old books. And every single student could play their memory list upon returning to piano lessons.
If I had only opened up their piano notebooks to the prior page from June and asked for the next assignment, I would have had students wondering why were they continuing lessons with yet more expectations piled onto a week of new schoolwork. Instead, every student left the studio this week smiling, looking forward to completing a few more projects and eager to complete the 15 project points that will reward them with participation in a “Bang on a Bucket class” at our local percussion studio in town in early October.
What a successful first week of teaching and learning and playing music, for all!