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Three Jokes That Do The Teaching For You

Well hey, it's been a minute or... many minutes.

I'll be honest, things have been busy. There have been lots of changes at Adelaide Music LLC. I've gone from teaching piano, voice, ukulele, and beginning music class to almost exclusively piano (which I am excited about!). On top of lessons, I have become a lecturer at a local Christian College, directing their choir and leading the worship for their chapel. Needless to say it's been a season of much growth and many changes, with little to no time for blogging.

This year was met with a big turnover, I said goodbye to some students while starting some new ones. I even had families finally move off of my waitlist who had been there over a year! In all this change, I was reminded of why I started falling in love with teaching in the first place. My original goals. I want my students, both new and old, to have a teacher who brings life to the lesson. Who makes learning engaging and fun. Lately I've had the encouragement of some awesome lessons going really well, and it made me think about some of the things I do that might set me apart in my teaching style. Things that help the lessons go so well.

That's when I realized - I want to share my jokes with you.

Somewhere in my early days of teaching I realized if I was going to keep my students busy, I needed to get creative. My studio was full of "cool" nine-year-olds who were figuring out how to make a social impression in the world. I had six-year-olds who were easily distracted and bored, and sometimes the music lingo just didn't translate. I needed to fill my "teaching toolbox" with things that would help me keep students engaged with hardly an effort, but what I didn't realize was how much these jokes could make teaching more efficient. Below are some of my most efficient "teaching jokes". Once I started introducing these, my students have even come to expect them. Sometimes, all it takes is a frown, a sigh, or a single word for my students to realize and self-correct their mistakes, because they know my jokes.

You Killed Him!

Why I started doing this, I don't know. I'll be upfront and honest and say that this one... doesn't work 100% of the time. But with the right student, and the right time, it can be very efficient.

One common mistake for a beginning (and let's be honest, any) student to make is cutting their notes short. Half notes get one beat, dotted half notes get two... I think we are all familiar with the issue of poor counting. One day, I was teaching a student, just tired of them always missing their half notes! They were in the middle of playing a piece for me thinking they did just fine, but when they finished and turned around to see me... I wasn't looking at them. Miss Maddy's face was planted in her hands, shoulders shaking, and I was CRYING! My student was surprised and concerned.

"Are you okay?? What's wrong??", they said.

"It's just... *sniffle* it's just... you killed him!!", I cried!

The shock on their face was priceless. It took only a few seconds, through sniffled tears of course, to explain that that whole note they had thought so little of had wanted a looong and happy 4 beat life. It had a family to live for! But they only gave him two beats, and now he was dead. After some laughter the student immediately jumped back into the piece, making sure to carefully count and not miss the whole note, until all was well, and the whole note lived happily ever after.

How many times have you grown tired of a student cutting a note short after countless times warning them to be careful?? After that first teary-eyed lesson, it only took a quick sniffle or frown before my student would realize in future pieces that - oh no - they killed another note. With a simple joke, students are critically thinking and actively looking for their mistakes.

You're The Teacher

I am certain I am not the only one to do this, nor do I think I came up with it. I probably got it from my teachers when I was in lessons, but it's one I always keep ready in my toolbox. Many times I find myself in a lesson where the student doesn't seem to hear their mistakes. Let's be honest, I don't think we hear our own mistakes many times. But in this case, when I really want a student to hear their mistakes themselves I'll pull a classic "Freaky Friday" switch-a-roo.

"You be the teacher! Now you're Miss Maddy and I'll be you."

Once they sit in my seat and I take the bench, I'll then play for them making sure to show or even exaggerate the mistakes they made. Often times they'll laugh as I (for example) make a robot face while I play without dynamics, or pretend to be sad as I play super slow like they just did. Then it clicks as they hear their own mistakes not as the performer, but as the teacher. We can now "switch back" as I resume my role as Miss Maddy and they show me how to properly play the piece... this time without their initial mistakes.

Falling Ballerinas (aka The Marching Band Has Crashed!)

What do you get when a student is playing a new song... and refuses to count? Falling ballerinas. Oftentimes if I have a student struggling to count and keep a consistent meter I'll tell them why it's so important: what if a ballerina was dancing to your song? For ballerinas it's crucial to keep time so they can perfectly execute their choreography, and if the musician doesn't keep time, you get stumbling, falling ballerinas. Or maybe you go so fast the ballerina spins and spins until she flies away! Obviously, none of the above are good. So it's important that a student counts out loud to keep the imaginary ballerinas from falling or flying away. In case you were wondering, yes, I do often dance for my students. ;)

This joke I might also call "The Marching Band Has Crashed" for my guy students who may not care if the ballerina flies away. If the song is in a marching style I'll probably choose this joke first, and I invite the student to imagine what it would be like if they didn't count. There's trumpets cashing into trombones, the percussionists all fumble and dog-pile in the back as there's no steady meter to march to! Using such imagination can help students understand that when it comes to counting - it's crucial!

So there are three of my top jokes. Sometimes students are tired of hearing the same feedback over and over, and just need a little imagination and humor to make piano and music come to life. Despite what the traditional "mean piano teacher" stereotype might have you believe, there's no reason why play and fun cannot be part of the lesson! In fact, it should be part of the lesson as we embrace the wild and wonderful world these kids find themselves in during the moments outside of our lessons. I hope these can be helpful for you as you engage in your lessons!

Yours truly,

Miss Maddy

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