Laura Cotton nicknames this piano student "Miss Sass" and this picture shows why.

On Thursday nights I teach 2 ½ hours of beginner piano lessons. During that time I share a piano bench with five students:

–       Miss Sass.  She’s 7 and spunky. Sometimes she doesn’t feel like answering so she’ll pound answers to “how many beats” questions on the keyboard – kinda like how a horse pounds his hoof on the ground to give numbers. Oh yeah … and she won’t start playing a piece until I say “Ready go.”

–       Mr. Cool. He’s 14 and spikey-haired.  I have to give his mom props for teaching him manners. The boy is polite! He’s a quick learner once he hears the song but without an audible reference, he stalls.

–       Mr. Attention Deficient. He’s 12 and distracted. Make a sound outside and he’ll unfailingly turn his head regardless of where he’s at in the music. So … I’ve learned to close the window. He knows his notes but sometimes just makes wild guesses because it requires less concentration.

–       Ms. Rapturious. She’s 60-something and determined. Finally fulfilling her wish to take piano lessons, she likes to show off when she practices. She also likes to make up words … like “rapturious.”

–       Mr. Perfectionist. He’s 20-something and thorough. Bless his heart, at the end of the evening, my patience level runs a little thin and he likes to play it over and over again until it’s perfect. Deep breaths … I take lots of deep breaths.

Every 30 minutes I have to switch my approach to something that will work for my new “audience.” And even if it’s the 200th time I’ve heard that same piano exercise, I have to act like it’s the first time. And even if it’s the 20th time they’ve made the same mistakes in the same places, I have to patiently ask them to try it again.

Students can sense impatience, lack of interest and distraction like a hound dog can smell hunted game. And they reflect the energy I project. If I’m upbeat, they stay positive.  If I’m a little down, they tend to play with less confidence and we both don’t have fun.

And sometimes when I’m listening to that little ditty for the 47th time that night, my mind wanders (while my ears are still listening and eyes the music or keyboard, of course) about how it’s the same in the board room, press conference, town hall meeting, staff discussion, etc. It’s all about tailoring the message and exuding the energy you want returned back to you. Add a little patience and you’re golden!