Thursday, March 12, 2009

Writing Short; Writing Non-Fiction

image So I’ve been wanting myself to blog about piano teaching for a couple years. The problem is, I’ve amassed fifteen years of experience. And it’s not just the experience: I’ve spent the last fifteen years actively researching and continually growing my knowledge and skills.

Worse, I pretty much skim and/or read just about anything that shows up in Borders on child psychology, development and education. Coaching, too. I read a lot on coaching children: quite useful stuff, there.

And then I get to watch kids grow up. I’ve seen hundreds of kids go through the changes of childhood, seen them change and deal with getting older, and I’ve seen how each year changes and doesn’t change them.

It’s a privilege a lot of teachers don’t get.

The problem comes when I want to explain why I do something. Swear to God, I’ll try to explain why I do something to a parent, and I end up with an email that is just too long… and even that is after I delete the related points I think are necessary.

Yesterday, I wanted to blog here about what I’ve learned about motivation from piano teaching.

The problem?

My post was MILES too long and I discovered it was only an INTRODUCTION.

I had one parent this year who randomly said some things that sort of infected two other parents. All three have massive misconceptions on just about everything to do with me and my teaching, and they really have no idea why it’s important to do certain things that I ask their children to do. I have this insane desire to explain everything to them, but… very few people would read it.

And once people believe something to be true, I’ve found that facts and the real truth have very little power.

imageBesides, every thing I do has about thirty pages of material that explain WHY and the BENEFITS. Add in at least another twenty pages (and we’re not talking double-spaced 250 word pages here, we’re talking 600 word pages) of disclaimers, exceptions and the when and why we sometimes don’t do what I usually do, or how we change things at their different age levels.

Not to mention the fact that when I do something with them at 6, there’s a reason we do it related to what they will be like at 10, and/or 16.

In fiction, it’s easy to say “we don’t need this information” and hit delete. In piano teaching? I draw on every bit of it. It’s ALL relevant to how I teach.

If I put everything in my head on paper, it would probably be a thousand-page book.

So I have yet been unable to come up with even Piano Teaching Blog Post #1. Where the heck do I start?

I don’t know. How do you handle a massive amount of information, and then organize and write it in such a way that a normal person will read it?

Can you see why I’m not crazy about writing non-fiction? And in the end, is it really worth it?

The most I could ever do would be to eventually self-publish it. But it would be nice if some new piano teachers had access to that kind of information. A lot of the people writing about teaching piano do it from a strictly theoretical standpoint, but have a lot of degrees. In fact, I can’t tell you how many people teaching piano pedagogy have a degree in it but have taught only a few students. It’s a little funny.

Okay, not really.

I read theories, but I’m not a big fan of them.

Anyway. What to do? Where to start? Why to start?

19 bonus scribbles:

Shona Snowden 3/12/2009 07:23:00 PM  

Bit by bit?

My kids have just started piano. I have a friend who researches everything within an inch of its life, so when she chose a piano teacher I figured she'd done the leg work and I went to the same one! My son (8) is loving it and progressing fast. My daughter (5) - not so much of either. I think she may be a little young. However, it may also simply be her, in that she's not great at concentrating on things other than drawing and making up stories with her dolls, both of which she can do for hours.

What age do you recommend kids start?

Robin 3/12/2009 08:09:00 PM  

I once locked Kevin in a piano, and that's the closest he's ever been to one. I played piano when I was a little doofusier doofus.

Want me to start you off with short, easy to answer questions? Spy, why did you become a piano teacher.. .

Melanie Avila 3/12/2009 09:07:00 PM  

I know you'll hate it, but it sounds like you need an outline! Seriously, you should be able to break things down step by step, starting with Introduction. From there you could go by age group as an organic way to show how your teaching progresses with the student.

For me, once I have the basics down, it's much easier to go through and fill out the rest. The sub-categories should write themselves since you're so familiar with the material.

Edie 3/12/2009 09:21:00 PM  

I like Shona's comment: "Bit by bit." Or in this case, word by word.

