All Behavior is Communication


            There is no such thing as a typical piano student. There is no perfect piano student. There isn’t even a “right kind” of piano student.


There are just students. Each one different. Each one special and just right. Every one of these just right students will behave in inconsistent ways.


Some days your student Sasha will be delightful. Other days she will be a challenge. Sometimes she will amuse you with her humor. Others times she may not even smile.

ABC: All Behavior is Communication


One way to ignore the communication is to focus on your feelings about Sasha’s behavior. For instance, “I hate it when Sasha turns away from me and fiddles with a pencil. I’m trying to talk to her and it's SO annoying.”

While it may be true that Sasha's behavior annoys you, as a teacher the only useful question to ask yourself is,  “Why is Sasha facing away from me and playing with the pencil?”

There is no judgment in this question. It’s simple and clear. Sasha is doing something that makes sense to her body at this place and time. Why?

ABC + Detective

This is when it gets interesting. The ABC’s also have a D.

It stands for Detective — the role you have the privilege of playing. As a teacher, you must be the Detective who solves the mystery of why Sasha is facing away from you and playing with the pencil.

Yes, you could cop out and tell yourself, “Sasha is doing this because she’s a poorly behaved, coddled child. Kids these days.”

You could call a friend and commiserate about the lousy children of today. 


This will guarantee you a life of misery as you find more and more of these poorly behaved, rotten little children filling up your afternoons.

Or, you can do the far more interesting detective work of finding out what her behavior means. 

Is she perhaps

  • Frustrated?

  • Confused?

  • Anxious?

  • Overwhelmed?

  • Hungry?

  • Does she even understand the question you just asked her?

  • Is she trying to distract you so that you won’t notice she doesn’t understand something?

  • Having trouble understanding the words you’re using?

  • Does she do better when you do physical learning using things like magnets, white boards or puzzle erasers?


Your job isn’t easy, but if you aren’t interested in being this Detective, you might want to explore a career in lawn mower repair. (You'll still have to figure out what the lawn mower is trying to tell you when it won't start, but the lawn mower won't need therapy if you don't get it right.)

Me? I love being the Detective. I savor the thrill of unlocking a series of behaviors that puzzle me. There’s a reason Sasha is doing what she’s doing. It's like she's speaking in code and I need to find the key to decipher it.

It would be an amazing world if a child could say, "I am feeling somewhat anxious when I hear you ask me a question too quickly using an overabundance of jargon. Because of this, I find it difficult to concentrate on your actual question and also, I don't like your perfume." 

Unfortunately, kids don't come into the world with those skills. We, as responsible adults, must help them unlock their own personal code so they can become the best learners they can be.


The next time your student Tom climbs off the bench and hides under it what will your response be? Will you dismiss him as a badly behaved child? Or will you become a Detective?

If you'd like to find out more about learning differences, I highly recommend the book The Mislabeled Child. It's a brilliant guide to the basics of learning differences and would be helpful to any parent or teacher.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit TeachWithDiane for more dynamic content, videos, inspiration and interviews that will empower you to be the best teacher you can be!

© 2019 by Diane Hidy

You'll wonder how you ever taught without this 32-page book. I made these cards for my students to give them plenty of opportunities to practice all the different skills they were acquiring. This series starts with the simplest possible rhythmic patterns on the Landmark notes Middle C, Bass F and Treble G. Each set becomes incrementally more difficult.

Here are a few of the many different ways to use these cards:

  • Encourage students to write in their own fingering. This paves the way for making true fingering choices later on

  • Circle the thirds before starting to read the flashcards. This helps the student focus on the difference between steps and skips.

  • Help your student write in their own staccatos and slurs. Try them out. Talk to them about why they do or don't like them. 

  • Help the student add dynamics and phrase marks.

  • Print these in their entirety and use them as a book.

  • Print them on heavy paper or card stock and cut them into separate cards. Trying sending home a set with a student and ask them to become proficient with each one. At the next lesson, mix them up and play them in random order. It’s a nice combination of preparation and reading.