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Parents of ADHD Children

How to teach ADHD boy following instructions?

My boy is 8 years old. When he was 6 years old, he learned piano and then quitted since he couldn’t focus. Recently, he love to play piano and always plays without even being asked. However he only play those songs he knows. When it comes to play a new one, he get frustrated very quickly and does’t want to figure it out. Most importantly, he doesn’t know how to follow the instructions. He even said that why he need to follow the beat in piano! I am kind of worried since following rules is very important in life. It is not just piano, it applies to many other areas! How can I teach him to follow instructions? How can I teach him to not to get frustrated daily? Can ADHD kids learn how to play piano?

Thanks a lot!


What we’ve repeatedly experienced in our own case is that new rules apply for an ADHD child. Our expectations have had to change because their ability to meet them is not the same as you would expect for a non-ADHD child. I wished I’d understood that when my son was your son’s age because it would have saved us all a lot of hardship and tears.

8yrs is a young age to learn the piano and even more challenging for an ADHD child. Due to their 3yr lag in maturity you’ll have to understand that you may be dealing with a 5yr old more of the time.

We’ve learned to discipline differently because the usual methods just create more drama. Rules are important in life, but we have to realize that they’re struggle to control impulses, regulate emotions, pay attention, etc., mean they need more time to be able to master what we expect. You can’t hold someone accountable for what they are physically incapable of doing as is the case with an ADHD child. Medication helps, but it will not change the fact that they have ADHD.

You can’t teach an ADHD child not to get frustrated because life is so frustrating for them naturally. Living in a world where you cannot feel successful through no fault of your own is painful and for a child whose eager to please it can be emotionally damaging. Lower your expectations and try to keep music fun or he may grow to hate it.

Posted by Havebeenthere on Apr 30, 2014 at 5:37am

Yes, there are plenty of people with ADHD who are musicians.  I have ADHD & play the piano.  I never understood why my performances were so inconsistent (or why I refused to learn anything I wasn’t interested in learning…why I could learn an extremely challenging piece as long as I liked it but couldn’t force myself to play a simpler song that I detested). 

Originally I taught myself how to play (and only played songs I knew).  Only when I got stuck being assigned to play a song in high school (accompanying the choir) did I have to admit I could read notes but not rhythms.  So I hired a piano teacher to teach me how to count rhythms (it was either that or look stupid not knowing something).

You have to really WANT to learn how to count music to do it; it’s not easy.  Playing an instrument can be a very frustrating task (with or without ADHD).  And music is something that really can’t be forced on someone (with or without ADHD).

So if he really enjoys playing, maybe he’d rather act like he doesn’t care about “the rules” of tempo & rhythm than admit that “the rules” of tempo & rhythm have got him stumped?

Posted by BC on Apr 30, 2014 at 5:39am

I can’t speak specifically for piano, but for my 8 year old, following rules is inconsistent.  Sometimes, he does wonderfully, others, not so much.  You have to reward the good and ignore, as much as you can, the bad. 

Incentives are very helpful for my son.  If you do this, you will receive that…  Maybe you can reward him for learning part of a new song. For example, if you get the first third of the song, you will get…  It doesn’t have to be much, maybe 30 minutes with a video game or a special dessert. 

Good luck!

Posted by cmullen17 on Apr 30, 2014 at 5:20pm

There are many music schools these days that operate on the theory that the very best way to encourage all children (not just w/ ADHD) is to only have them play songs they already know & more importantly, like.  Gone are the days of making them start off by playing ugly sounding (and BORING!!!) scales & drills.  Gone are the days of having them play out of beginner books that include songs nobody knows (and nobody really wants to hear).  Looking into finding a piano teacher who incorporates that type of thinking would be helpful.  But most importantly is getting your son’s buy-in (enthusiasm) for starting lessons back up.

I was a bit of a “pioneer” back in the 80s when I went in search of a piano teacher in high school.  I told her I was only there to have her teach me how to count rhythms better, and that I was only going to play songs I wanted to learn how to play.  I “warned” her that if she had me play a bunch of stuff that sounded like scale drills I just wasn’t going to learn them (so why waste MY money on useless books & HER time listening to me stumble through stuff I was never going to master).

I had NO idea I had ADHD, but I did know what “worked” for me and what didn’t.

Posted by BC on Apr 30, 2014 at 6:09pm

Thank you all for your nice reply! I really appreciate it. I will be more patient and keep encouraging him more.

Posted by Change_Add on May 02, 2014 at 4:59am

My son is 12 now and started to play piano when he was 8. He too had problems following the instructions and his teacher would admonish him for not practicing. When I finally told her about Ben’s ADHD (inattentive), she started to change the way she taught him. His teacher once taught a dyslexic student so she tried tricks she had in her bag. His teacher and I agreed that his path toward learning the piano would be different.
When he was younger I remember there were some classes where they did more hands on things like rolling out pieces of play-do and putting them in order of the keys. Did you know if you turn the music sideways it lines up with the keys? It was looking at the piano in different ways that helped him. His teacher also said he “plays by ear”, which would explain why he too only wanted to play songs he knew. Another thing his teacher does is give him 5 min at the beginning and end of the lesson to chat about random stuff. (He loves to talk). She also groups the notes and points out the patterns and how they repeat to make it less overwhelming. I have no music training so its hard for me to explain exactly what she does, but I know she said he was teaching him chords (whatever that Sometimes his teacher will take video of him playing the song, because he would forget what he was supposed to do, and watching the video would help him practice. We have also used you-tube, you can search the book series he’s using and the song.
The best advice I can give is to find a teacher who will work with your child in a loving and supportive environment, and one who is not bound by drills and memorization. My son is not a prodigy or anything he just loves piano. The piece he in working on now is from Les Miserable, “Do You Hear The People Sing”, and I get tears in my eyes when I hear him he play. Is he as far along as other students who have been taking lessons this long? Of course not, but he is happy, and has never missed a lesson in over 4 years. Find a teacher who can adapt to your childs needs, and don’t give up on him. Good Luck smile

Posted by Jenmosin on May 03, 2014 at 5:47pm

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