This is the fourth and final  post in the  “Nurture Series”

Have you ever wondered what is going on in a great performers mind as they are on stage?  Do you think they are calculating what comes next?  Are they trying to remember the finger number or reminding themselves to sit correctly?  The best performances are when people are able to enter a state of “flow”.  In the flow state a person is directly involved in the present moment without any thought interfering with the “flow”.  In this way, a performer is not thinking any extra thoughts about finger numbers or what comes next, but these are included in the experience rather than as words in the mind.

Children naturally live in a present state.  As the Chinese philosopher Mencius said:  “Great is the man who has not lost his childlike heart.”   In learning piano, how can we help our children be able to  “play by heart”?

The first two posts in this “Nurture” series discussed learning directly through the environment-natural learning, and also connecting feelings and physical skill with mental concepts to enable Integral or holistic learning.

Next, the learning is optimized by direct positive feedback about what is being done correctly.    The term “positive affirmation” simply refers to a statement of fact about what is observed.   “When you did this, I heard that.”  It is  a positive statement that is without judgement.   Also, it is not a  statement about something that you are wishing for, as the term “positive affirmation” is sometimes used to mean repetition of a positive idea in “positive thinking” strategies.

Positive Affirmation is different from positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement provides an additive external motivation that causes it’s subjects (students) to think: If I do this, I get that. The reinforcement is the reward such as food, or verbal praise. Positive affirmation is a direct acknowledgement of what is perceived.  It is very similar to positive reinforcement because the immediate outcome is that the  student becomes aware that they are doing something correctly.   In positive affirmation the outcome is the reward, there is not an extra piece of candy so to speak.

Positive affirmation follows after the child learns directly from experience. If you can always find what the child is doing correctly, you will be able to direct the child’s awareness to it, and therefore reinforce the child by this acknowledgement.  It is useful to then direct the child’s attention to a point to focus on for improvement.  “Can you play that part with your thumb soft? (under, down) then: “It looks like your hand is more relaxed that way.  What do you think?”  The question empowers the child to consider carefully what they are doing and how it is affecting the goal of playing the piece with the sound they want to hear.

Level 2 Graduation

When children learn directly from the environment, it is not necessary to give extra rewards.  The experience itself is reinforcing and motivating.  This does not mean that it will always be easy!  It is good to affirm the child’s effort and concentration, and the process of learning in general.  It is useful to acknowledge the process of learning in each step so that repetitions and subtle changes are positive.

In the picture of the level 2 graduation, the student is holding up a certificate which states that he has graduated from level 2.  The performance in the graduation concert is the motivating factor, the certificate is a positive affirmation of that achievement.

So, there are three main points for Nurturing children through Suzuki piano:

*Natural Learning – direct learning from the environment as in language acquisition
*Integral Learning- Integrating the senses, physical, and inspirational aspects of learning with the mental concepts
*Positive Affirmation- Using positive verbal statements to promote Integral learning

The experiences from childhood that help your child to develop holistically, and enable them to develop a high level of skill, will be a core ability they will cherish as adults, more valuable than anything money can buy.