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#1239126 - 07/28/09 06:31 PM Lopsided Students
Lollipop Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/28/09
Posts: 820
Loc: Georgia
Hello! I have used Piano World as a resource for a number of years, and would love input on a couple issues I'm dealing with recently.

Let me give a little background about me first. The LOL at the beginning of my user name stands for Little Old Lady. I would have just used LOL but laugh out loud isn't what I meant. Some time back, a few posters were complaining about the Little-Old-Lady-down-the-street piano teachers. And I thought, hey, that's me. Therefore, I was somewhat hesitant to jump in.

I began teaching by accident, probably about 10 years ago. My daughter plays violin and I used to accompany her for performances when she was young. I met a mother-son duo doing the same thing. That mother was a piano teacher. When she moved away, she helped her students find new teachers. But she had one little girl she wasn't comfortable placing with the higher pressure teachers in the area, and asked if I would consider teaching her. By word of mouth only (then and now), I quickly had all the students I could handle, and discovered that I loved teaching.

I ended up with a lot of non-traditional students. I seem to have a knack, and a patience, with them. I got the ADHD student who was kicked out of other studios, the adults who were intimidated by other teachers, and plenty of just great kids, too. I am upfront about my lack of degree. I also tell folks that I will teach kids for about 3 years. My rationale is that, after three years (more or less), if they are making great progress, they need someone who will take them deeper into theory and performance than I am capable of. (I do studio recitals, but nothing else.) And if they aren't making much progress, then perhaps they need to experience a different teaching style or personality.

My expressed goal is to teach kids to love music, regardless of whether they decide in the future to continue studying piano. As the mother of musicians, I feel it is equally important to put folks in those chairs in the auditorium, as well as on the stage!

I am thrilled when my students reach middle school and decide to pursue another instrument, or voice (in addition to, or instead of, piano.) Several of my earliest students are reaching the end of their high school years, intent on pursuing music one way or another, and I am happy to see them still loving what was started with me.

I stopped teaching for a couple years, due to a move out of the area, but at the urging of my son (a Juilliard grad student - different instrument) I resumed a couple years ago.

I use Faber and Faber Piano Adventures primarily. (Have used Alfred and Bastien in the past. I like Piano Adventures for the pace and the order things are presented.) I use all four main books, and sometimes supplement with Dozen a Day, Notespeller, and Scale Books, depending upon the individual student.

That was all background, trying to show my strengths and weaknesses. Here's an issue I'm dealing with now. A few weeks ago, I got a new student. Her mother told me over the phone that her daughter had been taking at a local music store, but seemed to have hit a wall and they were ready for someone new. I was happy to hear she'd been taking from the same books I use - thought it would be a lot easier.

It turned out that the previous teacher only used one book - the Lesson book, level 1. And he crossed off about every third piece (actually scribbled it out, so I can't use it either.) I asked the student to play something for me, and she turned to the last page (where I saw that the previous teacher had signed the certificate of completion.) The little girl played the piece for me, and I was stunned.

She hit all the right notes. She used random fingers on either hand (where there were notes on both staffs, she ignored the bass), and her rhythm was in the ballpark but foul.

I never say anything negative about previous teachers. I figure that each teacher has strengths and weaknesses. (My own 3 kids played 2 instruments apiece, and we had a lot of experience with different teachers.) So I tried to gently inquire about her previous lessons. She told me that her teacher said fingering wasn't important, as long as she got the notes right.

In fact, she doesn't know anything about fingering. We are back at the beginning of the Primer book, learning finger numbers. She has no idea what the various notes are called (half-note, whole note, etc) nor their counts. She doesn't know dynamic markings.

She can look at a staff and play the right note, but she can't tell me its name. If I ask her to play a certain note, she can't find it (except middle C). She is mad that I won't let her write in the note names onto her music.

For her first lesson, I sent her home with instructions to learn the first 2 lines of the piece with the correct fingering and rhythm. She did it! So I feel these problems are fixable. She admits to being a bit lazy, and I think it will be slow going. It will also be discouraging for her to not make rapid progress, like before. I warned her and her mother that it will be slow going for awhile. I spend part of each lesson paging through my copy of the Primer Lesson book to teach her things that got skipped along the way.

If you've slogged through my post this far, here are my questions:

1. Our music store advertises that their teachers all have music degrees. I don't, so who am I to criticize? Is there some method or pedagogy that teaches this way, and I am just uninformed? Is there an advantage to teaching this way?

