Would you like to have more ease, peace, and fun during piano practice time?
Would you like music time to go more smoothly- with less yelling, arguing or bribing?
Read on to explore how understanding your child's experience and perspective can give you one tool for welcoming the joy you seek.
At the 2013 Let's Play Music symposium, teachers attended a workshop featuring the book The Child Whisperer by Carol Tuttle. Tuttle's goal is to help parents and teachers have ease with children, through honoring the true nature of each child.
The 4 Types
Tuttle identifies 4 Types to be profiled (not personalities, but inherent natures).
All children have all types within them, but lead with a dominant one.
To get a better pinpoint on which type matches your child, read more in The Child Whisperer or get a glimpse with this brief summary:
Type 1 : fun-loving, social, and spontaneous.
Type 2 : thoughtful, emotional, and in-touch with feelings.
Type 3 : physical, active, energetic, and love challenges.
Type 4 : intellectual, efficient, exact, and analytical.
Type 1: Practice Must be Fun
The fun-loving child wants practice to be FUN. She'll love to pretend she has laser-beam eyes firing at her book, to put fancy stickers on her daily practice chart, to give high-fives at the end of every single song, and to play imaginative games you invent to make practice go by. "At the end of this song, let's do jumping jacks!" Because everything is more fun with a friend, she'll love playing duets with a parent or sibling and performing regularly to any cheering crowd. Although having a daily practice time is always a good idea, this spontaneous child loves to pop in and play a song or two of her choice in short bursts whenever it suits her. She won't mind if you propose a short impromptu play time at the piano randomly during the day, and she'll have more fun with you by her side. When composing time comes, she'll have lots of short ideas and needs to have all of them appreciated and validated before cutting it down to the themes that will become the piece. If you feel your relationship with your Type 1 is strained, it may be a sign you need more laughing, hugging, and cheering. She feels loved by having fun with you and she'll have a long relationship with music if she identifies it as one of her playful outlets.
Type 2: I Know Exactly What to Do
Your Type-2 child is a planner. He can see details and how they add up. At practice time, he'll want to discuss with you exactly how many reps he'll need to do of each drill each day to meet the weekly goal, and he'll care a lot about knowing exactly what the weekly goals are. He'll want to plan out what order he'll do the songs before starting each practice, and have a vision of exactly how long it's going to take him at his own pace. Encourage him and let him know that he will be able to achieve the weekly goals, even when they seem large. He cares about making life flow easily, and will want to be in on the discussion about when the practice time will be happening each day. This sensitive child will like to hear you tell him about your feelings and emotions. "I am happy to see you trying so hard, even though I can tell it is not always easy." "Thank you for singing and snuggling with me in class- I sure do enjoy spending time with you." He will enjoy singing with you or playing duets with you because it gives a sense of connection and bonding. When composing time comes, he will feel most confident if given as many details as possible about what is expected and how the process is going to play out. "Please come next week with four bars of melody and some block chords to harmonize." If your Type 2 child is unhappy in class, he likely wants to talk about his feelings and be understood, without being rushed. Reflect back to him to show that you understood. "Are you feeling nervous because you think it might sound bad the first time?" The great news is that this type of child has the patience to practice and make steady progress.
Type 3: I Can Do This!
Your determined Type-3 child is adventurous and self-motivated once she decides she wants to do this. She loves creating results, and will appreciate if you film her each time she masters a song and put stickers on the pages so you can look back frequently and celebrate her achievements. For the same reason, she'll love to put on mini-recitals with photo documentation. This child will enjoy manageable challenges like striving for a perfect practice record every week, and she'll enjoy sticker charts to show her progress. If she has a hard time getting to practice at the agreed-upon time, it's possibly because she's excited about another pursuit she's equally passionate about in the moment. Show respect for all of her passions, and remind her of what she's accomplished.
When she feels downhearted, reflect with her. "Remember when you could not tie your shoes, but you kept trying, and now you can do it so easily? I think if you stick with this scale, you will be able to do it very soon." Help your child be very aware of the weekly goals. If she is enthusiastic and puts in two hours straight to complete the goals on the first day, it may be fine to let her take a few days off to pursue other passions (but a refresher just before returning to class is a good idea.) This is also the child most likely to request advanced options from the teacher and have the drive to achieve them. Provide her with recordings of various piano music. She may hear a song she loves and let you know, "I MUST learn to play this song!" Get her the sheet music and she will!
Type 4: This is Serious Business
Your analytical child wants respect from you, and enjoys being taken as seriously as another adult.Include him in the discussion of when and how to practice and let him know that his ideas are taken seriously. You may be surprised at his problem-solving. "I think the best way for me to practice without being interrupted by the little kids is if you let me stay up to practice after they are in bed." This Type enjoys perfecting and polishing his songs, so if he is ever frustrated when the group class puts a song away, assure him that he can keep working on it at home. For the same reason, he may get frustrated when his progress is not quick and perfect. Assure him, "It seems you are frustrated that it's taking a long time to learn this part. I think your progress is right on track, and it was expected that this part would be tricky. It's okay to feel frustrated, and it doesn't mean you're not a good pianist." Because he longs for respect, ask before offering too much advice on his work. "I heard a few mistakes in that last song; would you like me to help you notice them, or do you want to keep working on it alone for a bit longer?" Your thoughtful child may easily fall in love with the beautiful mathematics and theory of music as well the satisfaction of playing polished pieces and mastering technique. He is the most likely Type to appreciate knowing the many ways music lessons can affect and improve his brain and school success. He also is the Type who will enjoy knowing the purpose of each activity in class- what theory it is teaching and what skills it helps him practice. If your Type 4 child is not enjoying class, he may feel like he's not being included in designing how to go about learning and practicing. The great news is he'll be able to handle a mature and respectful problem-solving conversation; if you take him seriously he'll love to find the solution for making things work.
Let's Play Music!
Now as you head to class and practice time, keep your child's experience, needs, and perspectives in mind. Many parents are aware that each of their children go about music learning in a slightly different way, often different from how the parents themselves would work through it. Respect your child's nature while guiding him through this wonderful and sensitive period. Let's plant the seeds of love for music and offer a platform for bonding between parent and child.
For more ideas, grab your own copy of The Child Whisperer, by Carol Tuttle.
-Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music Teacher