Praising a student : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

I'm a subscriber to the *Practice Spot* newsletter, and just received a newsletter w/ the addition to their site today. One of the additions was what to do when the student doesn't practice, and comes to lessons with... maybe a line of the music correct or whatever. They say to praise the student on the good things they accomplished in the piece even tho you'd like to point out what they didn't do, etc.... Anyway, what I'm trying to get at is: I'd like to praise my students, but it's very hard, especially since I'm frustrated just about every lesson I have w/my 2 students. I do praise them if they've done something right, or just gotten the hang of something I've been trying to teach them for months, but it's REALLY hard for me to give praise when I can't find a reason. Also, my 11 y.o. student, I have to be really careful not to over-do the praise, otherwise she'll just brag about it to everyone, saying how good she is in piano playing (and she'll do this when I'm like right behind her, and I feel as tho I have to say some sort of word about how good she's doing! Doh!!). I can't stand it when a kid brags about how good they are at something, tho sometimes I'll accept it. Sorry, this may not be making any sense, but if anyone can make any sense out of all this jumble, could you please help me on how to give praise without over-doing it? or are you supposed to over-do it? I just would like to know how you guys give praise to your students, especially when you don't exactly have the heart to do it. Please help!! Thanks in advance ~


-- Julie (, March 27, 2001


Julie, I feel your pain! I'm sure ALL of us need to do a reality check as to how we balance praise and is a constant challenge.

Praise needs to be SPECIFIC. Try to find something (anything!) the student is doing well. Examples:

"I could really hear your crescendo in measure 3"

"I heard a steady beat throughout the entire piece!"

"You look very balanced on the bench; I can tell you're sitting with excellent posture."

"I like how you played EVERY staccato note short and crisp."

Sometimes you can make "observations" that may not be "praise", but they comment on the student's efforts and can lead to more constructive comments. (examples)

"You played with a lot of energy....I wonder if some movements may HELP you make certain sounds, while others movements may NOT help you make sound at the piano."

"Measures 15 & 16 are CHALLENGING, aren't they! Which practice steps can you use to make this part easier and more secure?"

When planning assignments, make sure you have broken down each piece into SMALL, OBTAINABLE practice steps that students can master within a week. I've learned that hearing these practice steps BEFORE I hear the piece will give me the opportunity to praise their practice habits (or encourage them to improve them!). If you refuse to hear a piece until students can tap & count hands together or point and name intervals, you'll let them know that YOU take these steps seriously. (Let's face it, if students cannot do these basic steps, their performance will not be worth hearing......YET!) Good luck!

-- John Bisceglia (, March 27, 2001.

Any praise you give needs to be sincere (on your part) & deserved (by the student). Children can cut through the bull better than you think. My mother always said, "If you can't say anything good, don't say anything at all." Many times, I keep my mouth shut. It's better than being critical, & kids know that when I do praise them (which is frequent; there are very few instances in which I can find absolutely NOTHING to praise a kid about), they know I mean it.

-- Music Educator (, March 27, 2001.

It's important to differentiate between the student who has given something his best yet still struggles to accomplish the goal(s) at hand and the student who really is lazy, doesn't seem to care that he's not practiced or even put his mind to the assignment, etc. With the former student, by all means find something postitive to say. However, with the latter student, if the situation described is a reoccuring one, I would not hesitate to get in his face and call him on the facts. When a student has been ignoring my instructions and is continually making the same foolish errors unnecessarily, I'll say so. These days, it seems no one should do/say anything that might (heaven forbid) cause a child to feel bad about something. A student who's playing is unnecessarily bad because he has not done his job, needs to know this so he can feel bad. Healthy shame can go a long way to trigger a student to get the ball rolling again. Just the other week, I dealt with such a situation. The student (13 yr old girl) who is very nice and for the most part wants to please, has over the last several weeks (well actually since the Fall) really sluffed off on practice. She'd been able to cover well up until recently and her faulty reading, rhythm, and technic skills have begun to really plummet quite noticably. Well, I've always tried to cut her some slack and given her the benefit of the doubt, praising her when something goes right, but not really calling her on her lack of practice. Two weeks ago, I simply decided I couldn't stand by and let this go on, so after she butchered a piece she'd had for 3 weeks yet again, I simply said, "Mary, I'm not sure what exactly is going on during your practice sessions, but I suspect not much! Your reading skills have weakened along with your ability just to play through a piece musically and with rhythmic & technical fluency. I know you and what you're capable of accomplishing and I see no reason why you shouldn't be able to master each of your pieces in a reasonable amount of time. So, here's the deal, you start practicing more meaningfully to accomplish the goals of your assignments, or we start doing remedial work." This was said toward the end of the lesson, and she did appear to have some extra moisture around her eyes. Nevertheless, next week, she came in with excitement and told me right off that her pieces were ready and her playing would be down pat. She was right. It was an exceptional turn around. Sometimes a student needs to know that we care enough to show our disappointment, even anger; to get a little tough and call them on a few realities. Do it in love tho; they'll respect you more and themselves too from it. Good luck.

-- Gretchen T. (, March 29, 2001.

Amen, Gretchen!!! Julie, I liked what Music Educator said too. In another posting, she used the words "flattery" vs. "praise." I think that's a great way to describe it. Kids know faster than anyone when you are flattering them, and it makes them feel either 1. You are stupid and they really pulled the wool over your eyes and got away with a lot, 2. you really don't care how they do, or in rare cases, 3. that they are up to par when they really are horrid pianists. I know very well when my teacher says "Good" and doesn't mean it. It all depends on the individual kid and their individual situation. Being able to read a student's motives and thoughts is an important skill to cultivate as a teacher. You have to know when to go easy and when to confront the student. You have to be able to tell what will get results. Some students need a kick in the pants to get working. Others will be crushed and depressed by a stern lecture. So do try to "get behind the eyes of the child." You have to be able to tell when they are trying, being lazy, trying to see how much they can get away with, etc. One thing that really ties in with this is the ability to make an assignment where the student can work and really do some praiseworthy work. If you find that a student is trying but is not making very good progress, it could be that the assignment is too hard or needs to be broken up into smaller pieces or with more specific instructions. A lot of times I got frustrated with a student becuase I thought they weren't trying, but if I thought about it from their perspective, I could start to see that maybe what I was giving them was too challenging. It's lots of fun to teach lessons where your kids sound so good that you can praise them and get excited about the music they are making!

-- Julie2 (, April 03, 2001.

In order to put this problem into perspective we need to define praise as recognition of some musical achievement. It does not have to be a big achievement.(For eg: nice staccatto, beautiful ritardando at the ending. As teachers it is our responsibility to recognize the musical achievement and help the student to build on it. Generally I try not give the students the idea that they are fabulous!

-- Marcia Yurko (, February 09, 2002.

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