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Hoffman Academy Blog

Empower Your Beginning Pianist


You can tell when a child feels empowered. For example, when I watch my boys doing gymnastics I see a certain focus in their eyes. There’s alertness, eagerness, and willingness. They’re excited to try new physical stunts, even when it’s something difficult. They feel like they have skills and they’re excited to grow those skills.

It’s also pretty easy to tell when a child is feeling unempowered. Six months ago, my younger son felt very unempowered when it came to reading. He would shrivel up in his chair, murmur softly, and refuse to tackle words he didn’t know. At the same time, he was always willing to tackle a new physical challenge in gymnastics. Same child, empowered in one area and unempowered in another.

This relates to piano students too. Do you see your child eager to try new songs, or do they cave in when you ask them to stretch their skills? It is so important to keep kids feeling empowered because they will progress much faster when they have the confidence that they are good and can get better.

Signs of Unempowerment

  • Drooping posture
  • Low energy/enthusiasm
  • “I don’t know” “I don’t care”

Signs of Empowerment

  • Excitement
  • Energy
  • Focus
  • “I care” attitude

Building Empowerment

Empowerment is the belief that hard work will pay off. It’s something that grows over time in the right environment. Here’s how to build empowerment in your child:

Just the Right Amount of Challenge

As your child learns to play the piano, make sure to keep challenges at just the right level. A common mistake in teaching is to make things too difficult too soon. This will kill empowerment. When kids feel unempowered, each new challenge feels like an insurmountable task. It doesn’t matter if you know they can do it. If they think they can’t do it, they feel unempowered.

Gradually build a repertoire of success. My boys feel empowered in gymnastics because they’ve experienced a lot of successes over the years. They’ve seen their flexibility grow, they can climb a rope they couldn’t climb before, they can do more chin ups now than they used to. Success breeds success!

When my younger son was in first grade, learning to read, he didn’t want to read the first grade books. He wanted to read sixth grade books, but he didn’t have the skills. This left him feeling frustrated and unempowered. We had to search hard to find books at his level that held his interest and that he could be successful with. Gradually he realized he could be a successful reader, and now he’s doing much better.

As your child learns the piano, make sure they are asked to do things at their level. Don’t force kids to go to the level you think they should be. Find their level and let them grow naturally.

Let Them Make Choices

Where possible, let your child make decisions about their practicing. You can ask, “What do you want to practice first today?” or, “How many times do you think we should do this?” or, “Did you like how that sounded?” Kids need parents to make some of the choices, but kids should make some choices too. The power to make choices is a key to feeling empowered.

Don’t Overcorrect

Make sure you’re not overcorrecting your child. This can take away their sense of autonomy and their ability to self-correct their own playing.They should play a lot and then maybe get a little correction from you. If they’re making mistakes, suggest a practice game to help them improve.

This doesn’t mean you should settle for mediocre playing. Kids need parents to encourage them to practice until they can be excellent. They need enough repetition to get to that point of success. A parent can be a big help in making that repetition fun and engaging, but no one has fun when there’s someone constantly telling them what they are doing wrong.

Creativity and Expression

Encourage your child to make music as a creator. Kids love to improvise, compose, and arrange. Be delighted by their efforts. Let them know that music can be an expression of yourself, of how you feel. Suggest that they try different things, for example, “How would you play this song if you wanted it to sound really exciting? How would you play it if you were putting a baby to sleep?” Ask them what kind of feeling they think a song is trying to express. A sense of, “I am a creator, I make music,” is very empowering.

Don’t Give Up

Kids don’t always say it, but they don’t feel good about themselves if they’re doing something poorly. Even if the parent never criticizes, the task itself gives them negative feedback. A little voice in their head says, “you are not doing well.” They know it, and it can create a negative cycle. If this goes on long enough, it can make them want to give up.

When a child gives up on piano, or on anything, they have a hopeless feeling. They think they’re never going to be any good, and if they keep thinking that way, they’re right! Even if they continue practicing, if they’ve given up mentally, progress stops. This is true whether it is the child who gives up or the parent who gives up. Giving up is a total loss of empowerment.

You have to believe you can succeed. Empowerment is believing that hard work will pay off. Of course it will! It’s a law of nature. You get better at what you persist in doing.

An Attitude of Empowerment

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a sense of empowerment. They need to know that they can do hard things, things that seem impossible now, but through hard work and persistence will become possible, and even easy, and in the case of music, a whole lot of fun! This kind of confidence can carry them forward to a lifetime of success and willingness to try new things.

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13 Comments

  1. Hand-drawn avatar
    Doris Lee

    Thank you Mr. Hoffman for this article. It’s empowering me!

    I realised that my 8 years old daughter feel empowering when she learning piano from your online piano lesson. She is looking forward learning something new and willing to take the challenge. Whereas, she felt unpowering in Math & Painting lessons. I guess, I have overcorrected her for Math & Painting lesson. My daughter feel empowering in piano lesson because I do not know much and I am not able to correct her. But, my daughter and I enjoying learning piano lesson from you online.

