My demolished side view mirror has finally been replaced – thanks to my sweet husband who kindly agreed to drive the vehicle while it was vision impaired and who did not verbalize a single complaining word! Interestingly enough, we now see so much clearer through the new mirror than the original one. Although I guess that would NOT make a good case for doing the same to the other side…
In my piano life, I’ve been mentally observing myself in my teaching and noticing the many important issues that can so often slip our notice because of this very same need to “check the other mirror”. I thought I would share some of these observations with those of you who teach as well.
Before that – speaking about mirrors – one of my essential teaching tools is to actually have a free-standing mirror by my piano. If your instrument is positioned by a wall, it doesn’t cost much for an inexpensive dorm mirror from Walmart. Since my studio set-up does not allow for that, one year I procured an easel mirror from Target for less than $50. That way, I move it around wherever I need it. Remember the saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words?” Which is more effective — for our students to visually check their full body posture and hand balance before they start playing, or, for us to remind them verbally what to fix each time? I also encourage my pedagogy students to whip out their smart devices and snap a quick “postural picture” of their students in lieu of a mirror. It adds a little variety and it puts the responsibility on the student to evaluate what is needed. Honestly, every child in my household has a mirror (of the cheap variety) in their practice areas.
Here is a spring checklist of a few other things to look for in our lessons:
Do you tend to sit or stand on the same side of the student when teaching? Be sure to walk over and change your viewing side while they are playing. It makes a tremendous difference to our ability to notice imbalance of technique or unhealthy posture. This can prevent injuries and give us solutions to many technical issues. I routinely watch my students play from the right, left, and even the back. It is amazing what you will notice. So, don’t stay fixed on one side!
Do you have your student do a quick “performance posture check” each time before they play for you? Part of what we do as teachers and parents is to help them establish routines of healthy habits. Instead of just telling them, or, sending it home as an assignment, try partnering with them to start the habit throughout the lesson. I usually have them evaluate and adjust their entire body posture which includes the following: height of the bench, distance of the bench from the keyboard, placement of arms, shoulders, hands and feet and balance of the weight between the feet.
Can they shift their weight from hip to hip and foot to foot for lateral moves at the keyboard? Or are they “scooting” their bottoms? We talk about it as “athletic posture.” It helps to get off the bench and simulate catching and throwing a basketball. Like I say, it doesn’t work real well to shift into that posture in the middle of the game. Legs too short? It’s worth it to invest in a foot or pedal box.
Are their wrists and hand position balanced as they prepare to play? So often, we notice these things in the midst of their performance. Let’s start with the end in mind.
Where are their feet when they are playing? Do they know where they should be placed? Do they know, but have they developed a lazy habit? Think of growing teenagers!
Talking about teenagers… It is good to remind yourself to revisit and reintroduce the important issue of playing posture as the foundation of healthy technique. Especially when they seem to have it down, but then start growing in all directions. We need help when our fingers, hands, arms, torso, legs and feet keep changing sizes on us – a new body size requires a new prescription for position. I hate to tell you this, but you may need to be alert about this every week for at least two years during this amazing period of adolescent growth!
The list could of course keep going on and on, but I would like to close with an honest look in the side mirror at our teacher-student interactions.
Are we “telling” them or “leading” them?
Do we ever leave any room for them to “lead” us? You might end up somewhere that you never would have thought possible – in a wonderful way!
Are we doing things that make them “dependent” on us, or, do we do things that encourage them to be “independent” of us?
It is the best gift you can give as a teacher and parent – the gift of being an independent learner.