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#1364677 - 02/03/10 09:57 AM Need advice on adult student.
toejamfutbol Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/04/09
Posts: 124
Loc: MI
I have a mother and son who take piano lessons together. They're both fun to teach and work with. I have no trouble with the boy since I put him through the same method books I do for all the other children, and he does very well. The mother, however, I'm a little puzzled over.

She's probably in her mid to late thirties but I am in my early twenties, so I can't help but sometimes feel a little awkward teaching someone with that many years on me (although I have had other adult students where I didn't feel as awkward for some reason).

The cool thing is that she is an INCREDIBLY fast reader. She has only been taking lessons for probably a year and a half and she recently picked out "A Thousand Miles" as her next piece to work on. Which just so happens to be in B major. I warned her about the trouble she may run into with all the sharps to foot around but the next week she had already blazed through the first two pages. She is also really good at scales; fingering not so much but she knows the right notes and intervals. I told her that she must have a very mathematical mind, and she said, "I'm an accounting major." Aha!

So my issue is that I'm starting to run out of ideas for her. She seems to be taking off on her own and rarely needs my help with anything except a couple questions about a few notation things in her music. I don't really put her through a method book anymore because she's not really interested in that and just wants to play contemporary (and a few classical) songs. Which is fine with me, she's an adult and she can learn whatever she likes in my opinion. I do teach her scales and arpeggios which I can tell she doesn't really like and sort of feels is a waste of time, but I assure her that they will be helpful even to her endeavors in the long run.

So like I said, she comes to her lesson, plays her scales and arpeggios for me, I give her some new ones if she's ready, then she plays through the current songs she's working on, I point out a few things she should do differently, she asks me a couple questions, and that's basically it. Again, if this were a child student, I would be giving her many other assignments, theory homework, etc. But she really doesn't seem to be interested in that and just wants to get better at reading and learn songs she likes. What else can I be doing to enrich her learning experience? I'm fresh out of ideas.
_________________________
"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured and far away." -Thoreau

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#1364702 - 02/03/10 10:56 AM Re: Need advice on adult student. [Re: toejamfutbol]
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7348
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
It sounds like it might be the case of "I just want to learn to play . . . ." It's the same plight the flying instructors had when the 9/11 terrorists came to them and said, "We just want to learn how to take off and fly the plane." Obviously, a complete pilot needs to know how to land as well.

One extreme is, pander to them. After all, it's their money and their time. But if you decide to take this approach, then you should very carefully and completely and strongly say to them words to the effect of: "I understand that you just want to learn to play a few of these pieces, not master the ability to play the piano at large. Is that correct?"

The other extreme is to bury your head in the sand and insist they follow a curricula which will lead to proficient piano playing, but they will dislike it every step along the way, because they are learning from music which is alien to them.

It sounds to me like it might be useful to have a sit-down face to face with the student and discuss goals in light of your discoveries of her learning processes, and what different courses of action you could pursue as her teacher.

There is a wide assortment of pedagogically sound teaching music available which uses contemporary tonalities and patterns, which you could make use of in teaching her basic technique at the piano, improving her playing skills, etc. Publisher Frederick Harris has a lot in this vein and is worth looking at.

I hope this helps some.

John
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#1364720 - 02/03/10 11:10 AM Re: Need advice on adult student. [Re: John v.d.Brook]
Lollipop Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/28/09
Posts: 820
Loc: Georgia
One idea might be to have her bring a piece to you that she wants to learn - and she leaves it with you for a week or two, and you tear the piece apart. Find difficult parts of the piece that might work as technical exercises. Maybe practicing turns, or phrasing, or dynamics. Pull out parts that she learns to play staccato and legato, forte and piano, fast and slow - to learn to hear the differences in mood, as well as developing the facility for these things. In a sense - create your own "Dozen a Day" bits from the piece. Whatever the key of the piece is, then she learns that scale, primary chords, inversions, etc.

