How to Be Patient With Kids

September 7, 2013

When I go somewhere and meet new people, they always ask me what I do for a living. Their reaction upon hearing I am a piano teacher  and that I teach kids of all ages is often: “you must be very patient.”

Which is true. That’s not to say that I don’ t have my impatient moments *cough* Hey Girl on the 405 driving 20 mph under the speed limit and texting, I’m talking to you….*cough*, but for the most part at work, I am able to stay patient with most of my students due to one simple fact:

I Remember That My students are NEW to all of this.

In the middle of a piano lesson today, my student stopped and said, “Miss Christina, can I learn some new music? I want to learn this song I heard at school today when we were writing our 5 paragraph essays, but I don’t know the name of it.” My initial reaction was “Cool! You get to listen to music while you write? Your new teacher sounds like she rules! ”

I then asked him to hum the melody for me, in hopes I could figure out what it was. He hummed: “D, A, B, F#, G, D ,G, A…”

Canon in D

I cringed on the inside by the time he got to the F#, as it only took those notes to recognize the tune as Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” This is not a piece I enjoy hearing, playing or teaching – to which I blame my years of being a violist.

5th grade. I believe that is the first year that I was exposed to “Canon in D.” I remember how excited I was when I first played the piece with others, and how complicated it sounded when all the parts blended together. Pretty sure it was my first experience with counterpoint of any kind (for non-music folk, that’s basically when two instruments do two different things at the same time).

My stand partner, Alex (who I am STILL friends with to this day), and I would play it as a duet in between takes when we were in the regional honors orchestra together. Although it’s quite a long time in the past now, I still remember the magic that playing this piece could create. It was something 5th graders bonded over, and that’s kind of saying a lot at that awkward weird age.

So when he started humming it, instead of stopping him and telling him “No, we aren’t doing that,” I instantly realized that he’s in the same grade I was when I first heard the piece and that it would be very wrong of me to ruin the magical excitement he was having about learning a piece that was written centuries before he was born! It is my JOB as a teacher to show him the things that I know, and hopefully instill in him the same passion for learning music as I have.

He is not asking me to teach him “Call Me Maybe” or a Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus* song. That “music” is strictly off limits. He’s asking me to teach him a classic piece of music.

SQUEE! Don’t tell him how excited I am!

I’m always hunting for ways to get my students to at least try classical music and be intrigued by it. Here was a great opportunity! Instead of a dismissive and negative comment, I said, “Does your printer work? Let’s go print it out right now if we can find a free easy version.”

I hunted on Google for something that was around his level and not too far off from the original (I’m a bit of a purist). During that process, I got a chance to explain to him the history of the piece, and tell him a few funny stories about it. Wedding music inevitably came up, and I said I would never allow this piece at my wedding, unless it was done this way:

He ended his lesson super stoked to practice, even telling me “I’m going to learn everything tonight!” Now that’s what I like to hear. Passion.

Directly after this, his Mom got home, and we were talking about something different but she mentioned how she has to keep reminding herself every day that her children are “little people learning to grow into big people.” I think this is a great way to look at things, and I truly wish there were more parents AND teachers that thought this way. It’s a compassionate way to be.

The truth is, kids don’t  intuitively know everything. They need a little gentle reminding. Sometimes they need a little push in the right direction. Sometimes, they just need to find something (whether it be “Canon in D” or “Moonlight Sonata” or whatever generic piece that comes to mind) to inspire them. They need you – the role model – to react positively about it (as long as it’s something healthy for them, that is). This is your job, so do it!

Once in a while, when trying to teach your student or child something new, try to see things from their point of view. Let them experience new things through their own eyes and ears. It will make a world of difference in the way they approach the world as they grow into big people!