Teaching Tips: The Power of Positive Language

Teaching can be tough work sometimes, especially if your students lose steam when they run into difficulties. Luckily, there is a simple linguistic trick you can learn to turn “mistakes” into “learning opportunities”. TakeLessons teacher Leena K. shares her teaching tips on using positive language to keep students motivated…

If you’re like most music teachers (myself included), you have high expectations for your students. While there is nothing wrong with that, it is important to remember that our students are just that…students. They are still learning. Most of us are musicians who have years and years of experience under our belts. Consequently, we expect hard work and dedication from our little Mozarts. However, it can be difficult to sit back and watch as these new learners struggle, especially if they don’t appear to be making an effort to become music aficionados. We must remember that there is a reason it is called practice– they are still mastering their skills.

I have found that the best way to encourage students is to be vocally encouraging using positive language. I have learned over my many years of teaching not to use words like “wrong” or “bad.” Instead, I try to indicate that there is work to be done but follow up with a positive. For example, let’s say a student is playing a piece and clearly doesn’t know part of it, or doesn’t put forth much effort. Instead of being critical, I would say something like, “I can see that you got a little stuck in this section. Why don’t we work through it for a few minutes?” Then I would follow with, “Now let’s try the piece again. I think you can get that part this time.” This tells the student that you are acknowledging their struggle but not punishing them for it. Knowing that their teacher believes in their abilities motivates students to work hard and do their best.

I once had a student who was having trouble playing a piece. She continually hit wrong notes and made many mistakes during our lesson. I could tell that she was unmotivated and wasn’t trying very hard. I asked her to play the song again and that every time she missed the notes, she had to go back to the beginning and start over. Wouldn’t you know, she nailed it! Knowing that I had faith that she could do it was what she needed in order to get focused.

You can point out the things your students need to work on while still emphasizing the things they are good at. We must remember that we were once those novice students, confused and trying so hard to understand and become great musicians. I know that when I get praise for the things I do well, it makes me want to do them again and pushes me to do even better the next time. Being encouraging is what our students need. We don’t need to be bad guys or the “practice police”- we can be their “notes in shining armor.” Get it?


Leena K. teaches singing, songwriting and piano lessons in La Vergne, TN. She specializes in classical, jazz and world music. Leena has been teaching for 11 years and joined the TakeLessons Team in May 2013. Learn more about Leena or search for a teacher near you!





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Photo by Miki Yoshihito

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