So you will be creating your own "method" book for her. She gets her goal of learning her favorite pieces, and yet she also learns the transferable concepts that will make her a better musician overall.
_________________________
piano teacher

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#1364740 - 02/03/10 11:43 AM Re: Need advice on adult student. [Re: Lollipop]
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
I think I would insert some "music theory" into her lessons but be careful to make it just writing on a black piece of paper, not using worksheets or a text or hard copy. I would write down ideas and graphics that instructionally help her make sense of things. For instance,

half steps and whole steps
12 half steps within one octave
arpeggios - short and long

I can think of many other things, but I'll just leave the suggestion here.

Since she's an accountant - (accountable systematicic detailed minds) she may be already getting some of these spatial relationships while playing through music.

If I provided her with any referance materials it would be "The Essential Dictionary of Music" (Alfred Publishers) that would provide a small sized text and book with just about everything you would ever bring up in the study of piano.

If you know theory it will just be finding the opportunities to inject ideas and facts. If you don't usually use theory, it will perhaps open the door to how theory can fit into average peoples average lessons - you don't have to be a whiz to approach theory - you just have to understand it's significance.

Ask her about her background in music, too. She may have more experience than you are aware of her having. And, maybe some of her life skills are more than accounting - maybe she has graphic artist talent, or design (decor/fashion) abilities. Maybe she speaks 3 languages. "Tell me more about yourself..."

I think you have some good comments to work from in the postings you've received. Think outside the box, too.

Betty Patnude

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#1364756 - 02/03/10 11:59 AM Re: Need advice on adult student. [Re: Betty Patnude]
toejamfutbol Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/04/09
Posts: 124
Loc: MI
Thanks so much for the help so far!

Lollipop, I love your idea! She does need to work on her technique a little more. She's good at getting the notes but not pulling the emotion out of the piece. Maybe instead of just putting away a piece when I can tell she's bored with it, I'll tell her to keep working on it to master the dynamic shadings and tempo markings and what not. We tend to go through pieces pretty quickly because she reads so fast. Also, she has no interest in participating in any recital performances, so it's hard to convince her that it's important to spend all that extra time on a piece when she's not necessarily preparing it for anything other than her own playing pleasure. I know that eventually she will realize how much her playing pleasure can be enhanced when she dedicates more time to the finer details of a piece.
_________________________
"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured and far away." -Thoreau

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#1364767 - 02/03/10 12:14 PM Re: Need advice on adult student. [Re: toejamfutbol]
Monica K. Offline

Platinum Supporter until Dec 31 2012


Registered: 08/10/05
Posts: 17773
Loc: Lexington, Kentucky
Originally Posted By: toejamfutbol
Maybe instead of just putting away a piece when I can tell she's bored with it, I'll tell her to keep working on it to master the dynamic shadings and tempo markings and what not. We tend to go through pieces pretty quickly because she reads so fast. Also, she has no interest in participating in any recital performances, so it's hard to convince her that it's important to spend all that extra time on a piece when she's not necessarily preparing it for anything other than her own playing pleasure. I know that eventually she will realize how much her playing pleasure can be enhanced when she dedicates more time to the finer details of a piece.


Hmmm... does she and/or you have a Zoom or other way of recording her playing? Maybe you could talk her into working longer/harder on some pieces that she could then record and archive onto a CD, to give to her kids as a keepsake.
_________________________
Mason & Hamlin A -- 91997
My YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/pianomonica

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#1364800 - 02/03/10 12:55 PM Re: Need advice on adult student. [Re: Monica K.]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3190
Loc: Virginia, USA
I think you may not be challenging her enough.

This is from the point of view of an adult student. I also find my own pieces, collaboratively with my teacher. I do them hopefully with some sense of why - not just because I like them but because learning that piece teaches something specific that I need.

I think that you could find contemporary pieces of graduated difficulty or that teach specific skills. That would require assessing where the student is, with specific strengths and weaknesses. There are two parts to this - pieces that she likes, pieces that teach some required skill. It may take some effort to find the intersection of those two sets.