    Thank you so much! I learned “don’t overcorrect”.
    -Doris from Malaysia

    • Hoffman Academy logo
      Hoffman Academy

      It is wonderful to hear that you and your daughter are enjoying my lessons and learning more than just piano together! Good luck and happy playing. – Mr. Hoffman

  2. Hand-drawn avatar
    Cathrin Osterhus

    Thank you so much for you input and wonderful way of teaching kids. We love the lessons. How often would you recommend to do an new lesson. Should the kids do one a week? Thanks so much again! This is the best teaching I’ve ever experienced!!!

    • Hoffman Academy logo
      Hoffman Academy

      Wow, thank you! For beginners, I recommend covering 2-3 new lessons per week; however, it’s also important to gauge your child’s pace and help them balance review and moving forward in a positive way. I realize (from experience!) that having multiple children in your home can make this a challenge, but you are the expert on your family’s dynamics and I am confident that you can guide them well. Here are a couple of articles you might want to check out:

      When to Move on to the Next Lesson
      Finding Flow
      Multiple Learners in the Home

      I hope that helps! – Mr. Hoffman

  3. Hand-drawn avatar
    Felicia

    I greatly appreciate your thoughts on empowerment and, more importantly, how this concept relates to OTHER areas of study in their life. As a grandmother, I sometimes struggle with how much to ask of them in our piano ” sojourn.” This was quite helpful.
    Thank you.

    • Hoffman Academy logo
      Hoffman Academy

      You are very welcome; and I agree – as powerful as music is, the very fact that children in music lessons exercise skills like discipline and hard work may be the best reason of all to encourage them in their “piano sojourn” (I like that description). Thanks for sharing your thoughts! – Mr. Hoffman

  4. Hand-drawn avatar
    valli

    Thank you so much for this article. This topic applies in learning any new skill. By reading this I feel empowered and can motivate kids with right attitude making it fun and enjoyable.
    Thanks again for making it easy and giving free lessons.
    Keep up your good work!

    • Hoffman Academy logo
      Hoffman Academy

      I agree that these concepts apply to a wide variety of our interests and daily challenges. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! – Mr. Hoffman

  5. Hand-drawn avatar
    Oxana

    Thank you for nice practical advice how to empower our children, I really appreciate for this information and your hard work.

  6. Hand-drawn avatar
    Sara Seifert

    Thank you for this. I needed this reminder after today. I pressured my son to finish one of the worksheet assignments he found tedious, and it wasn’t empowering for either of us. He wanted to move on to learn a new song (lesson 109), but I told him he couldn’t until he did his worksheets. That sort of killed the fun for him. He likes the worksheets fine, but finds reading music and using the grand staff to be a chore. He’s all about his ear and figuring things out. I need to remember to use fun, games and rewards.

    My daughter (now on lesson 29) wants to plow through the video lessons before mastering the previous songs and concepts. I “made” her practice today, which she was irritated about. So I need to find the right kind of games and fun for her too. She loves the videos. It always makes me happy when she makes a pit stop at the piano in the middle of her play, just to plunk out Mouse in the House, or something, before continuing on with her way.

    My four-year old (who is not yet officially starting) proudly showed me today how he can play Chocolate.

    My husband is so thrilled with all of them loving music, and I continue to express my gratitude for your work. Thank you so much.

    Sara Seifert

    • Hoffman Academy logo
      Hoffman Academy

      You are very welcome! It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job as a piano parent – remember that that takes practice too! I am delighted to be your whole family’s piano teacher and am interested in both your challenges and successes. Good luck and happy playing! – Mr. Hoffman

  7. Hand-drawn avatar
    Natalie Forsyth

    Thank you!

    This was a great email to receive today. Many times I feel like maybe I should just give up on trying to get them to do things they don’t want to do, and let them just make their own choices. But, today we had two major victories (in my mind anyway) – my daughter who doesn’t believe she can do Maths sat down with me to practise some areas she has been struggling with and came out happy and victorious. And my son who finds it nigh on impossible to sit down to ANYthing for more than 5 minutes unless there’s a screen involved sat down at the keyboard and persevered with his first two handed piece until he played it the whole way through once with no mistakes.

    I loved seeing their smiles of victory and feeling that I was on the journey with them!

    Whilst I have to resist the temptation to over-correct, I loved your comment about plain refusing to give up! They will not learn anything positive if I give up on them. And it’s inspiring to think I have a role in helping them build the empowerment that will carry them through all of life’s varied challenges.

    • Hoffman Academy logo
      Hoffman Academy

      Thank you so much for sharing your victories here! It’s so exciting to see our children develop these life skills that will benefit them for years to come, especially when we realize that we’re learning our own parenting lessons right along with them. It sounds like your family is working together in a wonderful way and I commend you for your love and patience. Good luck to all of you! – Mr. Hoffman