Leave It Behind and Just Play

What happens when you have to give a performance but your mind is preoccupied with all sorts of crazy stuff going on in your life?

In working with a vocalist whom I accompany for this week, we had a conversation about the necessity of leaving life’s problems outside the performance hall.  Of course, it’s easier said than done!

Preoccupation and the Piano Lesson

The same kind of issue can arise in the piano lesson too.  Students sometimes come distracted to the lesson and have difficulty focusing on playing their pieces and learning what is being taught.

I’m not talking about when the student won’t sit still or is distracting by other objects in the room; I’m talking about when the student’s mind seems to be deeply preoccupied with other things.  It’s tough as piano teacher: we often don’t know what is going on in the student’s life at school or at home.  

How do we deal with this?  Do we address it, or ignore it?

Depending on the situation, you may decide to address it.  Rather than asking a direct question, perhaps the conversation could be initiated simply by stating your observation: “You seem distracted today.”  Leave it at that and see how the student responds.  Avoid: “Why are you so distracted today?!” or “Pay attention!” or “Focus!”  This gentle observation may allow the student just the window to share with you what is weighing on their heart.  Maybe a grandparent is in the hospital.  Maybe the student is stressed out about upcoming exams at school.  Or maybe the family pet just died.  Who knows?

Of course, I don’t think the piano teacher should try to assume the role of counselor, or offer all sorts of advice.  The role of the teacher, though, includes being caring towards the student and being a good listener.

Just by asking the student about what is going on with them, it shows the student that you care about them and not just about how well they play at the piano.  Often, just by acknowledging those distractions and getting them out there, it suddenly becomes easier to focus on the task at hand.

Have you had similar experiences with “preoccupied” students in your studio?  Or perhaps you’ve been one yourself? =)

Photo credit: Christopher Isherwood | CC 2.0

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1 thought on “Leave It Behind and Just Play”

  1. One teacher told me that, at times when her students seem preoccupied or anxious about something, she gives them a choice of music to practice that week. She consciously steers them toward music with a strong emotional bent. For instance, she might summarize 3 songs, play a bit for them, and give some background info on the composer’s life circumstances when the song was composed. “Beethoven wrote this music while he was going deaf”, or “Schumann wrote this music when he was frustrated with his job”. If the child is feeling sad, they might go with a slow minor song, or they might seek some relief in the comcial & quirky. If they’re frustrated with something, they might need something easy & pretty to play, or they might feel like pounding out some ff chords. This is one teachers way of getting her students to connect emotionally to their music, without the piano teacher trying to be a counsellor.

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