Sometimes as parents we’re reluctant to give any kind of negative feedback to our children. We’re all about building self-esteem and helping our children feel good about themselves, so we don’t want to focus on their mistakes. But children need and want our input. They don’t just want a pat on the head and to be told, “That’s very nice.” They want meaningful feedback that shows we are really paying attention to what they’re doing.
Why do kids like video games so much? One reason is the instant feedback. If they hit a target, they’re rewarded with lights, sounds, and points in the game. On the other hand, if they make a mistake, video games are pretty unforgiving. Drive off the road, you crash. Fall over a cliff, you die. In spite of these negative consequences, kids still love playing the game. In fact, they love it even more because something bad might happen! Imagine a game where there’s no way to make a mistake. Boring!
Providing Immediate Feedback During Piano Practice
So how do we help our children get immediate feedback as they practice the piano? I think there are two important ways. Number one, when your child is learning to play a new song, make sure they have heard the song enough to have a clear mental “recording.” That way they can recognize immediately when they play a wrong note, and provide their own instant feedback. This is why I include audio recordings with my lesson materials, and always encourage piano students to listen to the songs they are learning. If your child is trying to play a song they’ve never heard, that’s a little like trying to draw a picture of an animal they’ve never seen. They would have no idea if what they’re doing is right or wrong. On the other hand, when trying to recreate a familiar melody, your child has a mental “recording” to compare it with, and can immediately tell if they’ve got it right or not.
The second way to give children immediate feedback during piano practice is to turn piano practice into a game. For example, take some pennies or other small object, and every time your child plays a section of a song correctly, set a penny on the piano. When they miss a note, take a penny away. Challenge your child to earn a certain number of pennies, such as the same number of pennies as their age in years. It’s best if you give live feedback to your child as they play. It’s much more exciting for your child to know how they’re doing as they’re doing it. Check out this post for more practice time game ideas.
The Power of Flow
Immediate feedback is an important part of achieving an enjoyable state of concentration called flow. Here are the four parts of flow that we’ve discussed over the last few weeks:
Flow is what makes an activity so engaging that we lose track of time and find the activity rewarding for its own sake. Managing flow is all about setting things up to turn tasks that could be mundane into something exciting. Every parent has probably used the trick of setting a timer to help their kids clean their room. The time limit raises the challenge, taps into flow, and makes what could be a very boring activity into something fun.
If your child is struggling with their piano practice, think about the four aspects of flow. Is one of them missing? Do you need to let your child make more choices about practice time, or set some practice goals? Maybe you need to help them work on only one measure at a time, or maybe your child needs more feedback while practicing. In my own teaching, once I started paying attention to flow it made a powerful improvement in how well my students could focus and stay engaged.
Of course the ultimate goal is for your child to enjoy practicing and playing the piano for its own sake, but in the early stages of music learning, you can do a lot to help your child enjoy piano practice by using the power of flow.