Every teacher has skills and abilities that are working effectively in their teaching practice.  This, of course, is not the area we concern ourselves with here.  We simply want more of what already works well and we want to add competence to areas that are less effective. We want results – we want our students to have vitality, enthusiasm, to learn the discipline and satisfaction of achievement when working hard, the satisfaction and pride from that work well done, the fundamentals and techniques of quality playing, performance, composing, discernment and listening.

When we work with the young, we are equally instrumental in the composition of who they are becoming. Music is such a beautiful, expressive art which has meaning, noble value and an ability to soothe or influence the life of listeners.  Teaching music to children brings a further responsibility to use the opportunity as a forum or metaphor, for the development of a life of quality imbued with an awareness of beauty, of skill, of expressiveness, of relationship and of meaningfulness.  As teachers we also model good communication, self-awareness, authenticity, and other qualities necessary for a substantive, meaningful life 

Every skill developed, every problem solved, every landmark achieved, lends itself to skills that transfer to who the child becomes as an adult in the world.  For instance, the ability to follow through or not in learning a piece transfers to finishing job assignments later in life, or papers in college.  Learning to communicate equally and respectfully transfers to excellent communication and social skills, as do manners.  Manners teach behavior that allows the child to learn positive ways of interacting so that he or she is integrated and welcomed into the lives of others, rather than shunned or avoided.  When children are guided and encouraged through all interaction to learn these skills, it also enhances and establishes greater self-esteem which will serve them well throughout their lives, in their decision-making and in relationships.

My interest and awareness of these issues developed while training early on with concert pianists.  Additionally my formal and informal education included personal growth courses in communication, counseling skills, an undergraduate degree in Human Development, a graduate degree in Interdisciplinary Human Consciousness studies, a Montessori teaching credential, a community college teaching credential, and later, certifications in the therapeutic hypnosis of Milton H. Erickson, M.D.  I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been led to the piano technique and pedagogy of Abby Whiteside.  All of these combined in a body of knowledge which led me to the need and awareness for the education of the whole child even in the short span of a weekly piano lesson given over many years.

Each person’s skills and life are so complex and interwoven that it is nearly impossible to cover every important and intertwining aspect in an article.  However, in an attempt to provide additional ideas to the pool of piano and music pedagogy, I would like to offer what has been uniquely successful for me in my teaching of children and adults.  This is not to say that every student has emerged in full bloom.  Some students clearly are not interested in working or we are not well suited to one another.  But for those with whom I have shared their lives for many years, wonderful results have unfolded.

I was well schooled in child development in my Montessori training.  In one article that I recall, the author indicated that research showed that children who are given expectations do much better.  Children who come to study with me are required to make progress, the degree to which is dependent on their age and level of study.  This ability to progress transfers later to many areas for success:  in work, school, and any individual or team projects.  There is an interesting satisfaction correlation.  The harder they work, the greater the satisfaction.  How many of you have children who are not practicing and simultaneously then say they want to quit?  Notice what happens when you require them to work hard.    The harder they work the more they enjoy it.  I see little notations on their piano books “I love piano.”  Maria Montessori also discovered that children’s internal satisfaction is its own reward.  Any outer reward diminishes the pleasure of the child by diverting the attention away from the real benefit of the task or talent well developed.

Using Montessori Methods in the Studio – Follow the Child

Of course it’s impossible to cover a pioneer’s work in a few sentences;, however, a most important point from Maria Montessori in teaching is that children in their first formative years are driven to learn and to develop.  It is an innate, biological urge.  They want to be like those they see around them.  They want to fit in.  The disservice we do to young children is to say “you’re too young; you can’t do it.”  Montessori discovered it is most damaging to children to thwart their desires to work hard, to learn, to grow.  The most helpful methods, she observed, are non-interference, and a preparation of the environment to meet these needs to learn by making instruction and materials available.  For instance, in my piano studio if a young child has the developmental need to learn to cut with scissors then, using my ability to follow the child so as to help retain his or her vitality, I will respond to their expressed need by giving them the task of cutting strips of notes. As they learn to cut, they learn to identify the notes they are cutting.   If they are driven to learn to write, then I have worksheets for them to draw notes, the musical alphabet, clefs, etc.  Follow the child was Montessori’s main motif.  The only time for interference is in misuse of materials or misbehavior.  She also believed there was a place for traditional instruction, so I include my own direction for their learning too – working at the piano, learning of the sequenced material.  Vicarious learning and modeling are quite helpful too.  Once a very young child has sat in on the recital of older students, there is little, if any need to motivate them to work.  They are driven to be like the older kids -- a very useful tool.

Using the Therapeutic Hypnosis of Milton H. Erickson, M.D.

Milton Erickson, M.D., was another pioneer in the aim toward healthy, fully functioning lives.  How many of you have students who are overwhelmed by nervousness when recital time comes around?  How often do you want to find an ease for them to help them get through challenging times?  How often do you want to find ways to motivate them or to create rapport?  Again, it is impossible to boil down this amazing body of work into a nutshell, but a few primary ideas are (1) use the interests of the person at hand to communicate; and (2) future-pace positive results. 

To use the interests of the child, if a young student walks in and tells me she’s a ballerina, I ask her what a ballerina sounds like playing the piano.  How does a ballerina move to get over to the piano?  If a ballerina were dancing to this piece of music, how would it be played so she could dance?  In other words, use the occupation or interest of the student to communicate ideas. 

To future-pace positive results, help to inform the student of successful results.  For instance, for my incredibly nervous 8-year old, - my vomiting, pre-recital “I want to quit” student – I began months in advance to appreciate her playing, to ask her what the look on the faces of the audience will be when she turns around after they have heard such beautiful music, and what that will be like for her to see those faces.  How it will feel to her to play music so beautifully.  At the following recital, for the very first time and ever since, she self-reported that she loved playing the different moods of the piece for the audience. 


Every teacher has his or her own style and personality, as do students.  To work within that individual style and personality creates greater results than an attempt to uniformly adapt all students to the same style, nor is it helpful for a teacher to be inauthentic by adopting a style which is not truly his or her own.   Just as every flower in the garden has its own color, shape, fragrance and needs, we get the most enjoyment from a well-tended garden rich with color and beauty.

Independence is a critical factor in the development of children.  Learning to be skilled and competent allows them to become fully functioning adults.  Even critical and independent thinking allows for greater well-being in that one is less inclined to follow along the wrong path.  For that reason, I specifically present new information, but generally ask questions to elicit responses.  This insures that children are learning to think, to find answers, and to become more authentic in their development.

There are also websites devoted to the works of Montessori, to Milton Erickson, M.D., and to the piano pedagogy and teaching of Abby Whiteside.

(c) May 2007 Linda Schneider


For information e-mail linda@fluidpiano.com
Multiple Modalities in Music Teaching
(Montessori, Milton Erickson, and more)