Case Study of Applied Neuro Linguistic Programming to my Music Lessons

V.H. Music Teacher

Background context: I was engaged by ‘Karen’s’ mother to provide piano lessons for her and her 12 year old brother. I had an interview with all three to determine what their desired aim was, and the mother advised me that she didn’t want formal piano tuition with regular examinations, but wanted the children to continue learning and get some enjoyment out of music.

This somewhat vague statement left me in a quandary, as it was outside the framework of normal piano tuition. I listened to both children’s playing to gain some idea of their current level of skill. The boy appeared to be a very bright child, but badly in need of correction in his playing. His personality and intelligence overshadowed his older sister, whose playing I felt I could do a great deal to improve.

Why I chose this Student for my Case Study

I have chosen ‘Karen’ as the case study to present to this group, because I found her ‘difficult’, and because through using NLP I was able to achieve some success.

She had been learning the piano for 5 years and wasn’t showing a skill level I would have expected. I wanted to see her fulfil what I perceived as her musical talent, and for her to enjoy learning.

What NLP has taught me about the role of Rapport building and maintaining strategies in teaching

I found gaining Karen’s trust challenging. The more I tried, the more she retreated. She passively resisted practicing; she did not complete her homework practice sheets and showed minimal interest in the lessons, which became more and more frequently, unpleasant affairs.

She continued further resistance with mumbling, shoulder shrugs and failure to meet goals I perceived she needed to meet. She also gave indications that she wasn’t enjoying school and was often sullen. Her younger brother was making great strides, but I could not get their cooperation to play duets together for fun. Both resisted.

I was on the verge of giving up with her, but I cared what was happening. There was a happy spark within her and musical talent which could be coaxed out. I had seen her when I made her giggle, and I wanted to see more of that, as it was a good starting point for learning.

I made a mistake when I asked Karen her in her mother’s presence ‘what are we going to do with your music?’ I told her ‘I wasn’t enjoying the lessons, she wasn’t practising and she showed every indication that lessons were a trial. ‘Did she want to go on? What was the problem? Was it the music?’ She didn’t have any responses, before her mother intervened the awkward silence by suggesting that she had been busy with the school ball and she would get down to practising. This answer wasn’t satisfactory to me. I realised had violated Karen’s boundaries. Obviously I had to change my approach and here is how nlp classes helped me

NLP Changes Implemented

I realised that rapport with ‘Karen’ had to be gained, along with mutual respect which I had to give and to earn. I had to change. On advice from Nina, during NLP classes I reduced direct questioning about her school life, which I had thought would be casual conversational chat and which instead seemed to threaten her.

Clear Well formed Outcomes for the lessons.

I saw I could use music as therapy, expand her horizons and fulfil musical promise. My primary focus changed – a well- formed outcome was finally decided upon. Instead of the narrow goal of teaching her the pieces of music, I decided to concentrate on her well-being, self esteem and happiness, and from there, there was a possibility of being able to assist her on her musical journey, or to leave her with enough resources to either continue or pick up music at any stage of her life.

My aim became for music to be a pleasurable experience for her, and not a duty imposed on her by her parents. I needed to ‘undo’ poor attitudes I felt she had picked up from former teaching.

Fun activities:

I decided to reduce the pressure of practice at this point of time. Immediately after this encounter, I got both her mother (who had once learnt to play) and Karen to sit at the piano together. I taught them with much laughter, to play a duet correctly.

I then offered to take her to a music shop for her to choose the music she might enjoy. She agreed, and the following week I took her to the music shop where we bought two albums, one of popular music ‘Cold Play’ and the other ‘Movie Themes’ which were possible for her to learn. I gave her more choices than her previous sheet music. I bought a CD of pieces she had been studying to give her more of an idea of how good they could sound. I suggested she listen more and sing. No-one, she said, sang, ever, in the household. I said to her: “ well you’ve been listening to me singing and making a fool of myself, why can’t you!” This made her laugh.

Sensory based Teaching

I used the presupposition ‘The Map Is Not the Territory’ when she looks at the music. I explained that when she sees ‘the map’ the composer has written, she fills in “ the territory”, and while keeping to the composer’s intentions, she makes the music her own. I am encouraging her to ‘see’ (visual) and ‘feel’ (kinaesthetic) as well as ‘hear’ (auditory) the possibilities. The latest lessons have been much more enjoyable.

Calibrating the Body and minding the language

I observe her and notice when she is tired and needs a break. (I suggest we have a drink of water, or I talk about something totally unrelated to the lesson for a brief period). I watch her body language and try to match it. I observe when she is receptive to learning. I have changed the word ‘practice’ to ‘play’.

During the last school holidays she surprised me with how much she had progressed by her self-initiated practice, and I complimented her on how pleasurable it was for me to hear her play. I was also struck by her changed attitude towards me.

Teacher Student

This student has been a source of learning for me to be a better teacher.
I have learnt that the prevalent cause-effect belief that teaching causes learning is a false assumption.
NLP has been enormously helpful in changing staid, tired methods of teaching into new and fresh APPROACHES appropriate to each student. Each individual has his/her own preferred representational system , (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic, Olfactory and Gustatory – VAKOG) which may differ from the teacher’s and from other students’, and it is up to the teacher to observe carefully and adapt her methods to give the best value to lessons, for the benefit of all concerned. .

Val H.
Music Teacher- Perth

Details withheld to preserve privacy