2. What methods or materials would you suggest to balance this student's strengths and weaknesses?

3. Different subject, but same: I've gotten a few students over the past couple years from Yamaha. I'm curious if anyone has any tips that have worked well for them in transitioning Yamaha-taught students to traditional lessons.

I'm sorry this is so long!


Edited by Lollipop (07/28/09 06:35 PM)
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#1239138 - 07/28/09 06:59 PM Re: Lopsided Students [Re: Lollipop]
Jennifer Eklund Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/16/09
Posts: 162
Loc: SoCal
It seems to me that you are a good match for her because of your level of patience. It sounds like TLC and patience are exactly what she needs. I also think it's promising that she came back having followed your assignment to learn the piece with the right rhythms and fingerings.

I would just gently tell her that she has a few gaps in her foundation and you have to go back to patch up the holes. In the meantime I think you can soften the blow of her having go backwards a bit by seeking out some fun supplement music for her to play. At this point it would be helpful to get her into a variety of books so she is using all of her new skills (reading fingerings and rhythms accurately)in a variety of capacities (i.e. different books/series/genres/styles, etc.).

It sounds as though her gaps are a lack of insufficient pedagogy. Ignoring fingering isn't a "pedagogical method." Degrees don't mean much when it comes to pedagogical skills -- experience in this field definitely trumps college degrees.

I applaud you for recognizing your own limitations and being up front with people about these limitations. And even with your somewhat limited background it sounds like you a caring and patient teacher who supports the musical endeavors of your students. Brava!
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#1239140 - 07/28/09 07:00 PM Re: Lopsided Students [Re: Lollipop]
Ebony and Ivory Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/14/05
Posts: 1179
Loc: Minnesota
Originally Posted By: Lollipop
1. Our music store advertises that their teachers all have music degrees. I don't, so who am I to criticize? Is there some method or pedagogy that teaches this way, and I am just uninformed? Is there an advantage to teaching this way?
There are other posts galore about this very thing. There are many fabulous pianists that aren't cut out for teaching. It is smart for the store to use that to advertise, but to say that they all have music degrees, doesn't mean they are good teachers. Just as you could be a fabulous teacher without one. You're right not to criticize, in time people will see that you know what you're doing. When you say "teaching this way", I assume you are referring to the teacher before you. You don't say how old that girl is, maybe he thought book 1 was too easy for her so he skipped some stuff. I have never heard of a method that doesn't teach notes and fingerings.

Originally Posted By: Lollipop
2. What methods or materials would you suggest to balance this student's strengths and weaknesses?
I would say your method of using all the books is a good one. Then you can use what you have to focus on what that student needs. One book is fine for the very beginner, but after that, I like to add in other things (not necessarily lesson books) to really perfect things before moving on. I find I do skip some things in some books if I am using several. Especially if you are using method books, there is a lot of overlap from book to book.

It sounds like you won't have any problem getting this girl on the right track. Thankfully she wasn't at the end of book 6 when she came to you!

I think I can safely say, we have all have transfer students that make us want to cry from time to time. frown

I personally wouldn't say anything about her "gaps". I would simply say something like "I want to start at the beginning because I want to be sure I don't miss anything". Telling her there are missing components won't do her any good, and it might make her feel bad.


Edited by Ebony and Ivory (07/28/09 07:04 PM)
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It is better to be kind than to be right.

Professional private piano teacher since 1994.

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#1239322 - 07/28/09 11:22 PM Re: Lopsided Students [Re: Ebony and Ivory]
Stanny Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/08/06
Posts: 1461
Welcome to posting after being a long time lurker! It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job at what you do.
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~Stanny~

Independent Music Teacher
Certified Piano Teacher, American College of Musicians
Member: MTNA, NGPT, ASMTA, NAMTA

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#1239387 - 07/29/09 01:58 AM Re: Lopsided Students [Re: Lollipop]
Gary D. Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4649
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Lollipop


If you've slogged through my post this far, here are my questions:

1. Our music store advertises that their teachers all have music degrees. I don't, so who am I to criticize? Is there some method or pedagogy that teaches this way, and I am just uninformed? Is there an advantage to teaching this way?

I teach in a music store. I have a degree. People at the store tell new students about my degree. They never mention that my degree is in performance, and I do not even have a certificate that says I know how to teach. wink

It's dangerous to make judgments about other teachers, but honestly, the story you have just told sounds absolutely horrible. When I used to use method books, I used at least one book from three or four methods, to absolutely blanket every concept. I could afford to skip some things because there is built in redundancy when you are using more than one method. Some things are taught to death. But there are always some things that are missing, and you have to fill those holes yourself.

