Monday Mailbag – Students Performing Without Teacher Knowledge

At a student’s lesson last week, he mentioned that he had performed a few pieces over the weekend for the public. I tried in my calmest, most interested (because I definitely was) tone to inquire as to the nature of the performance, who was there, WHAT did he play?!!! I’d really love to hear some encouraging words as to how to handle these situations. I want my students to play and definitely don’t want to squash their willingness to do so. Who has some words of advice to help us teachers keep our cool?
I’m guessing that instituting a policy that students can play any time they want without our prior knowledge as long as they don’t disclose the name of their teacher to any unsuspecting audience members is not the answer you’re looking for. 🙂
Typically I start by praising the student for taking advantage of the opportunity to play, followed by a reminder that that’s why it’s so helpful to always have pieces polished and ready to play at a moment’s notice. You never know when opportunities might arise. Beyond that, asking questions is a great way to use situations like this as a learning experience:
  • How did that opportunity come up? (Did the student volunteer, or did someone ask them to play?)
  • What did you play? (Sometimes this can be incredibly eye-opening, because we may have a student who plays pop songs really well by ear, but they never make their way into the lesson. Or a student may be working on music for church in addition to the regular assignments from us.) I often have the student play for me whatever they performed so that I can get a glimpse of other talents or interests they may have that I wasn’t even aware of.
  • How do you think it went?
  • Is there anything you wish you had done ahead of time that would have helped you feel better prepared?
  • Did you enjoy the experience?
  • Would you like to do more of that kind of thing in the future?
  • What kinds of pieces would you like to work on in preparation for future opportunities like this?
And so on. Whether it’s accompanying, playing a special at a church service, performing in a school talent show, or giving an impromptu rendition of a piece for company, this is the stuff of real life! This is one of the reasons that we are teaching our students to play the piano develop as musicians, so it’s exciting for them to see some of the fruits of their labors. One thing that is incredibly important is to keep communication open between you and the student – encourage them to bring in other things they’re working on. Ask if they want input from you, or let them know it’s okay just to play it for your enjoyment.
It’s so easy as teachers to become trapped inside our mold of what piano lessons should look like, or what students should be learning, or what we should be teaching. But most of us are teaching individual lessons, so we have incredible freedom to work with students on an individual basis. The more we can learn about their bent – their talents, interests, and strengths, the more we can help them be successful musicians – in whatever capacity that may be. This is something that I’m learning more and more all the time!
Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

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