I had a chat with a parent this week about how her child had started so well with piano lessons and then recently the enthusiasm had waned. She didn’t know why and I’d noticed it too. During the lockdown Zoom lessons I noticed that their keyboard’s touch-sensitive function was not operating, and it was a fairly new keyboard. Somehow the setting had changed to non-touch-sensitive. Consequently, that piano feel was lost. Once we got that fixed and I had a good look at the music we were covering, the pupil got back on track and was clearly much happier.

Also during the Zoom sessions, I discovered that some pupils were practicing on pianos that needed serious tuning. One piano had middle C sounding a complete semitone lower! For a beginner (or indeed any player), this is significant stuff. It means that when they play at their lesson, wherever I teach them, the piano will feel strange. They won’t play for me as confidently and that will affect their overall experience because the instrument feels so different.

Reflecting on times when I’ve lost confidence in my music playing, it is usually through thinking that someone else could do a better job than I’m doing. I might make more mistakes, have less musical skill, play with poor musical expression and the ‘imposter syndrome’ creeps in. But even just reading that back reminds me how ridiculously easy it is for any of us to allow the loss of confidence to undermine our enjoyment of our own musical experience. It is time for us to appreciate the simple joy of making music whatever stage we are at and appreciate the value of learning at that level. Our sense of fulfillment can come from seeing our personal progress.

 

How much do you think social media affects a loss of confidence? I’ve had conversations about how we only seem to post on social media all the good things that are happening, like when someone travels overseas—remember that thing that people did before lockdown—and then posts selfies in exotic places. Others are reticent to post what seems mundane by comparison. A current equivalent might be when someone has found an amazing backdrop picture to put in their Zoom link, while some of us have no idea how to do that and have to resort to the blank wall look and face to match. There I go, comparing again.

The potential for a loss of confidence in learning a musical instrument is something that must be addressed. It can lead to the learner giving up and realising in later life that they gave up too early. When you see it happening, here are some things you can do.

 

  1. Check that the learner has a good instrument, and that it is set up right. If you need advice from your tutor, seek it. Check this link if you want to upgrade your keyboard. I have 3 keyboards that I reviewed on my resources page. It will show the sorts of things I look for in a keyboard. Just scroll down from the top to Physical Piano Teaching Resources to see the reviews. 
  2. Have them play music that they enjoy at the beginning of their practice. Once they are in the swing of things, go to the areas that need a bit of work, or to new music to cover.
  3. Be involved in whatever way you can. Even if you are busy, your child needs your verbal encouragement and affirmation. I can give it at the lesson, but what you add to that at home is massive.
  4. Avoid comparisons. Help them see how far they personally have come since they began lessons. This is why it is good to maintain earlier pieces that are easy to play. When they are discouraged you can fall back on those pieces to help them see what they have achieved.
  5. Keep practice times short and manageable. These may be different for each child.
  6. Have another look at your reward systems. I have quite a lot of information on this in my course on How to Teach Your Child the Piano Like a Pro . But for those of you who are not teaching your own, you may like to redo the star chart on the fridge and lower your expectations on what is required to earn a star on a regular basis. If you would like a copy of this star chart, let me know.
  1. Get comfy on some bean bags in the lounge and have a music listening date to some music on the instrument they are learning, to simply enjoy the sound of the instrument. Don’t focus on what they can’t do, but focus on the beauty created at the instrument. Remind them that all musicians had to start with basic things first and build up, one step at a time from there.

 

A loss of confidence in our learning does not need to last. It can be turned around with a kind word at the right time, a fresh goal, a change in perspective. Whatever it might be, I hope there is something here that can help in some way and be an encouragement to you.

One of the big reasons people sign up for weekly music lessons is to have regular accountability with someone who is going to keep their learning on track.  But if you were to miss the lesson once in a while, would it really matter?

 

Being on lockdown for the last 40 days (due to the Covid 19 restrictions here in NZ) has given me a little clarity on this and I’ve been seeing the weekly lesson in a new perspective. It has been wonderful being able to carry through with the lessons as expected, even if only via Zoom. We did have a school holiday break in the middle and therefore a break from music lessons too, but that was useful for many adjusting to family life under lockdown. Once the holiday was over, the resumption of music lessons, along with the regularity of practice, gave pupils some normality to their unusual weeks.

 

(One of Emily’s lockdown Zoom lessons)

 

Some bored lockdown pupils were very grateful to have some music to focus on, so they did more practice than usual. It was a chance for them to shine, which I would not have seen if it wasn’t for the weekly catch up.  It gave me an opportunity to praise the progress, especially important for those who had been making slow progress for a while.

For others, even the short holiday break was too long, such that mistakes could become ingrained due to practice without accountability. Regular lessons are helpful to make sure things are being learned as they should.  It can be very discouraging for a young person to have to re-learn something they thought was correct.

It is also discouraging to have a long break at the point at which they are making good progress. This is particularly true of those in the early stages of learning where getting habits established is key to ongoing learning. Getting motivated to revise things already learned but forgotten can be a challenge. If the music skills are established over a shorter period of time, the pupil sees quicker progress and enthusiastically moves on to new material. The sense of achievement simply feeds the whole process and the resulting enjoyment makes the music all the sweeter.

I can speak from experience as to what it is like to have irregular lessons, even if I did have other advantages that balanced that issue in my music learning. My mother was my music teacher, and lessons were sporadic with a lot of the instruction coming from the kitchen while she was doing two things (or more!) at once. Maybe that’s another reason I see the weekly lesson as a hugely valuable way to make progress. Children work well with routines.

I address the challenges we face as parents when teaching our own in my FREE mini course called What does it Take to Teach Your Own Child the Piano. Click on the link to take you to the course if you are interested. https://accentmusicschool.teachable.com/p/what-does-it-take-to-teach-your-child-the-piano

One of the positives coming out of the lockdown is that Zoom lessons may be seen as not only possible but quite normal as a way of teaching a musical instrument. I had offered Zoom lessons at one of my schools for lessons missed, due to the huge number of school activities that often interfered with the regular lesson during school time, but was not often taken up on it. Now I think there may be a bigger uptake of that solution to timetable clashes. I have often seen those pupils suffer in their progress due to these missed lessons and I have been pretty sure that parents have not been aware of how much momentum can be lost when we are catching up on two weeks of practice instead of just the one, especially if it starts to become a habit.

 

To sum up:

Your child’s weekly music lesson is important. Let’s make the most of what we have learned through having to do Zoom lessons. Although the in-person lessons are still preferable, we can use Zoom again if we need to when we get back to whatever normal is. Whichever method, we need to value that regular lesson and maybe we will have a new appreciation of it.