Not all lessons are pretty

October 20, 2016
Willie arrived tired, after a bad night's sleep, and cranky, and uncooperative. Since it is autumn we walked around the yard noting the leaves still on the trees were green, but the ones on the ground were brown.  I explained some of my trees had leaves which turned red; THEN they would fall.  My goal is to know what Willy THINKS about.  The tactic is to get him to wonder.

First, I offered him things to think about.  Trees, leaves, colors, noting that they fall, wondering why they fall.  In the bathroom we discussed how the water was white and then I inserted a blue toilet cleaning tablet into the tank part.  We saw it begin to dissolve and I asked Willie if he thought it would color the water.  (something to think about)   (Not to worry, Willie had privacy while doing his thing, I entered when he as back together.)  Then off to the lesson.

Willie was having nothing to do with melodic intonation and was in and out of meltdowns.  We tried songs with phrase completion and he didn't care that Jesus loved him.  Then Willie "stimmed" on the LH bassline F d Bb C and I added RH melody.  He then switched to C (C a F G) which I thought was quite clever, proving he mastered the concept and could change keys.

More tears, another bathroom break, and Willie noted the toilet water was beginning to turn blue.

Next we tried the clapping song (rhythm exercises) without success.  Then the pumpkin song (that worked); we watched a clip of Eensy Weensy Spider, doing the hand motions, playing the song from the lettered book (I Can Do It!) and a written score.  Willie begins to read real music.

The bell rang and he played his "I Wanna Go Home" song.  (remember that old 50's tune?)

On the way out I cried, "Oh, we forgot to do Willie's Cowboy Swing song", to which Willie sang back "do, do-do, do do"  (C  GA G C).  After all that, Willie left singing and smiling.  Whee!

The mother looked sheepish and embarrassed.   I was elated.  The lesson was not pretty.  There was defiance, melt-downs, screaming, changing the lesson.....but there were moments of laughter, singing, smiling and learning.

If that's not love (success) what is?
 

Getting them to talk with Phrase Completion

October 7, 2016
Three of my students are essentially non-verbal, or at least they do not talk to me.  Questions are met with 1 word answers, if any.  In researching aphasia I discovered the technique of "phrase completion".  You say, or better sing, part of the verse  "Mary had a..." and the student just HAS to say "little lamb."  It is almost as if they cannot help themselves.

Of course, they are well set-up.  First I play and sing the target song or phrase.  Then I play piano and we toot on our kazoos (see ...
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Attitude Annie comes around

September 23, 2016
Annie is developing into a delightful little girl.  She is still strong-willed, only following the instructions she chooses.  Therefore since she will never be a competition player, I focus on giving Annie the gift of music for life-long enjoyment.

Improvisation lights her up!  For lessons, after a brief segment of sightreading and playing songs from the books, we turn to improv.

We started with the Cowboy Swing LH pattern (1  565  1:  C GAG C)  We discussed why it is 1 565 1, and played the pa...
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A KAZOO! Who would guess?

September 5, 2016
It's summer time, with summer schedules, vacations, and new ideas.  On a whim I got kazoos to see what happens.
What can you do with a kazoo in a piano lesson?
Donnie (down syndrome) has no concept of rhythm.  He cannot continuously count 4/4 time.  He will not sing, but MIGHT speak the words, never coming in on time.  My goal for the adventure was rhythm.
First Donnie had to teach me how a kazoo works (self-esteem).  Then we played around with them a bit (fun).
Next I had him play a song from "I...
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When is a lesson a success or failure?

June 2, 2015
I left the lesson with Wild Willie feeling like a failure.  He will still not do as directed.  He mostly sits and looks at me and will not do anything unless physically manipulated.  He may or may not play the piano.  Willie does not seem to enjoy the songs or any part of music making.  Is he getting anything out of these lessons?  Why does his mother keep paying me?

Then while driving home I enumerated all the successes.  Willie connected with me casually, bringing me the chair, pen, pencils,...
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What are lines? What are spaces?

May 20, 2015
Donnie with Down Syndrome has been taking lessons for a while, and it is time to teach him to read music on the lines and spaces.  First step:  how do you teach one to read music who does not know what a line is much less a space?  And a line is a THING.  But a space is a NOTHING!
How clever of me to notice there were lines on his shirt.  "Look, these are lines."  "No" Donnie corrected, "this is my work shirt."
So I drew lines on paper.  "This is a line....this is a line....(etc).  How many...
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Talking with Willie

May 12, 2015
I began working with Willie about 6 months ago.  He has a full time "nannie" or "para" to keep him under control and help him along.  Without Para, the lessons would be impossible.
It is time to get him to talk.  What words does he know?  WILL he talk?  CAN he talk?

The first goal was to connect with him.  So I casually asked, "Willie, will you bring over the chair?"  And he did.
Next I held up items and said their names:  pencil, pen, ball, book.  He would usually repeat the word.
The key word i...
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Music for hand development

October 15, 2011
I have begun the project of writing music for 2 or 3 fingers. 
This week I finally wrote out
The Woodpecker and Happy Frog, Sad Frog. 

The Woodpecker uses just 2 notes, C & D.  For the non-readers I just write the note names under the first 2 notes for them to know which is which.  The student chooses any 2 fingers that work and plays the song.  Then any other 2 fingers that work, etc., until all controllable fingers in both hands are exercised.

The students with CP have the most limitations, ...
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Cerebral Palsy and Hand Coordination

October 8, 2011
Each of my lessons begins with hand and finger exercises.
We move the fingers one at a time.  We move the hand as a unit, and then large arm motions.  (Mamma bird feeding the babies, or butterflies in the flowers...)
3 weeks ago Lady K (9 years old with CP) could not coordinate 2 fingers.  Her frustration and defeat brought her to the edge of tears.  Privately I wondered how to teach Lady K anything at all on the piano.  But the next week she returned with control of 3 fingers, and this week sh...
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The power of nothing

September 7, 2011
Many piano teachers and students take a break from their studies during the summer.
They need this time to rest their creative juices and let all the learning from the previous year settle in.

Typically I will teach summer lessons to a limited number of students, about half will want 6 lessons over the course of the summer.  Therefore, I get about 3 weeks off between spring and summer, and 4 weeks rest between summer and fall semesters.  My private studio resumes its lessons in 10 days.

I have b...
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About Me


Susan Bessette I am married with 3 sons and 4 grand children. I have been a teacher all my life, gravitating to the atypical student, teaching for 10 years in the L.A. juvenile prison system. Now retired, I opened Bessette Piano Studio and am developing a method for teaching music to Autism Spectrum Disorders students.


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