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  • Writer's pictureDiane Hidy

Stop Trying to Teach Creatively

Updated: Sep 20, 2019

Jenny is coming in 15 minutes for her lesson and things didn’t go well last week. She was so distracted that you thought she might quit piano. To be honest, you were kinda hoping she would quit piano. Have you ever felt that way? I certainly have.

You may have been reading a lot about the buzzword “Creativity” in Piano Teaching. Perhaps, you think, you’re not doing well with Jenny because you’re not being creative enough. Doubts rush in. “I need to be more innovative. I need to break out of my rut. I need to be more original. I need a Student Saver piece. A Superhero piece. More chords. Pop Tunes.”

I’d like to propose something else.

What if the problem isn’t that you're not “teaching creatively enough” but that you’ve forgotten to focus on Jenny? What if she isn’t a “problem student,” but simply herself. Not a student in need of a blast of “creativity,” but a student whose behavior is trying to communicate something to you.

Whenever I find myself discouraged with a student like Jenny, I slow myself down. I focus on what I see. I take some time to consider the situation.

  • What is Jenny trying to tell me with her behavior?

  • How can I describe what she’s doing?

  • For example, “Jenny seems distracted.”

If I describe Jenny as distracted, that's helpful but not specific enough. I need to ask myself, “What am I doing that makes her distracted? What were we doing when she started to seem distracted?"

Behavior doesn't happen in a vacuum. Something I've done or asked her to do is making her feel uncomfortable. My job is to figure out what's happened and how to refocus her.

Another of my students, Jason, likes his world complicated. If I ask him a “yes or no” question, his favorite reply is, “Maybe.” This can be challenging. If I’m tired, I can lose my cool.

“Why can’t he just say a simple ‘yes’ when I ask him if he likes something?” I’ll think.

Strangely, that’s exactly the right question to ask.

  • Why can’t he answer a question simply?

  • What is he getting out of the interaction?

My best teaching happens when I stay focused on the messages underneath the words my students are saying. Not, “Jason makes me so angry when he answers a question with ‘maybe.’” But reminding myself to ask, “Why is Jason answering a question that way? What kind of interaction is he looking for? Is he trying to show how quick he is? Is he confused about the real answer? Does he want a higher level conversation? A bigger challenge?”

Here are simple solutions that have worked with Jason:

  • Outweird him. If he says something goofy, I respond with something goofier.

  • Go farther than he did. If he says that the fingering should be, "1, 2, 14, 20," I might respond with, "Hmm...I thought it was 1, 3, 15, 19!" Butting heads with a student like this will backfire. Joining him in his crazy math just might work.

After you’ve established your goal, it's time to think about ways to meet the needs of your students. You may have some quite creative solutions up your sleeve. But talking about Creativity in Teaching as if it were something that happens in a vacuum does us all a disservice. Teaching never happens without a student. A particular student. At a single place. A specific time. Today. Now.

That’s when you meet the student’s needs. Anything else is just a buzz word.

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