[a little story from my life as a piano teacher]
One of my favorite parts of teaching is giving my students the opportunity to experience the thrill of a challenge. Their eyes light up and you can “see the the gears turning” in their minds as they work through the task in their peak focus mode. By the time they finish they’re almost always smiling and laughing at the fact that they succeeded at something they had no idea they were capable of doing!
One afternoon I was working with a student who, at the time, was approaching an exciting new frontier in his playing capacity. The hand-eye coordination/music-into-the-fingers agility thing was just on the verge of really kicking in. He was learning a song he adored – Star Wars. Two pages of awesome that he was insanely motivated to learn and be awesome at playing. After three weeks of listening to him plink out the notes on the page with little to no adherence to the actual rhythm despite the inglorious metronome smacking the beat in the background, I said, “Jack, let’s play this together. You’ve got the notes down, and I know that you know how the rhythm goes because you love this song so much, so let’s try to get it just right as a duet.”
(Side note: Oh the duet! One of my favorite teacher tools. There’s no fudging the rhythm in a duet – you either make it or break it, there is no room for faking it! A real eye-opener – or should I say ear opener? – for students.)
One, ready, play! *tri-ple-et* – (This is the part where you imagine four hands on a piano playing the melody of Star Wars in your head, and two of those hands trembling in both fear and eagerness.)
We were off. The boundaries of Jack’s zone of proximal development were clearly being pushed. Little convulsions on the piano bench, pursed lips and darting eyes were happening all over the place. I forged ahead, regardless of Jack’s struggle to keep up. I was the mighty metronome this time, confidently playing Star Wars in the low, booming bass register. But he kept catching up. And catching up. We got to the second page. I think his head started spinning. I’m sure his little heart was racing. He struggled, he got off the beat, he played, he caught up, and then…
We ended together!!
It was victorious.
He looked and me with the biggest smile and twinkling eyes and he laughed, partly because he was happy and partly to shake off the nerves. After I congratulated him on making it to the finish and sticking with it the whole way through, I asked him what that experience felt like. The thrill of a challenge… a sweet moment in learning. His response: “Well, the first page felt good, I thought I did a pretty good job keeping up with you… but on that second page, I was just going BACUCKOO!!”
Bacuckoo! I love it. Do teacher moments get any better?
I think my student’s choice of the word “bacuckoo” is a pretty good one to describe what it feels like when your synapses are sparking and the two sides of your brain are trying to go for a dance. Learning music (especially in the context of performance) can feel like such a rush! I feel like a good teacher when learning thrills a student, and I am thankful that I get to provide opportunities like this to kids every day. I want them to love learning. I want them to love growing and getting better, and I am excited for the day that they look back and realize how far they’ve come, because that’s a good feeling.
Kids are fun. And so is teaching music!
*This is a true story. The name of my student was changed for privacy.