Piano Teaching Tips: Bake that Cake a Little Longer!

How many times has a student told you they are done with a piece? This article details a fun way to motivate students to keep working on a piece by equating the process with baking a cake.

Piano Teaching Tips: Bake that Cake a Little Longer!

“But I’m done with this song!”

We’ve all heard it-probably most of us on a weekly basis. Students who think they are “done” with a piece from their assignment list. It’s often not possible to reason with kids when explaining why they aren’t quite ready to let a piece fall off of their assigned repertoire list. In most cases as soon as words like “practice” and “more” come out of your mouth students have a tendency to zone-out.

This week I was dealing with one of my strong-willed 7 year old students who was digging her heels in and was convinced she was done with one of her pieces. I think she was done with it mentally, but she was nowhere near finished with it musically on many levels. I played the piece as it should sound in its finished state and she stubbornly said, “mine sounds like that.” It didn’t-that’s an understatement. So I recorded her playing the piece and made her listen back to it, and at this point she was done and I was reaching the tipping point for my patience. She was determined to break my resolve and let her out of playing it. Mind you, this was a two page arrangement of a very current pop song that she enjoys listening to when I play it, she just was losing her resolve to do the work involved in order to take the piece to a finished level. Then I came up with an analogy that turned the lesson around and an analogy I will continue to use with students-because who doesn’t like talking about cake! I compared learning new piano pieces to the process of baking a cake. Here’s an abridged version of how the conversation went:

ME: So, let’s bake a cake together. What do we want when we’re done?

STUDENT: We want a pretty cake that is cooked and frosted.

ME: I couldn’t agree more! So let’s think of our piano piece like baking a cake. What do we need to bake a cake?

STUDENT: Sugar, flour, eggs, oil, that kind of stuff. Some of my other students that I used this analogy with needed a little help with the ingredients list.

ME: That sounds good. So when we start learning a song we give you the ingredients, right? Your sheet music gives you the melody, the chords, rhythm, fingering, stuff like that. So then what do you do with the cake ingredients?

STUDENT: You put it in a bowl…

ME: That’s right! We put all the ingredients together and then we have to stir it for a while until it’s smooth. But then is the cake done?

STUDENT: No silly, you have to cook it!

ME: EXACTLY! It still needs a good amount of time in the oven, right? Because who wants mushy cake? At this point it was starting to dawn on her how I was correlating the two things together-thank goodness!

STUDENT: So this song is in the oven right now?

ME: Well not quite, I think all the ingredients are in the bowl and we’ve stirred them up a bit. We’re probably just about ready to put them in the pan and pop it in the oven! So we need more time right?

I let the conversation and cake analogy fizzle at this point and we moved on to a piece she knew how to play pretty well. After she played I asked:

ME: So how’s this cake doing?

STUDENT: It’s almost there I think. We checked it with the toothpick but I think we can bake that cake a little longer so it’s just right!

ME: Yes, I agree. We can bake this cake a little longer!

So in conclusion, by taking the focus off of words like “practice more,” “section work,” etc. and relating the process to something fun like baking a cake I managed to completely turn the mood and tone of the lesson around. This is an analogy I will definitely keep using with students and hopefully you’ll find it helpful as well! For all my gluten-free readers out there just transfer the analogy to another item that kids might cook with their parents, soup, chili, etc. It’s all about relating the process to a student and helping them realize that “I want it now” isn’t always an option. Patience and persistence get the job done!

Jennifer Eklund
Written by Jennifer Eklund
Jennifer Eklund holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in music from California State University, Long Beach. She is an avid arranger, composer, and author of the Piano Pronto® method books series as well as a wide variety of supplemental songbooks. She is also a Signature Artist with Musicnotes.com with a large catalog of popular music titles for musicians of all levels.


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