What the eye can't see, the ear can catch.

Written by Chinmay Vaidya on 19 August 2021

I have a 12-year old student named Diksha Hariyan, who comes to the piano class at the Shankar Mahadevan Academy’s Inspire India Project Center at Sion, in central Mumbai. Diksha started attending class in November 2018.

Some background about her first. Diksha has almost totally lost vision in both her eyes; she can see – at the most – the area right under her nose. Therefore, she cannot read the musical notes of a piece and play that piece on the piano at the same time. 

Although Diksha has a brilliant mind, she has a problem in coordinating her hands, I observed. I also saw that she tended to be a little apprehensive while learning something new. She would often forget the tunes she was learning to play. I felt the reason might be that she does not memorise tunes.

In my current term in class with Diksha, I started training her for Piano exams held by the Trinity College of London. I was curious to find out how she would remember the hand positions that are necessary to learn certain musical pieces. 

So I took one song and broke the whole song into three pieces of music. And I taught her one pattern at a time on either hand according to the tune. As her classes progressed, her grasp of hand positions grew stronger. She could locate her hand position better based on the placement of the black keys on the piano. 

We worked next on the aspect of playing a piece or a short composition. Now, students with normal eyesight would understand how to play a piece because they can read the sheet notation and understand the melodic patterns. But, for Diksha, doing that was a challenge. 

So I chose to recite to her a whole melodic pattern in the piece instead of the individual notes. I instinctively felt that she would grasp the essence of music in the piece faster than the technicalities of learning to play the piece. 

It worked. And I’m happy to share that she has learnt two complete pieces for the Trinity Syllabus without opening her book. That is a great achievement by her!

Diksha, partially blind, plays a song for her parents. 

I count this as an achievement for me too as her Piano Teacher. I just fed relevant content for her to listen to. I encouraged her to play the piano to her friends after every class.  It was just amazing to see the growth in her confidence in her newfound ways of learning and performing.

This is an unforgettable experience in my career as a teacher. While teaching should be a seamless delivery of knowledge, this experience taught me that learning to be a better teacher never stops. It goes beyond classrooms and tried and tested best practices. When you encourage your students to perform, you need to help them believe they can create magic with music. They will get better once you get them to believe in themselves.

Chinmay Vaidya, Piano Teacher, Inspire India Project

Discipline and Joy are sides of the same coin – just flip it.