stress webBeing specific with our praise phraseology isn’t anything new. Social media is full of articles on parenting language. It helps if we as teachers also think carefully about our language. The student receives comments that can truly help them grow and they learn to give helpful comments to others.

Recently, I read an article shared on Facebook, 7 Things You Must Not Tell Your Children. I’m going to be more mindful of the first 3 in my teaching: Great Job!, Practice Makes Perfect, & You’re OK. I’m pretty mindful of number 1 and 2, so they just need a refresher,  but 3 is one I need to prioritize.

1. Great Job

According to the article, Great job, Way to Go, Hooray, Super, Look at You, and the like, create an atmosphere in which the student is constantly seeking affirmation from you. They recommend specific praise such as, I like how you built up to that special chord, or Bringing out the melody in the middle section really added to the excitement.

2. Practice Makes Perfect (and it’s corollary, Perfect Practice Makes Perfect)

Students don’t always understand what practice means and neither do their parents. I have adult students who have come back to piano and think that they just aren’t good at music because doing a passage over 20 times doesn’t help.

The thing is, if you aren’t using a strategy that result in the desired change for that particular situation, you will never get better. And, the bad news is that the strategy changes based on the type of music, the speed, technical details, and sometimes the color shirt you have on. Blindly repeating something hoping it will improve is the definition of insanity.

3. You’re OK.

I’m so guilty of this. I want to let students know I have faith that they will improve if they are both diligent and disciplined. But. sometimes they are not OK. They are frustrated and hurt. Maybe they just are at a wall with a piece and need a break. Maybe they have a dysfunctional relationship with a piece. Maybe they have had a performance disaster.

I read these words in a book once- Give him the gift of his whole pain. We have to find ways to acknowledge the fact that things didn’t go the way they were supposed to. We have to accept and deal with failure. That is a hard one.

In the first instance above, you can start making new plans together and explain that the other piece needs to go on the back burner for a while. Recently, I told a student that I didn’t know why the piece wasn’t progressing, that perhaps she did, but the bottom line was that both she and the piece were unhappy and that simply wouldn’t do. So we are focusing our energies on a completely opposite piece for a bit.

Performance disasters are really hard. I have pointed out all the good things that happened during a performance beside the mess, I have told stories of personal disasters, I have praised students for their courage in staying with it to the end. But it is still hard. Because it is failure (very public sometimes) and we like to pretend it doesn’t exist- that everything is OK.

…because doctors are judged by mistakes, they are too afraid to discuss them. Instead, they are often covered up, blamed on others, or ignored.

As I was writing this post, a article popped up on Edutopia, It’s a Mistake Not to Use Mistakes as Part of the Learning Process. Brian Goldman put his mistakes in 4 categories; those he hid, those he learned nothing from, those he learned from, & those he learned from and shared what he learned with others.

Same thing applies to musicians. Goldman’s recommendations for helping to learn from mistakes included: class meetings where students share a mistake they made, what happened after, and what they learned, plus, sharing your own mistakes, funny and otherwise, and what you learned from them. Both of these are easily incorporated into studio classes and even private lessons.

I wrote a post, Those Awkward Disappointments, nearly a year ago which you might like to read again. I like to think I have learned from most of my mistakes.

Acknowledging the fact that someone is not OK is hard. The sharing part is harder. But, sharing failure is the part where you accept the gift of your whole pain.


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