How to help grieving piano students? : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

I wonder if some of you may have advice on an unusual situation. I just scheduled four new piano students. Their former piano teacher, sadly, was murdered last month. The kids are naturally devastated, and reluctant to continue lessons with someone else.

It's hard enough for students to adjust to a new teacher ("that's not how Mrs. Q did things"), but this is an especially difficult situation. Any advice on how I can help these kids, keep them interested in piano, and make the adjustment to having a new teacher? I intend to keep them in the same books they're using for awhile for continuity, but I can't replicate or replace their former teacher. I don't know whether to discuss the tragic loss of their teacher with them, or just be cheery and move ahead without bringing it up.

Any suggestions?



-- Monica (, March 07, 2001


What a devastating situation! I believe that having it out in the open, maybe even spending a lesson talking and getting to know one another and listening to them will go a long way to keeping them interested and helping them adjust to you. Explain to them that you understand their grief and their reticence to have another teacher and that you know you can never replace their teacher, but that you would like for them to give you a chance (maybe even set a period of time that they would agree not to quit) and during that time be as patient and understanding as you possibly can. This is a difficult subject to be very articulate on because most of it is dealing with emotions and feelings; so I hope some of it makes sense. I have had a lot of experience as a ministers wife as well as a teacher dealing with all sorts of grief and disappointments, and I believe the best thing anyone can do is not be afraid to talk about it and show them as much love and kindness and patience as you would want if you were in a similar situation. Most of all, be sensitive to the individual student and they will probably lead the relationship. I hope this helps; sorry it's so long. All the best, Deedra

-- Deedra (, March 07, 2001.

Deedra's response was very good. I would also keep in close communication with the parents so you are well aware of any issues. And I think I would move them gently into new books. Everytime they see stickers or handwriting they will be thinking directly of the former teacher - and maybe not productively. L.

-- Lilla Carlisle (, March 07, 2001.

Hi Monica, You are doing a real service to these kids to help them through this. Deedra is right. Smiling and ignoring what has happened won't be helpful, but dealing directly at least once with the situation will help, and maybe this can be a time when they learn what a blessing music can be in expressing feelings you sometimes have trouble talking about. You are right, take your cues from the kids. And know that you may never know if you "handled" it just right, but as long as you care, you won't handle it wrong. Mary Jo

-- Mary Jo Lewis (, March 07, 2001.


I can't imagine being in the situation you are faced with. Everyone here has given you the same advice I would think to give you . Still, this is such a devistating experience for anyone to go through, let alone children. I presently have an adult student whose daughter is terminally ill with brain cancer. Every lesson is a trying one for me because I lost my father to cancer a few years ago. Still, I feel at least I am giving my student a certain amount of escape from her emotions and at the same time a release of them. She cries at nearly every lesson, and I do too, but that is ok because I think her crying is releasing the emotion that is built up inside. So, if your students brake down during the lesson, let them do it and be as patient and sensitive as you possibly can. I think that music is one of the most, if not the most, theraputic devices for the human soul and the emotions that come along with it. Try to focus on the music itself and allow your students to release their emotions thru it. Let them know that it is ok for them to have the feelings that they have, even the feelings of not excepting you at first because these are real and not personally directed at you but is just part of the grieving process.

-- Phil King (, March 07, 2001.

Thanks for all the wonderful advice. It seems right to say a few words to them, to invite them to talk more if they want to, and follow their leads.

I think I might let them know that my father died recently, and he was my piano teacher -- I don't want to add to the sadness, but just let them know I understand how it is to grieve.

I appreciate the advice also to move them out of their current books after a time, when they can let go; to let them know it's okay to not like having a new piano teacher (which I know is different from not liking me personally, but I still hope they don't hate me for not being her); and for the very reluctant ones, to try to come up with a time period to give it a chance.

I've never dealt with anything like this before, and hope I can meet the challenge. My heart sure goes out to these kids.


-- Monica (, March 07, 2001.

Monica, Some kids might want new books right away, so I guess that's another area where you'll have to take the cue from the kids, as to whether they want to continue with the old ones, or move on to new ones. I can't imagine what those kids must be going thru.

-- Julie2 (, March 08, 2001.

Monica, I agree that the new books would probably be a great idea. Instead of talking to the children though, I would talk with the parents. They need to have a lot of input during this time and they can give you the neccessary clues to know where to go with their child. Resa

-- Resa (, March 08, 2001.

What a tough situation to be in!

Regarding whether to change books or not, I'd ask the children what they want to do. They may wish to continue in those books, but they may wish to have a fresh start. I think the decision should be theirs.

Regarding talking to the children about the loss of their teacher, I'd just play it by ear. If it looks to you like the children are open & want to talk with you about it, I think it would be good therapy for them to do that. But I wouldn't force them to. They're going through a grieving process right now, & you need to be sensitive to their feelings & needs.

One last thing. It might be a good idea to talk with the children's parents & ask if they can think of any ways you can make this transition smoother.

Hope this helps.

-- Music Educator (, March 20, 2001.

That is a hard one. How old are the kids? I would say you shoul mention briefly that the former piano teacher did a good job with them and that it would be a loss if they dont continue with the piano. I would say try to encourage them to play different stuff. I guess you will have to play iy by ear.

-- Gabriela Fernandez (, April 28, 2003.

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