The Power of Positive Thinking Darlene Irwin     March 26, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I shared this poster on the Student Music Organizer Facebook page

Clear your mind of CAN'T

It made me think of a story that I remember my mother reading to me when I was very young. I'm sure that everyone is familiar with the beloved children's book entitles "The Little Engine that Could" by Watty Piper (Published in 1954 by Platt & Monk. Illustrated by George & Doris Hauman). An early published version called, "The Story of the Engine that Thought it Could", appeared in the New York Tribune on April 8th, 1906, as part of a sermon by the Rev. Charles S. Wing.

Part of an early version goes as follows:

A little railroad engine was employed about a station yard for such work as it was built for, pulling a few cars on and off the switches. One morning it was waiting for the next call when a long train of freight-cars asked a large engine in the roundhouse to take it over the hill.

 "I think I can," puffed the little locomotive, and put itself in front of the great heavy train. As it went on the little engine kept bravely puffing faster and faster, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."

As it neared the top of the grade, which had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly. However, it still kept saying, "I—think—I—can, I—think—I—can." It reached the top by drawing on bravery and then went on down the grade, congratulating itself by saying, "I thought I could, I thought I could."

(found on Wilkipedia).

And then I began to think about how I could relate this story to the Power of Positive Thinking in everyday teaching.

Here are some positive ideas that have made a difference for me in my own studio:

  • Always greet a student pleasantly at each lesson. It's important to be ready for them and to give them your undivided attention.
  • Listen to them and make them feel that they are important. Everyone gets discouraged from time to time. Help them through that. Encourage, encourage, encourage! I always remember an old saying that my grandmother used to say to me: "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar"!! It's important to be positive at each and every lesson.
  • Have a studio motto and post it where parents and students can see it! Your motto should reflect your teaching philosophy. My studio motto is "Great Music Comes from the Heart".
  • New music helps! Talk to the parents, buy a new book with music that is at their level that they enjoy. Find out what moves them musically and let them play that as well as their other pieces.
  • Work to each students strengths. If a student has a great sense of rhythm and absolutely loves jazzy pieces, then let them play jazz! When I am picking a new piece for a student, I make sure that they feel as if they are part of the process. I usually give them a choice of 2 or 3 pieces that I think they will like. I'm always looking for that sparkle in their eyes when they hear something that they like. I want them to come back the next week and say "I LOVED that song"!!
  • If a piece is not working for a student after a few weeks, find something different that teaches the same concepts. They don't have to always play a minuet to learn balance, phrasing and tonal control. That's not to say that they shouldn't learn minuets!! However, lots of other pieces can also teach the same things. i.e. In Dreams (from Lord of the Rings) or Colors of the Wind (from Pocahontas).
  • Many popular pieces have very tricky syncopated rhythms.These pieces are great at helping students with their counting. Students love to play the jazz pieces of Christopher Norton. A lot of these pieces have backtracks that you can download from his website. They love playing with a band behind them! It is also a great way to teach them how to play with the beat!
  • Have them learn something different that no one else in the studio has played. That always makes them feel special. (see previous blog post entitled: "Spicing up your Studio with New Repertoire")
  • Have your students try to figure out a simple melody from a familiar pieces by ear (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star works well). Teach them some basic chords (I, IV and V) and then show them how to turn these chords into a simple accompaniments that they can work out on their own.
  • Teach them a 'new' scale like the Pentatonic or Whole Tone Scale. Then have them try composing a song of their own using one of these scales. You could also have them draw a picture or write a story for their piece. You could use the extra manuscript pages and extra notes pages in the back of The Student Music Organizer for this. They could then perform that piece at a recital or master class.
  • I always encourage my students to memorize their piece for a performance. They will play it much better if it is memorized. However, I do allow them to take their music up with them until they feel ready to play without the score. They need to feel comfortable playing without the music and that takes time for some students. I want them to have a positive experience and sometimes all they need is to have the music in front of them as a security blanket. Lots of times they don't even look at it! When they are ready, then they can try to perform from memory.
  • Each student handles the stress of performing in a different way. When I was young, I had the privilege of studying with an amazing teacher. Her name was Patricia Bloomfield Holt. She was a well-known Canadian composer and a respected Royal Conservatory of Music teacher and examiner for many years. However, at the time, I didn't know any of that. I knew her simply as Mrs. Holt. She was very strict, but I also knew that she cared about me and that she wanted the best for me. Most importantly, she didn't give up on me. And because of that, she changed the course of my life. I will always remember her saying that I was NEVER to say the word 'nervous" (she called it the 'N' word). Instead, we had to say that we were 'excited'. I remember lots of times being VERY excited!! But somehow, that change of mindset made it easier for me to perform.

This needlepoint hangs on the wall of my studio. It was a gift from a student.

My goal has always been to have my students learn to love music. Not all students will do exams or festivals. But all students can develop a love of music. When they have finished their formal lessons, I want them to be able to play this thing called the piano. I want them to have an appreciation for classical music, for pop and jazz and all kinds of music I want them to have something that they can enjoy and carry with them for the rest of their lives.

We, as music teachers, have the best job! We can introduce our students to the wonderful and amazing world of music. We can instill in our students a love of music that will last a lifetime. We can give them the gift of music. But to do this, it is important that we also have a positive attitude with our students. We need to patiently find ways to 'reach' them. Each student is different, with their own musical tastes and interests. We need to believe in them and teach each student at their own pace. We also need to give them opportunities to feel successful. As we approach each student in this way, we can help them to feel like that little engine....."I thought I could, I thought I could." or, even better: I knew I could, I knew I could!