"fun" and lessons - How important is it?

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Sep 04, 2008 8:28 am

Many teachers have commented in the Forums here and in e-mails to us that they try to make lessons "fun." This certainly makes sense to a degree, since lessons that become drudgery are hard to continue and succeed at over the long term. Others have indicated that the real "fun" of lessons is the sense of accomplishment that one gets when one works hard over a period of time and, thereby, becomes a pianist.

Should the focus of the lessons be in having fun? What is the correct balance between having fun and learning to become proficient at the piano - if they are different things at all? How do you make your lessons more enjoyable? Is it even important to do so? If you believe the emphasis should be on something other than having fun, how do you make sure that students retain motivation and interest? Students, do you think lessons should be "fun"?
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Postby Tranquillo » Thu Sep 04, 2008 10:24 pm

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:Should the focus of the lessons be in having fun? What is the correct balance between having fun and learning to become proficient at the piano - if they are different things at all? How do you make your lessons more enjoyable? Is it even important to do so? If you believe the emphasis should be on something other than having fun, how do you make sure that students retain motivation and interest? Students, do you think lessons should be "fun"?

The learning process should never be loathed in my opinoun. Lessons should be enjoyable and 'fun' to an extent ... to what extent? ... Well it depends. What differs with lessons to practice is you don't have someone to tell you where you are doing well or going wrong. You have to be the critic of your own work. Because there is not interaction this can get tedious. At the same time it teaches the skill to be self-sufficient, assertive and disciplined. The time it takes to fix a mistake and to practice it till you can't get it wrong is a lot of tedious work, its constant repetition and a lot of work. So yes, I would say that it is the outcome that brings real satisfaction.

In saying that lessons should be 'fun' but students should know that piano require hard work and many hours of practice. The fun comes in with the teacher, acting as a mentor, a guide, an inspiration giver and a TEACHER. Lessons shouldn't have to be 'entertaining' with clown acts and juggling balls but lessons shouldn't be tedious. Any good teacher would speak like he/she is enthused and excited and passionate in music. Any good teacher would vary lessons tasks and activities. No music educator should revolve his/her lesson on one piece of music.

I think lessons should be fun, I have fun at my lessons. Students have fun when they are challenged and loving the experience. I've always thought that being a student is like he childhood of being a real musician. The student should have the freedom to explore different musical areas of interests. The teacher acts as a musical parent nurturing the journey of the student and feeding to the interest. At the same time the hours of practice shouldn't be hated but shouldn't be viewed upon as real 'fun' ... it takes hard work to accomplish good piano playing. Even so its a lifelong skill that we never stop learning.

I hope I made sense, I can be a scatterbrain at times.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Sep 05, 2008 7:04 am

Becibu wrote:In saying that lessons should be 'fun' but students should know that piano require hard work and many hours of practice. The fun comes in with the teacher, acting as a mentor, a guide, an inspiration giver and a TEACHER. Lessons shouldn't have to be 'entertaining' with clown acts and juggling balls but lessons shouldn't be tedious. Any good teacher would speak like he/she is enthused and excited and passionate in music. Any good teacher would vary lessons tasks and activities. No music educator should revolve his/her lesson on one piece of music.

I think lessons should be fun, I have fun at my lessons. Students have fun when they are challenged and loving the experience. I've always thought that being a student is like he childhood of being a real musician. The student should have the freedom to explore different musical areas of interests. The teacher acts as a musical parent nurturing the journey of the student and feeding to the interest. At the same time the hours of practice shouldn't be hated but shouldn't be viewed upon as real 'fun' ... it takes hard work to accomplish good piano playing. Even so its a lifelong skill that we never stop learning.

It would seem that you are suggesting that lessons should be a mix of real learning and "fun". I think this is probably right, though I'm sure many parents and some teachers would disagree, arguing that lessons should be fun all the time and that a liberal dose of fun is the only way to keep the interest of students. I'm not sure that I agree with that idea. I agree with you that a teacher who encourages, praises accomplishment and challenges students to do more will make even the most traditional of lesson approaches "fun". Of course, what I have said about teaching style implies that there need not be a dichotomy between real learning and fun. It's just a matter of approach.

