“You may not be able to change a situation, but with humor, you can change your attitude about it”.
Piano Lesson Humor
I remember my very first piano lesson. I was 12. It was a hot September day in Oceanside N.Y. My mom stuffed five bucks in my pocket and gave me directions to the teacher’s house. I had to walk myself there after school. My best friend Angela had been taking lessons with Mr. Sweet (his real name) for over a year and he was highly recommended and trusted.
His house was a big brick colonial-style house. I entered the side door and saw his giant Steinway grand piano. I was excited, and nervous at the same time. I had begged my mom for lessons since Angela started taking them. I clearly remember what I said to him.
“No matter what you do I will NEVER be able to play with two hands at the same time!”
I also remember his reaction.
Then he said, “Don’t worry about it kid, if I can do it so can you.”
Looking back, I can see why that comment struck his funny bone. After all, I don’t know too many one-handed piano players.
My teacher’s light-hearted sense of humor helped me let my guard down and begin to learn. Needless to say, I can play with two hands now. I guess miracles do happen.
What made Mr. Sweet’s laugh well…sweet (for lack of a better word) and not insulting, was that I could tell that he really cared about me.
In other words, it’s all in the delivery. Humor needs to be used carefully with love and kindness. I have two important rules for using humor with my students.
1. Err on the side of grace. If you’re not sure, don’t try to be funny. It could be taken the wrong way and can lead to more harm than good. We never want to hurt someone by coming across as sarcastic or mean-spirited.
2. Know your student and their parents. Some people thrive on humor, some don’t. Some kids are sensitive it may
be better not to joke around too much.
Here are of few stories from my studio.
Note: Names have been changed to protect identities.
Maryann is annihilating one of my all-time favorite pieces “To A Wild Rose” It sounds more like some way out there Avant-guard piece than MacDowell.
I am pretty sure my cat could hit more of the right notes.
I am trying my best not to grit my teeth; I feel my blood pressure going up. (I’ll bet you know what that’s like). She’s a bright kid and I know she hasn’t practiced this week because frankly, it was better last week.
“What happened?” I ask
“I didn’t have time to practice”
“What? You didn’t practice? Alright, you’re in trouble now… I’m gonna tell your mom to put chocolate in your milk!’
After a few seconds and a puzzled look “But Miss Doreen, I like chocolate milk.”
“Really? Oh well. You know you HAVE to practice. right? What are we going to do about that?”
Maryann and I proceed to have a discussion and come up with a practice plan.
Nicole is a sweet girl who works hard, but she is a nervous wreck at recitals. After working as carefully and mindfully as we can to help to ensure that she will play well I ask her.
“Nicole, what is the worst-case scenario? If you mess up it’s not that big of a deal, we’re musicians, not physicians if we make a mistake no one gets hurt.”
I am doing my best to put her at ease and to realize she doesn’t need to take the situation too seriously. I assure her that she is well prepared. I tell her we all make mistakes from time to time, and that just as she would never ridicule her studio mates for not playing well, they will also treat her with respect. (Or else…I might put chocolate in their milk too!)
Antonio has been my student for four years. I love him but he’s a bit shall we say…defiant? No that’s kind of negative let’s say strong-willed.
“I hate sonatinas, I hate them! I will NOT play a sonatina! Never”
“Really? Hmm, last I checked I was the teacher. When you grow up you can become the teacher in the meantime, I think you’re going to have to hold your nose and play a sonatina or two. Of course, it is hard to play while you’re holding your nose.”
I give him a choice of two sonatinas, and we move ahead.
Appreciate Your Unique Sense of Humor
I am by nature a very non-confrontational person. I prefer to use humor to deal with conflict or resistance. Again, I emphasize the need for judiciousness and perspicacity. (How about those big words?)
A little jocularity can go a long way to help keep things more comfortable, and more enjoyable. Being relaxed and open makes learning easier because a relaxed mind is more receptive to new ideas. You can use the funny side of your personality to make things fun. You don’t have to be funny all of the time, even if you don’t consider yourself a natural comedian you can tell a joke or a funny story from time to time.
Kids are Funny Too
I am not the only one who likes to clown around a little. Sure, I love to tell jokes and funny stories. Since going online with teaching, my students have been known to show up wearing funny hats, and costumes. I have met my student’s puppies, kittens, Guinea pigs, and even a pet Iguana. For Halloween, one student played his entire lesson in a “Jason style” hockey mask. They tell me knock-knock jokes, and let me know if anything amusing happened at school that week.
Forget about April fool’s day. Last year my 7-year-old student told me he lost a tooth.
“Great,” I said
“But I swallowed it…. April fool!”
“Very funny:( “
Another student came in sat down and began playing his G major piece in G minor. He caught me off guard.
“What are you doing?”
“Just messing with you Ms. Doreen”
I want them to do their best, I want them to work hard and become accomplished musicians, but music is a marathon, not a sprint. I need to keep them motivated.
A good and kindly sense of humor is a good character trait. Laughter is good for the soul, mind, and body. In my experience, a little bit of humor goes a long way towards making the monumental journey of learning to play the piano more enjoyable. It also makes the incredible task of teaching the piano easier.