For music teachers, building confidence in piano students is high on the priority list. You want your students to feel comfortable, happy, and excited about their practice. This state of mind leads to better learning and sustainable progress.
Yet confidence is such a fragile thing. It is easy, especially for students with limited experience, to lack confidence. Doubt in one’s abilities is not rare during the learning process.
In fact, we can say that some doubt is even healthy to make sure the learning process is closely examined. The key is for the piano student to strike a good balance between confidence and self-observation. Teachers play a big role in helping the student with this.
This article will explore 6 different ways in which music teachers can help build confidence in piano students of all ages.
Piano practice must start small. Either when learning music theory or actually sitting on the piano, the learning process must tackle the basics first.
Starting small helps piano students to not crash and burn. Going too fast and hard, trying to learn things that are out of reach, technically speaking, is lethal for confidence. Advanced things, not befitting for beginners, will make the student feel inadequate and incapable.
Instead, by starting small, we give the student an opportunity to successfully digest lessons that are actually on her level and show real results. These visible results, even from basic lessons, will build compounding confidence in the student.
Establish and Track Goals
In a recent article, we talked about how using goals was of great value for motivating piano students. The same applies to building confidence.
Goals that are realistic, measurable, and time-framed have the potential to build confidence in the piano student. So, how can you do it? Take time to sit down with each student and define, based on the current situation and progress, realistic goals for the next months.
Similar to starting small, good goals in piano practice are those that are pragmatic and doable. This means that the student should not set a goal to become a world-class performer by the end of the year.
Also, good goals are those heavily based on progress, not outcome. Naturally, the student could be fixated on the outcome (how good he plays the piano), overlooking the progress (the actual work done every day to become good). Here is where, in your role as a teacher, you must stimulate interest in effort over all things. After all, this is the only thing actually under the student’s control.
Once you and the student have defined goals, it is important to actually use them. Schedule periodical sessions to sit down and discuss progress and how it compares to the goal. Tracking defined goals is the only way to actually use them.
Take the Student’s Interests into Consideration
Confidence is difficult to build when we feel out of control. So, imagine a piano student who has absolutely no say in how she practices and learns.
No matter the age, take the student’s opinion into the equation. Ask her about her music interests, doubts and questions, how she feels when practicing and playing, and how she would like to practice in the future.
As a music teacher, you will ultimately dictate how the practice develops. However, there is an inherent risk in entirely removing decision-making from the student.
Taking the student seriously while planning and practicing will give him a greater sense of responsibility and seriousness about his learning process. This translates into confidence on the piano.
Show Understanding, Even in Moments of Frustration
Perceived lack of skill leads to frustration. Frustration leads to embarrassment and even greater frustration. This is a common cycle for piano students.
As her teacher, you have the power to mitigate the pain and damage that this cycle causes. One of the consequences of this cycle is the abatement of confidence. It is important for educators to understand this.
Unfortunately, the student’s state of mind in these moments is often ignored and sometimes the teacher decides that the best course of action is pushing harder. We would like to argue against that.
True understanding and empathy in moments like this, from teacher to student, can be incredibly powerful. Piano students can bounce back faster when they have the right support. The goal is for them to overcome frustration as quickly as possible and avoid any serious damage to their confidence.
On the contrary, admonishing a student for feeling frustrated can be truly destructive to their confidence, present and future.
Get Friends and Family Involved (When the Time is Right)
Getting friends and family involved, especially for younger piano students, is a great resource for confidence building.
Loved ones are (usually) highly supportive and represent the main system in which young students develop their true confidence. That is why getting them involved in the practice has value.
The time needs to be right, though. We don’t want to invite the student’s friends and family before she is ready to deliver a live performance. While teachers should not wait until the student becomes Murray Perahia, they must see solid progress in their practice before planning a performance.
Teachers and piano students must define realistic milestones and attach presentations to some of them when possible. That way, the student can prepare, technically and psychologically, beforehand and envision herself playing for her loved ones soon in the future.
Nurture a Growth Mindset
Successfully building confidence in piano students is only possible in the presence of a growth mindset.
In the context of learning to play the piano, a growth mindset is an inner belief that abilities can be developed and improved over time through consistent effort and learning. Once the piano student overcomes the common fixed mindset, which is the belief that she is stuck with her current ability level and knowledge, she can move towards growth.
The extraordinary thing about developing a growth mindset is that mistakes during practice become the most valuable lessons. Every error while hitting the keys and every moment of adversity trying to master the theory, all become bits of valuable experience. These bits compound and produce mastery.
Every music teacher finds herself in the position to nurture a growth mindset in the student and with it, a greater sense of true confidence. It really doesn’t matter how advanced is the piano student in her journey; what will truly have a long-lasting effect on her confidence is how much she believes she can get better through practice.
The Bottom Line
We all have seen the effects of true confidence in individuals. Artists who enjoy a greater sense of self-confidence are extremely more capable than others who don’t when it comes to learning and performing.
This reality applies to every single field of human mastery. Wherever we are trying to do something well, confidence plays a disproportionate role in success.
Building confidence in piano students will do wonders for your practice as a teacher. Make sure they are doing an effort to foster a positive mindset and see them flourish in their artistic journey.