Posted by: Marie | December 19, 2013

(901) More than just a job – Part 3 of 3

Post #901
[Private journal entry written on Thursday, July 26, 2012 – continued from previous post]

My last lesson of the day was with Renee . . .

Her step-mom and one of the younger sisters stayed for the lesson, so we had an audience again today. And, once again, Renee started right in with the “acting helpless” thing . . .

I would ask her to do something and she would give me a reason why she couldn’t do it . . . and she’d put her hands in her lap and slump over . . . hang her head so her bangs covered over both eyes instead of just the usual one eye . . .

For a moment, I felt frustration . . . the helpless thing was getting old for me . . .

But then, I reminded myself that my frustration is coming from the fact that I don’t yet understand why she is behaving like that . . . I haven’t yet figured out what would motivate her to behave like that so I don’t yet know how to respond in an effective way. I’m not really frustrated with her behavior; I’m frustrated with my own lack of knowledge.

(243)

Photo by Martin Chen

I decided to respond with compassion and caring . . . rather than judgment and criticism . . .

I really don’t know if that is the most effective response, but it is the one that felt best to me in the moment, so I went with it. I mean, after all, that is how Edward responds to my helpless and hopeless moments in therapy . . . there are plenty of those . . . I’ve been hanging out in that space with him for a very long time . . . and he is still kind and gentle in his responses . . .

So, I gently encouraged her to keep trying . . . assured her it was normal to make mistakes as a part of learning . . . then I decided to gently but directly challenge her excuses . . .

At one point, she said, “I’m not very good at knowing where the notes are on the keyboard . . . I can read them on paper, but I can’t find them on the keyboard . . . the keyboard is confusing . . . I get confused when I look at it.”

I responded light-heartedly by telling her that having difficulty with the visual aspect will actually make it easier for her to learn how to find the notes on the keyboard by feel . . . which is the preferred way to find the notes . . . because it allows your eyes to remain on the music so you don’t lose your place in the music . . .

I showed her how there is either a line-orientation or a space-orientation in any given hand position . . . which means that there will be more fingers on either lines or on spaces . . . and, by keeping that in mind, and being aware of which staff lines or spaces our hand is covering, we can know which finger to use to play a certain note . . . all without looking at our hands . . .

I used flashcards to have her practice finding notes in different hand positions . . . then we went back to the piece of music she is learning and we did the same for those hand positions . . . I covered up her hands with a piece of cardboard to keep her from looking at her hands . . . and she did wonderfully with being able to play the music. She made only a few mistakes.

We spent some time smoothing out the spots where she was consistently making the same mistakes, and after a few more times through the piece, she was playing it without mistakes.

Once we got to that point, I decided to ask her about her practice habits. I asked her to tell me what she does when she sits down at the piano at home to practice. She shrugged . . . and then she mumbled that she can’t practice.

I asked her what she needs in order to be able to practice . . . more information? Better instructions?

She responded that she needs more access to the piano . . . that she only has access to the piano at her dad’s house, and when she is there, she is usually busy with friends or homework or family stuff . . .

I asked her if she would like for me to talk to her dad about making sure she has time set aside for practice . . . she said that no, that would not be necessary . . . she could make different choices around the use of her time which would cause her to have enough time to practice . . .

So, I again asked her what her practice time would look like . . . what she does first when she sits down to practice . . .

Instead of answering my question, she started walking me though the times she could carve out time to practice over the next few days . . . I guess she was trying to assure me it was not necessary for me to contact her dad, LOL . . .

I told her I was glad she would be able to create time to practice . . . and what I really would like to know is what her practice time would look like . . . specifically, how would she use that time . . .

She thought about my question for a moment and then said that she didn’t know . . . that she doesn’t know how to practice . . .

Okay . . . I suggested we start with that . . . that she show me what she has been doing when she has sat down to practice in the past, whether it was effective or not . . .

She said she couldn’t practice . . . she didn’t know where the notes are on the keyboard . . . she didn’t know where to put her hands unless I coached her . . .

I asked if she had put the sticky notes on her keyboard like I had shown her at one of her first lessons . . .

Yes, she had done that . . .

I asked if the sticky notes were still on her keyboard . . .

Yes, they were still on her keyboard . . .

I asked if the reason she couldn’t find her place now is because there are no sticky notes on my keyboard like there are on her keyboard at home . . . that, if she were at home, she would be able to find her hand position . . .

Yes, that is the case . . .

I asked if putting the sticky notes on my keyboard right now would solve the issue . . .

Yes, that would solve the issue . . .

Very well . . . so, that’s what we did . . . I asked her to put the sticky notes on the keyboard so I could make sure she knew how to do it in case the ones on her keyboard at home fell off at some point . . .