Actually, I'm all for incorporating fun elements into lessons, as a variance of style if nothing else. That's one of the reasons that I have supported the use of computer training tools in lessons, since these can provide some of that counterpoint (no pun intended) to the nose-to-the-grindstone approach. There are lots of ways to make lessons more enjoyable and rewarding, without resorting to "clown acts and juggling balls". What works for others out there?
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Postby Tranquillo » Sat Sep 06, 2008 4:21 am

Actually, I'm all for incorporating fun elements into lessons, as a variance of style if nothing else. That's one of the reasons that I have supported the use of computer training tools in lessons, since these can provide some of that counterpoint (no pun intended) to the nose-to-the-grindstone approach. There are lots of ways to make lessons more enjoyable and rewarding, without resorting to "clown acts and juggling balls". What works for others out there?


One of the best teachers I ever had actually believed in making lessons different, didn't need to be extreme but he did vary lessons. Computer tools help greatly with composition, theory and musicology. I think another thing that works that teachers do are off the bench activities. Understanding the composer, encouraging listening. Then there is innovation: I have had a teacher get me to arm wrestle him to illustrate a point.

... haven't really put that much thought ... but they are just a few experiences.
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Postby celia » Sun Sep 14, 2008 12:02 am

This response is based on my experiences as a child (one fun teacher who inspired my love of piano, and a few not-so-nice teachers who made me want to quit); talking to many adults who didn't learn piano for very long and wish they had stuck at is longer; and more recently, teaching children aged 5-14 and even having a couple quit.
If piano lessons are not enjoyable (it has to be fun to be enjoyable) to a child, he will not want to go to lessons, he will not want to practice and he will probably not enjoy playing the piano. This may well end up with him being one of those people who wish they'd learnt piano for longer but didn't.
My primary focus for students is that they enjoy the lessons and this requires that they are fun. The goal when they are young is mainly that they do not want to quit!!! although I do make sure that pieces are of reasonable standard before moving onto the next thing. The oldest student i have is 14, and she is at a stage where she is able to appreciate a more adult type of enjoyment - that of working REALLY hard at more challenging pieces and gaining pleasure in achieving her goal. Other teachers may well disagree, but I believe that often when children are put off, it is because the standard of dedication demanded by the teacher is simply too high. Not too high for the student to achieve necessarily, but too high to be much fun to a young child. I maybe have slightly lower standards in what I expect of the kids but that is because I believe it is more important that they see the experience as a pleasure rather than a chore - rather than working really hard at achieving perfection on everything, which is a chore. Usually when the child is happy with their standard, I do not require very much more from them on that piece.
Since I took up piano teaching quite a few people have said to me, "I quit when I was a child cos I didn't like my teacher. I wish I'd had a teacher like you..."
I hope my words haven't annoyed anybody! I appreciate that if the students are going to do exams, perfect their technique etc. they will need a more experienced teacher than me, but I see my current position as ensuring they don't quit before they get the chance to get to this level.
I am a humble new teacher and I welcome comments although it will not drastically alter my views I am sure...
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Postby mirjam » Mon Sep 15, 2008 1:57 am

I always keep in mind that it is nice when they have fun during the lesson, but the real fun should take place at home! Their learning takes place during the 6 days practising at home, so this is where the fun should be. And so lesson time has to be devoted to that. When a student goes home with clear and achievable goals, with music they really enjoy, with a feeling of pride because they really accomplished something this week.... in my humble opinion that is the most important thing.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Sep 15, 2008 7:51 am

mirjam wrote:I always keep in mind that it is nice when they have fun during the lesson, but the real fun should take place at home! Their learning takes place during the 6 days practising at home, so this is where the fun should be. And so lesson time has to be devoted to that. When a student goes home with clear and achievable goals, with music they really enjoy, with a feeling of pride because they really accomplished something this week.... in my humble opinion that is the most important thing.

