How to Teach Perfectionist Students

How to Teach Perfectionist Students

Do you have any little perfectionists in your music studio?  

I do, and I tend to be one myself.  

How can we help guide these pupils and encourage their hard work and attention to detail while helping them manage stress?

Have a Motto

When a student’s frustrations are mounting during a lesson, it can be hard to know what to say to deescalate the situation.

This is where having a studio motto comes in handy. You can pull it out easily whenever you hit a sticking point.

Some of my favorite mottos are:

  • “Mistakes are good teachers.”
  • “It’s all part of how we learn.”
  • “Don’t try to be perfect, try to be excellent.”
  • “One step at a time gets us closer to our goal.”
  • “That’s why pencils have erasers.”

Repetition is one of the keys to learning, so repeat your motto often!

Not only are they helpful for perfectionist music students, but they are also great life lessons.

Embrace Humor

Having a sense of humor is key to connecting with your students.

Now of course I don’t mean that you should laugh at them or their mistakes (please, don’t ever do that!).

Actually, I’ve found that keeping a lighthearted and humorous approach to lessons will help students feel less stressed and less afraid of making mistakes.

If you doubt that, just ask anyone who has ever had a strict or mean music teacher!

Keeping your sense of humor intact will help create a safe learning environment for all your students, one where they feel free to grow and learn and improve without the pressure of having to be perfect.

My philosophy is to take music seriously, but not myself.

That helps me work through my own perfectionist tendencies, and I hope that it will rub off on my students as well.

Break Things Down Into Steps

Overwhelm = frustration.

Almost every time.

One of the best ways we can help our perfectionist students (and ourselves) is to break large, overwhelming tasks into smaller, more manageable ones.

Try having your students focus on one measure at a time, or one hand at a time, or one articulation at a time, or whatever they are trying to master.

Every time they accomplish one of these small goals, they will gain the confidence and motivation they need to tackle the next one.

Eventually they will conquer the entire project, and then you both can really celebrate!

Try Some Improvising

Sometimes its good to walk away from the lesson book and let your perfectionist student embrace their creativity.

Try to improvise a duet together, or have them compose a short piece about their favorite fictional character.

Ask them to make sad, happy, or grumpy sounds and use them to tell a story.

It’s healthy for perfectionist students to occasionally walk away from the “strictness” of written notes and rhythms and just enjoy music-making.

Once their frustration has dissolved and their spirits have been lifted, you can both go back to what you were working on with clearer heads and lighter hearts.

Model Perseverance

The most effective way to help our perfectionist students is to model patience and perseverance for them ourselves.

Our musical kiddos look to us as an example, in more ways and more often than we realize.

Make sure you sometimes play repertoire and demonstrate techniques for your students.

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge when you’ve played a wrong note, or counted incorrectly, or messed up a page turn, or misplaced a copy of that theory worksheet you wanted to show them.

Keep your a cool head and a sense of humor, and show them that musicians are human, after all.

The more you model this attitude for your students, the more they will likely adopt it themselves.

How do you encourage your perfectionist students? Let us know in the comments!

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