If you limit yourself to the first three years of teaching, where do your students go next when they do well? Do you get feedback from their "more advanced teachers"? I taught a third grade school teacher for a number of years, and when she retired, I kept trying to get HER to do what you are doing. Why? Because she is a good teacher and plays better than a great number of teachers who are ruining young students. But she would never do it.

You may be great. Your ideas sound very good!
Quote:

2. What methods or materials would you suggest to balance this student's strengths and weaknesses?

In this case you are dealing with holes coming from bad teaching. I would consider supplimenting with another method book, to reinforce what you are already using. Hey, I just read that Jennifer made much the same suggestions. smile

Specifically I'd look for SOME materials that appear to be almost over-fingered. You can use those to stress the importance of paying keen attention to fingering. Then you can use other materials that have very little fingering, and you can use those materials to stress just getting to the notes. Some of my students want everything spelled out for them, and the moment they change a finger from what is written, they are off. Those students I encourage to be a bit sloppy with fingering (but only for a short while). Other students will nail the notes but will make up their own fingerings. With those I will be really strict about fingering, because they are natural sight-readers, as I was, and will easily develop non-standard fingering solutions that will cripple them later on (as happened to me).

You can also toggle what you are stressing. In one piece you could let the rhythm be a bit sloppy, stressing notes and fingering. In another, you could be ultra-careful about rhythm, stressing that. Of course you want right notes, fingering, rhythm and more, all at the same time, but for my students those differenc concepts just don't all happen at once until they have played for at least a few months. So long as those things all come together in a reasonable amount of time and we keep advancing in the overall difficulty of the music, I'm happy.
Quote:

3. Different subject, but same: I've gotten a few students over the past couple years from Yamaha. I'm curious if anyone has any tips that have worked well for them in transitioning Yamaha-taught students to traditional lessons.

Actually, I'd be interested to hear from you what weaknesses that system seems to have. I don't know it.

Welcome to the forum!

g

I'm sorry this is so long! [/quote]
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#1239484 - 07/29/09 08:47 AM Re: Lopsided Students [Re: Gary D.]
Ebony and Ivory Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/14/05
Posts: 1179
Loc: Minnesota
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
I'm sorry this is so long!


Gary, your posts are never too long. They are always good and sometimes good takes a lot of words. smile
_________________________
It is better to be kind than to be right.

Professional private piano teacher since 1994.

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#1239498 - 07/29/09 09:04 AM Re: Lopsided Students [Re: Ebony and Ivory]
Lollipop Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/28/09
Posts: 820
Loc: Georgia
Thanks for the responses so far! I'm reading them and letting them digest. It helps to know what you think I'm doing right, as well as the specific suggestions. Here are answers to a few of the questions.

Quote:
In the meantime I think you can soften the blow of her having go backwards a bit by seeking out some fun supplement music for her to play. At this point it would be helpful to get her into a variety of books...


This is my goal eventually. At this point, I can spend 20 minutes with her just fixing 4 measures of a piece, so adding a lot of material isn't possible yet. I hear "it's hard" a lot. (I tell her it doesn't make sense to teach her things she already knows!) However, she loves the exercises in the technique book,which she's never had before. They are, of course, easier and she feels successful with them.

One of the things I've talked with her about is what I expect from practicing. That is, to develop habits. That I want her to read those notes as fluently as she reads her own name, that I want it to be natural for her to have all 5 fingers on the keyboard without her wrist resting on the front, that I want her pinkie to be as comfortable playing as her pointer.... So when I give her a simple exercise, I tell her it is not because I want her to learn how to play the notes, but because I want her to develop a habit. She understands that the only way to create a habit is to practice it correctly at home, not just for me. I consider this a major step in the right direction.

Quote:
When you say "teaching this way", I assume you are referring to the teacher before you. You don't say how old that girl is, maybe he thought book 1 was too easy for her so he skipped some stuff. I have never heard of a method that doesn't teach notes and fingerings.


Yes, I mean how her previous teacher taught. I thought perhaps this might be a "new math" form of teaching. The girl is 9.

Quote:
If you limit yourself to the first three years of teaching, where do your students go next when they do well? Do you get feedback from their "more advanced teachers"?


Well, I don't kick anyone out if they simply can't find another teacher. When I moved, it necessitated that everyone switch. Some students found teachers on their own. I have two favorite teachers - one at a higher level than the other - that I like to send students to. Both have thanked me, and told me how much they enjoy the students I send. But no, they haven't commented on my specific teaching. I'm sure they find gaps in my teaching, just as I do in other's. One has referred students to me.