Yes, I think that's a very good analysis of the situation. Lessons shouldn't be drudgery, but if "fun" is all that they contain, people would be better off with a computer game or a movie at considerably less cost. Of course, most teachers don't go to quite the extreme of offering only "fun" in lessons. It's just that those people who go into the process of looking for a teacher with "fun" as their only criterion may be misleading themselves. :)
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Postby Tranquillo » Mon Sep 15, 2008 6:30 pm

mirjam wrote:I always keep in mind that it is nice when they have fun during the lesson, but the real fun should take place at home! Their learning takes place during the 6 days practising at home, so this is where the fun should be. And so lesson time has to be devoted to that. When a student goes home with clear and achievable goals, with music they really enjoy, with a feeling of pride because they really accomplished something this week.... in my humble opinion that is the most important thing.

That's a nice way of looking at it! A teacher I once had told me to think of lessons as a performance, its a showcase "when you play for me you are playing at the Royal Albert Hall" ... that was a really nice way of looking at it.
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Postby celia » Tue Sep 16, 2008 1:47 am

I never meant fun is my only criterion, I hope it didn't sound that way!! I expect most of my students would be only too happy if I offered that they could play a video game instead of piano for one lesson!! :D ??? But of course the fun has to involve learning to play the piano well and I take great pride in teaching them in a way I feel is effective...
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Tue Sep 16, 2008 7:56 am

celia wrote:Other teachers may well disagree, but I believe that often when children are put off, it is because the standard of dedication demanded by the teacher is simply too high. Not too high for the student to achieve necessarily, but too high to be much fun to a young child. I maybe have slightly lower standards in what I expect of the kids but that is because I believe it is more important that they see the experience as a pleasure rather than a chore - rather than working really hard at achieving perfection on everything, which is a chore.

I would like to offer some respectful counterpoint to this. I can see that a teacher who has high standards, along with no sense of humor and no willingness to make lessons enjoyable to the degree possible, would be hard to take lessons from. This could well result in loss of interest on the part of the student.

On the other hand, it's high standards, whether self-generated or provided by others, that push us to become as good as we can be at any skill or endeavor. I would even argue that having others set high standards for us has its greatest value in helping to teach us how to set high standards for ourselves. I don't see the problem with unenjoyable lessons as relating to setting standards too high (admitting that it's possible to set ridiculously high standards that nobody could achieve) necessarily, but rather as a failure of the teacher to provide the knowledge and emotional support to achieve reasonable standards. That emotional support can be "fun", but it can also be encouragement, humor, a positive attitude and confidence in the student's ability to meet standards.
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Postby jenscott90 » Tue Sep 16, 2008 9:19 am

It seems to me there are differing takes on this topic but only minimally. Everyone agrees that all learning should be made as enjoyable as possible...that being primarily the teacher's responsibility to set up...but that the student likewise has the obligation to "have" the fun. The student can come into a well structured, positive situation and reject it and have no fun if they choose.

It is a choice to have a good time. This is the foundation of a work ethic. Those that view work as drudgery will always opt for something less demanding. Those who were taught to enjoy work are generally the ones we see who go farther in life.

So, as teachers, we have to individualize our plans, change our own approaches based on the student that shows up (meaning his or her mood that day) and on their primary learning style.

It's a fine line to walk.
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Postby celia » Wed Sep 17, 2008 12:24 am

Quoting Dr. John Zeigler "a teacher who has high standards, along with no sense of humor and no willingness to make lessons enjoyable to the degree possible, would be hard to take lessons from. This could well result in loss of interest on the part of the student."
The above pretty well sums up my whole experience of attending a strict private school in England in the 80's!! I grew to detest school and any form of authority. Each teachers life experience will be partly responsible for the way they teach. I now live in New Zealand where their whole life philosophy is extremely different, much more laid back!!!
I agree that high standards are important and also that the children need to be pushed to achieve higher standards. This is easier with some than others!!
As a new teacher, I am very nervous of getting the balance wrong (especially if it led to losing students) and expecially living in a country where the education system is SO different to that in which I was brought up. I expect as I gain more confidence it will become easier to push the children to reach their potential without upsetting anyone. As i gain more experience it will be easier to see what they are capable of... Thanks for the advice.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Sep 17, 2008 7:56 am

celia wrote:I agree that high standards are important and also that the children need to be pushed to achieve higher standards. This is easier with some than others!!

Generally speaking, I think you have a good, balanced view of teaching. :)

Sadly, too often these days, the parents, who should be setting teaching their kids about standards, simply don't. Thus, teachers may be the only, or main, avenue by which students can see what standards mean and how to set their own. As I said earlier, I have gotten too many e-mails to count over the years from parents wanting lessons to be nothing more than another form of entertainment and teachers responding to this slightly skewed view.

