I read a lot of parenting books, parenting tips, and parenting magazines. Consequently, I have a lot of theories floating around in my head that I sometimes try to use with my piano students. One of my favorites is the concept of positive talk.
Positive talk is about avoiding negatives when you discipline. For example, with a toddler, instead of saying, “Don’t hit,” you say something like, “Be soft.” When you say, “Don’t hit,” the toddler doesn’t understand why she can’t hit. In fact, she doesn’t even know what to do instead. Saying “Be soft” helps her to learn an appropriate action in place of hitting. And it’s done in a positive way. Instead of saying, “Don’t walk down the stairs,” you say something like, “Remember, we crawl when we go down the stairs.”
I’ve used both types of talk with my toddler. Inevitably, if I say to her, “Don’t walk down the stairs,” she is going to take a giant step on those stairs. She’s not being naughty. She just thinks the idea of walking on the stairs is a great idea. She didn’t register the “Don’t” part. She just heard the “walk down the stairs” part. I, in fact, GAVE her the idea to walk down the stairs by telling her not to. Conversely, if I say, “Remember to crawl down the stairs,” she hears the good idea of crawling down the stairs and does it!
So, in piano lessons, I try very hard to avoid negative directions. Instead of saying, “Don’t play soft where it says Forte,” I say, “Remember to play loud where it says Forte.” Saying, “Don’t play soft where it says Forte” tells my student what NOT to do, but my student may not understand what TO do in it’s place.
I have one student who constantly looks at me WHILE playing. I think he just wants assurance that he’s doing things right. However, he makes many unnecessary mistakes simply because he isn’t looking at his music. I used to say, “Don’t look at me while you play.” But that just reinforced the negative behavior. Even though I was saying “Don’t,” I was actually giving him the idea to continue to look at me, since I was using those words. Now I say, “Keep your eyes on the music.” He’s not perfect about it every time, but he’s getting better.
Instead of, “Don’t drop your wrist” or “Don’t play with flat fingers,” say, “Remember to keep your wrist up” or “Think about curved fingers.”
Instead of, “Don’t slouch,” say, “Sit up nice and straight.”
Instead of, “Don’t play too fast,” say, “Keep it slow” or “Think slow while you play.”
Can you think of negative behaviors you may actually be reinforcing with your language?