Quote:
those differenc concepts just don't all happen at once


Yes, I am ignoring a lot right now, simply concentrating on note names, rhythms, and fingering. I learned at her last lesson that she had no idea how to play forte. She didn't know what the word meant ("fast?") She has an electronic keyboard (sold to her from the music store - $1000 - so I assume it is touch sensitive with weighted keys) and she said when her teacher told her to play something louder, she just turned up the volume. Also, this past week, she had a bass whole note that was tied for 4 measures. After 2, she sounded it again, saying it quit making noise. So we stopped an had a little bit of fun listing to the different harmonics an acoustic piano makes when you hold down different keys.

Her mother sat in on that lesson, and expressed concern afterwards that her daughter and she had been cheated by the music store - that the keyboard wasn't good enough, etc. I told her I thought the keyboard was fine, and that the student just didn't realize everything it could do. I also told her that I knew that sometimes, when something comes very easily to us, we forget what it is like to be a beginner, and perhaps the other teacher didn't realize that pressing harder on the keys was an insight that didn't come naturally to this student.

I also introduced the student to the concept of the metronome, and told her to look for that on her keyboard. (My metronome is a dome that my daughter covered with curled yellow ribbon, and a cut out face of Shirley Temple. We call it Shirley Tempo, and my students love it.)

Quote:
I'd be interested to hear from you what weaknesses that system [Yamaha] seems to have. I don't know it.


I have had two Yamaha students come to me after they finished the Yamaha program, (which I think is two or three years long), so that probably isn't a representative sample! In both cases, I was fooled initially by the students' impressive performance of pieces they had learned. Yamaha is group lessons that concentrate on "ear". They teach solfege, not note names, and a lot of playing by rote as a group.

Neither of my Yamaha students have an especially developed ear. Both seem to rely more on muscle memory and watching their hands. If they play with a different finger (although they don't necessarily use a logical finger - only a consistent finger), they are lost. Sight-reading skills were okay, but not used much. To learn a new piece, they would laboriously learn a measure or two at a time, until they could play it by memory, and then never look at the music again.

My solfege skills are not "fast enough" so I had to ask them to learn note names, although I try to keep the solfege going, too, because I don't want them to lose that skill. I think they are both well on their way to becoming "bilingual."

We devised some mnemonics to help, eg. Do = do-si-do, or "do C do." I wonder if anyone else has tricks or tips to make this transition?

One student struggled more with the idea of having individual attention for a whole 30 minutes. She wasn't used to practicing - could slide by in group lessons, and was not as skilled as the other. I had to back her way up, but she is happy. (She is a charming child - happy about everything.) Her practicing is still not where I would like it to be. At this past recital, we had to step back and punt as she did not learn the piece we'd chosen for recital. It was long, so I gave it to her several months in advance. But she wasn't faithful with practicing, so it didn't happen. She instead played two short pieces out of her book that she had learned well.

The second student's parents were initially frustrated because she used to be able to play "hard" music but had forgotten the pieces. The dad wanted me to re-teach the pieces she had already learned, but it was an exercise in frustration for all of us, since I wanted her to read the music and follow the fingerings.

I felt like I was teaching by the "trained monkey" method. The parents sat in on a couple lessons and then understood a little better. At that point, we dropped the Yamaha books and started fresh. The biggest challenge I have had with her is to keep her eyes on the music. At lessons, I frequently cover her hands with another book, just to reinforce this. She is much better now. She played a simplified "Pathetique" at our spring recital and it was a major triumph! I also used a note speller book to help her learn note names.

The Yamaha method does teach 3 major scales - C, F, and G, so I was able to use those to help with fingering concepts, by stretching them to more octaves, and teaching I, IV, and V7 chords to go with them. Dozen a Day seems to help them, too.

I talked with a friend who teaches piano, but was a voice major, thinking that she might have some suggestions, but she said she has had the same difficulties with Yamaha students.

(My daughter started violin via the Suzuki method, and I have heard that the two programs are similar. However, my daughter's lessons were one-on-one and her teacher also taught her to read music along the way. When she switched to traditional lessons, the teacher was pleasantly surprised at her sight-reading ability, and amazed at her memory and intonation. I don't know if this is a teacher difference or a program difference between Suzuki and Yamaha methods.)

Anyway, to summarize, my difficulties with my Yamaha students have been reading the music, switching to note names from solfege, individualized attention (and therefore, more accountability), and feeling good about playing less showy pieces.

The strengths of the program seem to be learning solfege, scales, and enjoying the performance aspect. They also have a good spacial concept of the keyboard, and move their hands well.
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