Let me offer an analogy. Most people enjoy reading. Yet, because they learned so long ago, most forget just how hard it was when they started trying to learn to read. Phonics, vocabulary, grammar, punctuation and lots more were all hard to learn. People who enjoy reading do so because they devoted so many hours to practice their skills at reading, so that it's now second nature. Nobody could say that this learning process was all "fun" or easy.

Of course, we all started reading at a level and with subject matter that we could succeed at, relate to and even enjoy. Patient, positive and helpful teachers (and parents!) made learning easier - and, yes, more fun. As we got better, they challenged us to read at ever higher levels, thereby building our skills and knowledge. Most adults don't read "See Spot run" anymore, but that's probably where they started.

Although piano lessons require development of some manual dexterity that reading doesn't require, I don't see a great deal of difference in the process of learning the two skills. Balancing "fun" and learning is what lessons should be about. Going too far to either extreme will make lessons boring or useless.
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Postby Tranquillo » Thu Sep 18, 2008 6:39 am

celia wrote:Quoting Dr. John Zeigler "a teacher who has high standards, along with no sense of humor and no willingness to make lessons enjoyable to the degree possible, would be hard to take lessons from. This could well result in loss of interest on the part of the student."
The above pretty well sums up my whole experience of attending a strict private school in England in the 80's!! I grew to detest school and any form of authority. Each teachers life experience will be partly responsible for the way they teach. I now live in New Zealand where their whole life philosophy is extremely different, much more laid back!!!
I agree that high standards are important and also that the children need to be pushed to achieve higher standards. This is easier with some than others!!
As a new teacher, I am very nervous of getting the balance wrong (especially if it led to losing students) and expecially living in a country where the education system is SO different to that in which I was brought up. I expect as I gain more confidence it will become easier to push the children to reach their potential without upsetting anyone. As i gain more experience it will be easier to see what they are capable of... Thanks for the advice.

Celia, I think what you are refering to here is culture. The Australian culture, much like the New Zealand culture is very laid back. However, when I went on a holiday to Vietnam I noticed the Asian culture is very strict, teachers just teach ... there is no 'niceness' (I could be wrong.. basically that was the opinion I gained from a particular student.)

I think its important to not define 'fun' as the opposite of seriousness. Sometimes parents say "we just want Mary to have fun at piano lessons" ... sometimes this could translate to "We don't want to take it seriously ... don't go to hard on her" ...This clearly indicates that the perceptions that certain parents think of lessons.

As you say Dr. John Zeigler ... the word is "balance" and I like the way you put it there a "balanced view of teaching" ... and yes "going too far would make lessons boring and useless" ... Yes, reading at first is a struggle, it truly is but the result later is enjoyable. However, I think when a child learns to read the satisfaction of going through 'see spot run' is still fun. Children can still have fun in the infant stages of learning if there is an encouraging support group (parents, teachers) then the initial stages would be 'fun'. What makes lessons fun is the teacher's personality when the teacher shows he/she is having fun then often it is contagious within the student. Then in the home setting I think that parents can work as encourages listening and helping their child through the process showing satisfaction and having 'fun'.

See spot run can be fun to read when a parent or teacher is there to praise and encourage along the way.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Sep 19, 2008 7:21 am

Becibu wrote:Children can still have fun in the infant stages of learning if there is an encouraging support group (parents, teachers) then the initial stages would be 'fun'. What makes lessons fun is the teacher's personality when the teacher shows he/she is having fun then often it is contagious within the student. Then in the home setting I think that parents can work as encourages listening and helping their child through the process showing satisfaction and having 'fun'.

Yes, indeed! This is much of what I've been driving at. "Fun" really isn't in the lessons, but in the teacher, the approach and the sense of accomplishment gained by the student from achieving a significant goal. Parents can make lessons "fun" by encouragement, attention to lessons and recognition of progress. These are all things that have been said by me and others in this thread.

Aside from questions of attitude and approach, what can the teacher do to help make lessons more enjoyable for students? Can she teach the lessons in a way that makes them more enjoyable?




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