Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Piano Lessons and Hyperactivity

I have had students with various learning disabilities- ADHD hyperactive, ADHD Inattentive, Aspergers. I'm no expert on learning disabilities, that's for sure, but I can generally spot when a student is struggling to focus or stay on task in lessons. The only thing I know about learning disabilities are the same as most other piano teachers; what I can find in books and articles. And they all kind of say the same thing; patience, creativity, and allow the student to learn at their own pace. Last time I checked, this is what I do with all of my students. In an effort to find some specific practical ideas for the piano lessons themselves, the following items stood out to me:
  • Students with hyperactive ADHD thrive on one-on-one instruction. 
  • Some can be dis-organized and misplace homework and materials alot.
  • They need to know what they are walking into week after week after week. 
  • They need to BEGIN the lesson with the hard stuff. 
  • Some need to move around and expel energy during the lesson. 
  • Others need verbal cues to remain on task.
  • They generally need different learning tools- not just a piano or a worksheet. 
  • They need VERBAL guidance about behaviors- positive and negative. 
  • Inattentive ADHD students need minimal distractions. 
  • They need to learn one thing at a time.   
  • They need praise. Lots of it. 
  • They need it all in around 60 words or less. (that a tough one for me, I tend to talk ALOT!) 

 With these students, I use a daily report card and a reward chart. Reason- They need regular and immediate praise to know they are doing what is expected. And they need a reachable goal- one that is within their sights. Each week we do the same order of events. (This is crucial) No change ups, nothing "new and improved".


I use the ipad or a game as a much-needed break between stations. Or we use the break to  look at the birds in my bird feeders through the window or we talk about school- something unrelated to piano lessons. We also take a break after piano work and jump on the rebounder (the mini trampoline that I use to demonstrate staccato...more on that later). This expels pent up energy that has to be released right about now. For my inattentive ADHD students, I close the blinds before they arrive and make sure the room is quiet.


In my studio I use "stations".
1. The table
2. The piano
3. The sofa
4. The floor

1. The table- 
I start with this because I need to begin the lesson with the hard stuff- and that is the theoretical concepts and written work. Sometimes I change this up with an ipad app. Or a game to reinforce a concept. My inattentive ADHD students need a manipulative to maneuver in their hand while we work. Play-dough works great!

2. The piano-
We go to the piano and play major five-finger scales, intervals (2nd-5th), triads and hand-over hand arpeggios by rote. This gives a sense of piano playing accomplishment without the minutia of counting and lifting with dynamics.
   We learn a new scale or make up a funny song using triads- I'm the right hand, the student is the left hand adding intervals or triads to my melody. No break here,  I need to get the piano playing in all at once, before I loose them!
   Then we play the assigned material from the lesson book- we play and count and lift and use dynamics- no minimal expectations here!  Their IQ's are as high as everyone else, they just learn differently. I require them to play the piano just as well as all of my other students.

3. The sofa-
This is where the student can sit, lay down, stretch out or whatever. They can put their feet on the sofa and relax in anyway they like while I sit at the piano and do listening skills. (ABPL Ear Training is a great book for this and its usually their favorite part of the lesson besides the games and ipad).

4. The floor- 
If we need to do some rhythm activities, we sit right down on the floor and drag out all the fun stuff- triangle, sticks, bells, boomwhackers (a student favorite). We hit and count. Sometimes we play from a percussion sheet with really big notes- or we make up notes with flashcards.


We end the lesson by going back to the table and review the daily report card (above). We apply stickers to each task that was accomplished. When they earn 8 stickers, they get a reward  (below) from their parents at home, not from me. The reward can be whatever the parent feels is appropriate. It takes around 2 lessons to earn a reward- its close enough where they can see light at the end of the tunnel, but not so quick that its meaningless.


If they had to be redirected during a task, they know it because I give immediate verbal feedback to the student. This is not a time to mince words- be as direct as possible.
  • "Wow, Anthony, you really stayed on task during listening skills today. I'm really happy that you listened so well."
  • "Anthony, I don't like it when you are jumping around when I want to talk to you. I'd like you to stop now. Show me what you look like when you stay on task by paying attention to my words." 
Here's the good news- even with my most hyperactive of students, once they get the hang of this system and fully know what to expect, they don't need the reward charts or daily reports anymore! Hurray!


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