You know, that’s not good enough.

I was talking to a teacher friend a while ago as I got kids ready for a performance, and they told me that they’d never really seen a teacher who says ‘no’ so much to children. To clarify, they didn’t mean that I say ‘no’ as just one word, but I tell kids that what they’ve just done isn’t good enough. And I don’t use language like ‘This is really great, and you’re trying really hard. And now we’re going to do it again and you’re going to be really awesome!’ Because that’s not me. I’ll stop a track and say ‘This isn’t good enough. You’re not concentrating.’ Or ‘You’re not following my conducting.’ Or ‘You’re getting too fast. Why aren’t you watching me?’

To begin with, children are a bit taken aback. Sometimes they get a bit cross with me.

But here’s the thing. They suck it up and they do better. Mostly enormously better. And they sense that it’s better. And they can see that I think it’s better too. I smile at them. And then they start to work harder. They sing better. They drum more accurately. They play better.

And then when I say something like ‘Yes! That was fabulous!’ they know it’s the truth. They were fabulous. It was something that deserved a ‘yes’.

In my experience, after all these years, when you are preparing for a musical performance, kids don’t need the sugar-coating. They don’t need the affirmations. They need a really solid lead-up time, good preparation, and the truth. And then, when they excel – because they always do – they need honest, heart-felt praise. And then they’ll trust you more. And the whole process begins again.