I Learned to Supervise Millennials While Taking Piano Lessons: Part Three


I recently learned that much of my supervisory toolkit was developed while sitting on a piano bench.  In particular, the methods that I’ve used with success for the millennial generation are derived from things I learned during piano lessons.   This article is an installment of my ongoing musings about drawing inspiration for better supervision from my time in piano lessons.

Taking piano lessons is all about getting feedback.  If that wasn’t important, then I could just play my pieces for an hour each week without my instructor and accomplish the same thing.  But that method would fail miserably, I think.  Spending an hour playing for someone more with more expertise than myself and hearing his or her thoughts on how to improve was the key to playing better.

My lessons generally followed the same pattern.  I would play about three measures, then my instructor would stop me.  We would pick apart every note, including the amount of pressure I used on the key, the angle of my wrist, my pedaling, and the speed I used moving from note to note.  It was not unusual for the slant of my shoulders, the tilt of my head and my position on the piano bench to be considered too.  Every detail was scrutinized and improvements suggested.

Millennials seem to love this style of feedback.  I assign a big project, but have the staff member bring me back small sections for feedback.  I ask questions and make suggestions based on their answers.  Maybe I will say “how will you communicate to residents that sustainability is important?” Depending on the answer I get, then I’ll question timing, method, potential consequences, resources available and more.  No detail is left untouched.  Like my piano teacher, I keep nudging until the sound of those three measures are what I’m seeking.  Then I tell my staff member to generalize these ideas to the next step in the project.  And we repeat again when that step is ready.

Eventually, all the measures build to the full piece of music.

With my generation X staff (born 1964-1979), this frequency and detail of feedback is not always desired.  They seem to prefer thorough expectations at the start of the project so they know exactly what the end result should be.  Then leave them alone until the end.  Not so with Millennials.  Every step of the way is an opportunity for feedback, and always should include something positive too.  So, every phrase of the sonata needs to be examined along the way.  Just providing instruction at the beginning and evaluation after the recital is not enough.

What other differences have you noticed between Millennial and Gen X staff?