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When my son was a toddler we went to the tide pools in California and walked on the beautiful rocks. After a half hour of struggling to hold on to my son, my husband, feeling his own tired arms said, "find your own balance." He stayed close with a hand reached out but very quickly we realized our son had, of course, much better balance than we did!

We had been interfering with his process of steadying himself.

I think a lot of the work of raising young people is in teaching them to find their own balance. Knowing that they can recover their balance gives them true confidence.

In teaching students to recognize and seek out balance, I find it helpful to frame things in terms of opposites. These opposites serve as guardrails for the many corrections they need to make internally and in their work.


Here are a few of my favorites;

Clear eyes/open heart

Spicy fingers/ floating wrist (this for me is the salt and pepper of playing the piano)

Wandering mind/ focused mind

Thinking fast/thinking slow (there's a great book with this title!)

Big picture work/small detailed work

Independent thinking/openness to instruction

You can sit down with your child and come up with your own list.

In learning music, building this balance is essential. There are many people who naturally enjoy detailed, drilling work, but then have trouble transmitting the emotional connection of the music. There are others who are good at analyzing the language of the music but who don't have the patience to do the nitty-gritty work required to master a piece. There are some who love music so deeply and passionately that they play for pleasure but don't stop to polish. And there are those who love to explore and practice at home but don't have the resilience required for performing. Many get knocked down by a perfectionism which robs them of joy in their work no matter how much they love music.

Our work is to help them to build their sense of artistic and emotional balance, and to teach them the joy of cultivating these things daily. 

Here are some things you can do to help your student at home:

Teach them early on to self-regulate and to organize their own work. Try not to organize their work for them too much but remind them if they are skimming or getting too caught up in one thing. Give them honest feedback in that regard. Try to find your own balance in being positive and honest.

Let them make small mistakes so they learn how to handle frustration early on. Find your own balance in this (an impossibly difficult task - speaking as a parent myself). You want them to learn what excellence feels like and sounds like but they need to make mistakes to do this. They need to have disciplined repetitive work but they also need to wander creatively and follow their curiosity.

Teaching them to learn in an organized, manageable, joyful way is our greatest responsibility and a large part of this is teaching them how to deal with frustration. Let them practice this now, though, before they are too old to come to you for support! Teach them to be warriors, instead of winners and keep the focus on the work not the talent.

Teach them to recognize what it feels like to be out of balance and if they can learn to self-correct they will have real confidence in tackling anything. You want them to know what focus feels like and the calm that comes from it -- but you don't want them to rely on you to remind them to focus.

This is the work that will arm your child with skills s/he can apply to their whole life and to any career they choose. This is the work that pianist, James Rhodes, says is one of the real treasures gained from learning the piano - it "polishes you on the inside."

Adrienne Kim

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