Five-year-old Alison had just finished playing one of her previous lesson book songs chosen from her “piano box” – an elaborately-decorated tissue box holding the names of all of her “checked-off” songs. Her mom says it’s one of her favorite parts of practicing at home and she begged to incorporate it into piano lessons, too. I think she feels a great sense of accomplishment when she can turn back a few pages and play a familiar song successfully and from the teacher’s perspective, it’s a great repertoire-building technique.

We turned the page for her new assignment, “Rodeo.” As exciting as the piece looked on paper, it just wasn’t engaging enough to hold her interest today.

I asked, “Did you remember your cowgirl hat? You need to wear it in order to play this song.” “Yep!” she replied enthusiastically. “I have it right here,” she said as she pulled the imaginary hat from behind her back. “Guess what color it is?” said the girl dressed in all pink. “Pink,” I said. “Yeah,” she said, as if no other color existed. Hat in place, she began to copy my phrases as we sang together.

I was pleasantly surprised that the imaginative distraction worked – she was actually learning the new piece without even realizing it! I thought too soon. Halfway through, she stopped suddenly and turned to her mom. “I need a skittle! I can’t play anymore until I have one!” she said dramatically. “The skittles are in the car – you can have them after your lesson. Only a few more minutes – I think you’ll survive,” her mom replied.

Alison was insistent, jumping off the bench to plead a little more. “Alison, didn’t you put your skittles in your cowgirl hat?” I asked, trying the imagination tool once more. “Oh yeah!” she said. “I forgot I put them in there!” She pulled the imaginary pink hat off her head and pulled out an imaginary handful of skittles. “What color do you like, Miss Ashley?” “I like the green ones,” I said as she pulled a few imaginary green skittles out of her imaginary handful and handed them to me.

After the brief imaginary skittle-break, we resumed playing “Rodeo,” imaginary pink cowgirl hat in place.