• Diane Hidy

Teaching with Your Knees Bent

As a parent, I found the best way to set myself up for disaster was to say to myself, "I'm so glad MY child doesn't... [fill in the blank]."

For example, "I'm so glad MY child doesn't bite other children." Perhaps you can guess what my child's next challenge was.

As piano teacher, I loved my huge studio, filled each day with delightful students of all ages. Sometimes I'd think to myself, "I'm so glad that I don't have to teach like Anne, in a tiny room with one upright piano."

Fast forward. Guess where I'm teaching?

All the planning in the world couldn't have prepared me for the teaching challenges I face now. Anne, in her room with the upright, and me with my Clavinova are in identical situations.

Every teacher around the world is trying to do what they know how to do in ways they've never imagined.

First, we have to get past the idea that we're entitled to do it our old way. We aren't.

This pandemic doesn't care about our degrees or how many of our students have gotten into Juilliard. No one gets to do things their normal way, so we need to get over that idea. Ask anyone who owns a restaurant or runs a shop. Not to mention a physician. Nothing is normal.

Teaching isn't about us, it's about our students. They're the same kids they were before. They still need music in their lives and it's up to us to figure out how to get it to them.

That doesn't mean that it's not frustrating. It is. Sometimes at the end an afternoon of teaching I want to scream. I'm not holding myself up as an example of being a good sport about this. I'm a poor sport about it. Often.

I do, however, try to find solutions. Tomorrow I'm heading down to the city to give one of my students some lessons from outside his living room, maintaining social distancing and using his old electric keyboard to demonstrate from far away. It may be horrible, but even if the lesson doesn't work, seeing him in person will be balm for my lonely music teacher soul.

Here's what I'm telling myself every day. (Substituting teaching jargon for skiing jargon.)

"Before you begin to face a teaching challenge, it's essential that you have the right body position: that

means your arms and your hips forward, your eyes looking three bumps in front of you. Most importantly, you should be able to feel your shins crushing against the front of your boots. (You don't know whether this one's a big one or not. Prepare emotionally and physically for anything.) Begin your absorption when you first sense a problem coming your way. When absorbing, bend your knees and pull up your legs against your chest. You're as flexible as a coiled spring. Do not lose heart! (Don't waste time patting yourself on the back for getting the worst behind you - you know not what waits ahead...) Once your feet get over the highest part you need to drive yourself down the back side of the bump and extend your legs. Once you're fully extended you're ready to absorb the next bump. With some practice and hard work, you'll soon find out that that absorbing the bumps is actually quite easy. Good luck!"

Watch this and imagine you are the skier: coping brilliantly with each challenge while maintaining the perfect trajectory.

Teaching right now means being ready for anything. It's easier with your knees bent.


© 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.