Write it as a series of essays, or chapters. I love what you say to them, taking their hands and telling them how special they are. (Or something like that.) That has to be in the book.

If it's too long, you can have two or three books! I think it would be awesome. Write it!

Lisa 3/12/2009 10:20:00 PM  

outline was a good idea.
Could also be (and combined) that you have a lot to say.

Do you spend a fair bit of time just thinking about things?

Bevie 3/13/2009 07:08:00 AM  

I have no real advice on how to blog about piano teaching, but I do have a question for you.

My son is teaching himself keyboards. He's twelve right now and the tuba player in both band and jazz band. His instructors want him to audition for the state or regional band, but we can't afford to send him there. And that is our problem.

We can't afford to hire a piano teacher. Spouse only makes a little, and I am not working at all.

What would you recommend for someone learning the keyboard on their own? He's progressing nicely as regards playing songs from songbooks, but what else should he be doing?

Lauren 3/13/2009 09:26:00 AM  

That is so great that you spend so much time and energy reading about teaching and child education/etc.

I think you should send the really long emails to the parents. I think they want to know why or at least that there is a reason. Also, it will teach them to not ask you

Writing non-fiction is all about getting your point across or reaching a goal. Sure, you want them to understand why, but really you just want them to be happy with your actions as a piano teacher. :)

writtenwyrdd 3/13/2009 10:54:00 AM  

" How do you handle a massive amount of information, and then organize and write it in such a way that a normal person will read it?"

Just find your premise. What statement encompasses what you want to say? Figure that out, and then you can hang the details on it to support that point.

Sounds like you have a book in you on this topic.

Charles Gramlich 3/13/2009 12:01:00 PM  

You could always take those longer posts and do 'em as a series. I've done that. I think blogging has actually led to me being fairly long winded compared to what I've done in the past with my fiction and nonfic

Natasha 3/13/2009 01:37:00 PM  

LOL, Shona, a great plan! I recommend age 4, LOL. 5 is good, too!

Your daughter will probably progress more slowly than your son, but what she learns now will be more integrated than what her brother learns.

I don't suggest the Suzuki program for piano (it's brilliant for violin), but they know kids and they know practicing. These three books that will give you tons of ideas to support your kids' piano lessons and enthusiasm, particularly for your young one:

Suzuki Books
To Learn with Love by William and Constance Starr
Nurtured by Love by Suzuki
Helping Parents Practice by Edmund Springer

The Practice Revolution by Philip Johnston
His website, Practice Spot is wonderful.

spyscribbler 3/13/2009 01:39:00 PM  

ROFL, Robin!

Piano teaching was not "cool" in conservatory. You just did not want to grow up and be a piano teacher, so I wanted to be a vocal accompanist. I got sick and had to teach to make money.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me. It's the one good thing that came from being sick: I got to be a piano teacher!

spyscribbler 3/13/2009 01:41:00 PM  

Melanie, it's overwhelming! But I just started using a mind map, so maybe that will help! I keep pouring it all there, and maybe eventually I'll find a starting point.

spyscribbler 3/13/2009 01:43:00 PM  

Edie, I was just thinking: I think I do have a couple books in me about it! I'm actually starting to get enthusiastic about this!

spyscribbler 3/13/2009 01:43:00 PM  

Lisa, I spend too much time thinking about things. I want my brain to shut up, LOL!

spyscribbler 3/13/2009 01:46:00 PM  

Bevie, there's a huge difference between learning piano and learning keyboards. I don't know anything about the latter, LOL!

If he does want music lessons, try contacting MusicLink to find a local teacher. It's a great program!

spyscribbler 3/13/2009 01:47:00 PM  

Lauren, good point. I guess why isn't so important, is it?

Cool! That helps!

spyscribbler 3/13/2009 01:56:00 PM  

Writtenwyrdd, I think you're right. Must think on my premise. I think I have several, so maybe I have a couple books in me on this! :-)

spyscribbler 3/13/2009 01:56:00 PM  

Charles, I've gotten way too long-winded with non-fiction. A series is a great idea, though!