Tuning in

Sometimes I feel like I need to be a psychic at my weekly lessons. Sometimes I feel like I should just go see one. I will say this: if you don’t understand what’s going on in the mind of your student and even their parents you are probably going to be in for some ugly sounding static coming your way.

I love to tell stories. This one has NOTHING to do with piano teaching and EVERYTHING to do with good service.

When I was in my 20’s I had the opportunity to attend a seminar taught by a sales representative back east who represented a fortune 500 company. I earned this seminar as part of being an outstanding salesperson in a small company I worked for. This speaker was very…..charismatic. She came bustling up to the stage in a leopard skirt and heels, with a portable microphone and proceeded to campaign at full stadium volume for at least three hours. I had a pounding headache by the time she was done yelling at us about good service, closing the sale, overcoming the objection and smiling while we answered telephones (because people can hear you through the phone line you know.)

I did take notes, and I tried to pay attention. I eventually lost the notes and I really can’t remember anything but her outfit and one important message. Thankfully it made all of my listening worth it.

“Everyone you meet, ” she repeated “in someway or another (yes even your three-year old) is tuned into a radio station called w.i.i.f.m.” I was a bit puzzled, but I kept listening. “That’s right ladies, it’s called w. i. i. f.m. radio. Just pretend it’s stamped right across everyone’s foreheads.” Now that had me intrigued.

W. I. I. F. M. stands for “What’s in it for me?” Clever, huh. It almost made my migraine worth it. I have used this over and over. For years. It works, believe me. Please humor me while I give you an example.

Let’s say you have a new student who is a bit stubborn. Suppose she is sitting across from you with a remotely repulsed expression on her brow when you introduce her to a lovely chorale from Bach. Just at that very moment, you happen to notice (because you too are a clever person) that her father is wearing an Elton John T-shirt. “My my,” you comment.  “did you know that Elton John composed over half of his songs around Bach chorales?” “You’re kidding,” comments Dad as he sits up and looks surprised.  “No, I’m not!” you say. Suddenly his daughter perks up because she knows Dad likes Elton John.  Maybe Dad’s not a nerd after all…… ?     “There’s a great show about Elton John and his music on You Tube”, you add because you have done your homework.

This may be a slightly ridiculous example, though I’ve really had this conversation!  Notice what happened here. My student suddenly found something useful in the Bach piece I played because I took the time to bridge a gap between her Dad’s musical experiences and her curiosity. I gave her something to connect with. What’s in it for Dad? Time to share with his daughter. What’s in it for me? Something else to teach about. I went on and taught this student how to play ‘Yellow-Brick road’ AND we learned the four chords in the piece, plus we learned a Bach piece.  That’s a win-win.

We have to ‘Tune In’ to the situation , the individual, and to ourselves as teachers. What does this student need from me today? Help with last weeks music? New music altogether? A hug? Am I even LISTENING to this student?  Do the parents know exactly what to expect from you in your policies?   Last but definitely not least, are your needs as an educator being met?  Does everyone know what you need from them?

Tuning in is about noticing . Let others know you care and understand that they have needs and you will know them better as people. That’s what’s in it for you.

~Piano Mastermind.

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