Million Dollar Lesson

Million Dollar Lesson

  • Discipline is a learning opportunity. I use the same strategy to plan fun activties as I do to plan discipline: what do I want my student to learn from this?  How will I do it?
  • Students will come to their lesson fussy, tired, silly and just plain act inappropriately! —Don’t take it personally! Aggression is caused by fear, also no one wants to be forced to do something.  We encourage, encourage and encourage and force is a LAST resort (usually because of safety). When inappropriate behavior (hiding under or behind furniture, destructive behavior, biting, scratching, yelling/screaming) occurs here is our plan:


  • I will try to think about the student’s point of view and ask questions to find out why they are acting this way.
  • I will empathize and sympathize with the student by re-stating so he/she knows they are heard, such as “so you can’t play basketball if you’re at piano,” or “you didn’t get to eat your favorite snack today?”
  • I will stay calm so they know its not an emergency
  • I will maintain firm, immovable limits and state them, such as “you’re allowed to have a reaction but lets find one that will work in the studio” – remember boundaries are not punitive they are a safety net.
  • I will brainstorm win-win solutions using choices and questions and try to inspire them to control themselves by brainstorming too, such as:
    • “lets think of 3 things that could solve this problem,” or
    • “how about playing a piano game as a reward for doing this work item on your practice list,” or
    • “lets play your favorite piece first and come back to this piece second,” or
    • “you can stay now or come back during your (favorite activity) to finish our lesson?” or
    • “what will help you stop (this behavior)?” etc.
    • If we find the reason is the child wants attention a win-win may be a parent/guardian finishing the lesson while the child is ignored –remember we are at our last resorts here.


  • You, the Parent/Guardian, will take the child out of the studio and talk with them (maybe utilizing the above) and get them a drink of water and try to encourage them to pull it together; then come back and discuss the win-win solution they agree to; in that way we hold the student accountable to the agreement and not necessarily the behavior (its a loop hole that gets us closer to winning the war).


  • When neither Step 1 nor 2 works, I will give the Parent a nod and say, “it looks like today is the day!” or “today is our million dollar lesson!” and the Parent/Guardian takes the child home without delay and does not get upset or angry –just calmly goes to the car and does not engage in any sort of bargaining or negotiations; if you must speak or when you are allowed to be heard please say, “It was too hard for you to stop ______________. This behavior hurts people, so we had to leave.  Soon you will be able to stop yourself, so we can stay and play.  We will try again next week.”
    • Recognize that you are about winning the war in the end. So this battle didn’t go well but soon the child will realize that you will not quit lessons and they will be returning week after week after week.  They will see music lessons are much more fun than disappointing you.


  • I will talk with you, the Parent/Guardian, about it privately afterward.  We will reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Discuss ways to further help the child.  If parents and teachers shield students from these consequences then they won’t become who we need them to be; we both have similar, successful hopes and goals for these students and we realize that discipline is a learning opportunity that connects to those hopes and goals.  I think we’ve come to the point where this consequence is the way to teach, get through to, and realign them.


  • Try again next week with a cheerful demeanor, light-hearted atmosphere and fresh start. Repeat if necessary.
  • Tips/Reminders –
    • Children often learn by experience so they like to move and do.
    • Children often want mastery and get frustrated easily – “ask what else should you do?”
    • Give choices you can follow through with.
    • Routines and rules are very important to children feeling safe – they like to know where those boundaries are even if they do push to find them!  If something is happening at home it will affect your child.  They say children are resilient – well I believe that may be because they have wonderful support systems from parents, friends, teachers, family – however if those supports are affected or nonexistent children are far more affected by stress/problems.
    • Try saying “yes” as much as possible instead of “no”: “YES I expect you to _______ and YES you want to do _________. YES you can growl and be mad. YES you could do this other thing another time. And YES I love you and want you to chose ________.  YES if we hurry you can have more time for a fun thing later or an extra fun thing.
    • Often children are bored, want to progress faster, don’t want to do work/hard things, want attention, want to go home to a safer environment, want to sleep, etc. We must find the reason why and that changes our response to fix the problem (these reasons change and are varied kind of like world hunger; this is not a one-size-fits all thing . . .).
    • Focus on the activities, items and talents the child loves and can do well!  That is why you are excited about helping this child because of his wonderful gifts and things he loves to do.  If piano is not on the list, that’s ok we will 1- encourage, 2- emphatically question/listen, 3-brainstorm win-wins, 4 – let the child fail, 5- repeat.  Every. Single. Day.  We will just do the above by rote and focus on the loves of your child’s life! We don’t stop or give up just because we can. Plus focusing on the things we/he loves helps us avoid burnout and keeps our lives happier!
    • Yes you pay for the million dollar lesson or lessons!  Wow! your child is learning a boatload at these lessons!  What a wonderful lesson in sticking with something, perseverance even after failure, how to begin again, how to problem solve, how to process emotions/feelings, how to verbalize and communicate feelings/emotions, self-mastery, self-discovery, hard work, social behavior/cues, choice/accountability, love.  Above all else they will learn that you love them —maybe much later.  But you care enough to try day after day to reach them and help them and give up everything for them, and its worth it.
    • References for the above: King James Bible, Nurtured By Love by Dr. Suzuki, Ability Development from Age Zero by Dr. Suzuki, How to Teach Suzuki Piano by Dr. Kataoka, You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded) by Cynthia Tobias,,,,