Pick One: Ignore The Rest

Imagine this scenario: 

You’ve finally decided to clean up the kitchen. You don’t want to but you’re going to do it. As you stand there, up to your elbows in soapy water, your spouse strolls into the room and casually points out, “The bedroom is really kinda messy today.” 

That’s exactly how your student feels when you ask them to do more than one thing at a time. They feel invisible, (they were already doing their best which you didn’t seem to notice) and they’re confused.

Should they keep trying to do what they were doing?

Are you adding on another task?

Should you be trying to make the bed AND wash the dishes at the same time?

This video is a particularly successful example of working on one only thing at a time. The student, Cole, is wonderfully diligent, careful, and completely understands his task. 

We were using a thirds exercise to get him used to skipping over fingers to play thirds with different parts of his hand. Cole was nine years old and had been studying with me for two months. He has excellent natural rhythm, which is not evident here. Remember, one thing at a time. 

These are among the things I chose to ignore:

  • wildly flailing fingers 
  • collapsed joints
  • goofy rhythm
  • inconsistent tone quality

I didn’t ask him to maintain an excellent hand position while playing. He’s simply not strong and coordinated enough yet.

I only asked him to do one thing: return his hand to an excellent hand position when he was done with each phrase.

By making each phrase a self-contained unit, we are teaching breathing at the end of the phrase.

Even more important, I gave him individual, discrete tasks—each one capable of being done successfully.

After we finished this, we moved on to transforming C Major into C Minor. He loved doing it with the animals. We also discussed how to line up the animals in a “V” shape so his fingers will be more comfortable playing the black key. We left the animals on the keys as a reference for his hand. Kids would far rather be “corrected” by a set of brightly colored animals.

Are there any students who are up to the elbows in dishwater and you’re asking them to clean the bedroom?

Be kind. Pick one. Ignore the rest.

Cole using  Japanese Puzzle Erasers  to teach himself how to transform major into minor. 

Cole using Japanese Puzzle Erasers to teach himself how to transform major into minor.