She was able to place the sticky notes correctly . . .

Once we got the stickers in place, I asked her to play the song we had been working on at the start of the lesson . . . she did so with very few mistakes . . . and the mistakes she made, she identified and fixed without my input . . .

By this point in the lesson, she had started acting more confident and she was relaxing . . . chatting with me in a more expressive manner . . . she was starting to “come to life” a bit and put forth a reasonable effort to play the piece.

I wouldn’t say she was brimming with confidence, but her energy and manner were definitely shifting in a more positive direction. I was delighted to see that.

It seems to me that the “helpless” stance is a “safe” stance for her . . . one that protects her somehow. It seems that she is reluctant to step away from it because doing so would be too “unsafe” . . . so, instead, she just takes a small step or two away from it whenever it seems like there might be a reward in it for her.

I just wish I knew what reward would motivate her . . . I don’t have that figured out yet . . . this is all very new territory for me.

It does feel like, in my gut, that she is testing me in some way . . . like she wants to know if I’ll stick around through the drama . . . or maybe how much I’ll let her get away with before I draw the line . . . or if I really care enough to draw a line . . .

I don’t know . . . I’ll have to work my way through this puzzle . . .

I believe this is not the time to be cracking down hard on her. Instead, I believe I need to be really, really gentle with her. I wonder if what she thinks and feels is similar to what I think and feel when I get stuck in that helpless/hopeless place in a therapy session with Edward . . . I suspect our experiences aren’t that far apart . . .

Anyway, as we were wrapping up the lesson, I asked her if she had enough information in order to be able to go home and practice the notes and fingering . . . I told her she didn’t need to worry about any other element like rhythm or dynamics . . . just notes and fingering . . . and just for this one song . . .

I really wanted her to say the words, “Yes, I can do that.” I wanted her to form those words with her mouth and allow them to flow across her lips . . . I wanted her to generate that affirmative statement in her own mind and with her own physical being . . .

To my pleasant surprise, she said those words . . . and once again, I let go of the breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding . . .

What music to my ears.

And, what a major step forward . . . phew . . .

As Renee and her family packed up to leave, we were making general conversation about the weather (or whatever) . . . all the sudden, Renee walked over to me and hugged me.

That shocked me . . . I mean, in a good way it shocked me . . .

I hadn’t been expecting it, I wasn’t even thinking about the possibility . . . it caught me off guard . . . but it tickled me, all the same.

I guess she really does feel connected with me . . . maybe even safe to some degree . . .

And that means a lot to me.

Wow.

Quotes 811


Responses

  1. That’s really cool! I’m still trying to figure out my students’ motivations (in piano & language)- it’s sometimes a moving target…
    Any ideas on how to get kids to practice regularly? That intrinsic motivation is lacking. I just don’t get it. I always wanted to play. It was my mother who would just keep turning up her TV to drown me out. Sad.

    • Yeah . . . the practicing thing is a challenge . . . the two most helpful things I’ve found is to ask them to “practice” during a lesson so I can point out how they can better prepare for what I’m going to ask them to do, and to work with them to create a detailed practice chart (play RH notes three time, play LH notes three times, play hands together until you can play the entire song without looking at your hands, maybe break it down into phrases, etc.)
      But, bottom line, I haven’t found anything that works for the long run . . . that stuff seems to help for a week or two and then they go back into the usual patterns. It really seems to come down to the parents’ willingness to practice with them (for younger kids) and/or to push them to practice . . . just like homework . . .

      • Thanks for your input! I really appreciate it — it’s been a challenge. I think sometimes the parents want me to get involved with solving their child’s lack of motivation, but I don’t want to really do that. In my experience in the classroom, it sets up this triangulation between teacher-parent-student. I just want the student to feel supported. Let the parents be the “bad guys,” you know? Plus, I’m not there 24-7. I can’t solve the deep seated problems with intrinsic motivation.
        I’m thinking of giving my students a 100-days chart for the start of 2014. Get 100 days of practice by Spring Break (isn’t that mid-April?) for a prize (gift card for ice cream or the local bakery?).
        I’ve been reading a piano blog that I really like: colorinmypiano.com
        I don’t know if you’ve heard of that one, or are interested, but it’s been inspirational for me (along with your notes)! Thanks!! :)

  2. Hurray for passing along some of the good things Edward can give you to your students.

    • It feels good! Thanks for the hurray!

  3. Sounds like you made a breakthrough. Maybe it was the knowing what to do – for years (all through school really) I was frustrated that I was told to study but never told what this meant (somehow I was meant just to know. I resorted to memorisation often).

    • I have to remember that these kids don’t have any idea how to play or practice . . . it seems easy to me because I’ve had so many years to learn how . . . I have to remember to break it down into tiny steps for them!


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