Here are some thoughts and strategies for how careful use of language can enhance the self-esteem, and motivation of pupils.


As the members of The Community of The Curious Piano Teachers are finding out, recording yourself teaching a pupil (whether by video or audio) is quite an ear-opening experience! Research has shown that all teachers have a tendency to ask a question, wait a moment and then provide the answer. Did you know that the average time a teacher waits for an answer is 0.9 of a second? Scary!


So here are three challenges – maybe not suitable for regular use but they will make you stop and think:

  1. Can you have a lesson with a silent 5 minute section?
  2. Or a Twitter-style part of a lesson where you can only say 140 words (get you pupil to keep count)
  3. A lesson where you can only speak to give an answer to a question asked by the pupil

Comment below and let us know how you get on!


Pupils all need to be encouraged to be adventurous and daring in their piano playing. Having a fear of failure tends to lead to caution and tension so trying to lessen this is critical.

Provide pupils with a challenge they know they can achieve when they concentrate:
“I know this is hard but ….”
“Most year 4 children find this tricky but you have been working so well today I know you will manage it.”

If an activity goes wrong it could be that your explanation wasn’t clear so take the blame:
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t explain that very well’
‘I’m sorry, I got that all wrong – let me try again’

When giving praise, it is important that it is relevant and real. I know that I tend to overdo my praise sometimes: ‘That was brilliant!’: ‘Excellent’. Using superlatives like these is dangerous however, as they leave the teacher with nowhere to go; what’s more children have a good sense of inner truth and know when something was just OK and when it was ‘excellent’.

So all praise should be relevant and specific – instead of ‘that was very nice’ focus on an area that did show improvement ‘I really liked the way you slowed down at the end’.


To some extent we may be able to make our pupils practice. Yet we can never make a pupil want to learn. Therefore, understanding how to motivate our pupils to learn is crucial to our teaching.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Share the big picture of where their learning is heading with your pupils; knowing where you are going encourages everyone to follow the route. For example: “Next week we are going to…”
  2. Pre-exposure to pieces provides motivation for wanting to learn them. Play pieces that you think they might want to learn a couple of weeks before introducing them as repertoire. Think of questions you can ask that make them curious about the piece and avoid – at this stage – say that they might be learning one of them.

A final thought about what chidren learn we praise them continuously:

When you praise a student (s/he) is learning that you praise a good deal [1]

So, set yourself a target of aiming to become more aware of how much you talk during lessons next week – you could even try recording a lesson (with parental permission of course). Do come back and let us know what happened!

[1] Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. John Hattie and Gregory Yates. 2014, p. 68

This blog post was written by Dr Sally Cathcart | Co-Founder & Director The Curious Piano Teachers

2 thoughts on “THE ‘LAZY’ PIANO TEACHER – PART 2

  1. Loraine H

    great post, regarding the ” do you talk too much in lesson”, my music education professor always said ” use no more than 7 words” . I am challenging myself to use less words but specific coaching instruction.


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