Key signatures just aren't a problem for some people while being daunting for others.
_________________________
gotta go practice

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#1365085 - 02/03/10 07:20 PM Re: Need advice on adult student. [Re: Monica K.]
Canonie Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/04/09
Posts: 1941
Loc: Australia
Originally Posted By: Monica K.
Originally Posted By: toejamfutbol
Maybe instead of just putting away a piece when I can tell she's bored with it, I'll tell her to keep working on it to master the dynamic shadings and tempo markings and what not. We tend to go through pieces pretty quickly because she reads so fast. Also, she has no interest in participating in any recital performances, so it's hard to convince her that it's important to spend all that extra time on a piece when she's not necessarily preparing it for anything other than her own playing pleasure. I know that eventually she will realize how much her playing pleasure can be enhanced when she dedicates more time to the finer details of a piece.


Hmmm... does she and/or you have a Zoom or other way of recording her playing? Maybe you could talk her into working longer/harder on some pieces that she could then record and archive onto a CD, to give to her kids as a keepsake.

That is such a good idea. It's great that this student is doing lots of reading and enjoying grazing the literature. But motivation is needed to discover what it is like to perfect a piece. You might be able to convince her that spending longer with an interesting and challenging piece is just what pianists do and is the "correct way" to study, but if you provide a concrete goal (that also provides very valuable feedback smile ) then she's more likely to embrace the idea.

Sometimes it takes a while to feel you way with an adult, to build up the relationship, the trust, the communication and your methods of working as a team of two. Learning and achievement accelerates after an initial settling period. Keep communicating about the goals for both of you, and the methods that you use to get there. Try new methods and areas of study (the suggestion of some in-depth theory is a good one!). Everything that you suggest and do with an adult should be clearly tied to a goal, and make sure the adult student understands the tie in.

Seems to work for me smile
_________________________

Composers manufacture a product that is universally deemed superfluous—at least until their music enters public consciousness, at which point people begin to say that they could not live without it.
Alex Ross.

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#1365385 - 02/04/10 06:13 AM Re: Need advice on adult student. [Re: Canonie]
John_B Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/17/10
Posts: 621
Loc: Bristol, UK
It might be an idea to discuss with her choosing one or two of the harder pieces for her to bring to the next level, i.e. to try to perfect those pieces.

Listening to recordings of her own playing would be very revealing to her. Personally I have a mental 'image' of what I am trying to do and that very much clouds my perception of what my playing is actually like. Hearing a recording is brutally revealing. It can be quite dispiriting, but then you realise that it is possible to work towards getting closer to getting closer to what you are trying to 'create'.

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#1365442 - 02/04/10 09:18 AM Re: Need advice on adult student. [Re: John_B]
Dorrie Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/09/05
Posts: 438
I am an adult student and I like having a graded book in addition to the other pieces I learn.

My tastes are somewhat more classical than your student and I am not as fast a learner as she so maybe my experience isn't exactly relevent.

Once I got through the first couple levels of a method book, I did exactly what your student did - just started bringing in random pieces. I could read them well, but getting them to a level where I could play them fluently was a chore. I spent about a year doing this and was fairly frustrated by the end of it. I really felt quite stalled - although I DO understand that this works for sme people - maybe for those with prior experience in another instrument or who grew up in a very musical home.

I ended up not going back to method books. My teacher instead suggested using instead a "graded" etude series and eventually using some rep. books as well. I have really enjoyed using a series called "The Festival Collection" My teacher uses it sort of like a method book. I am expected to learn most of the pieces, but only bring a few to a higher standard. I also did agree to a technical program of scales etc.

You might want your student to think through the "risks and benefits" of self directed study vs. following a teacher-guided curriculum.

And, I don't think it is as simple as either/or. One cooperative approach to take would be to ask her to think aloud with you about the risks and benefits of each approach and
discuss the percent of each persons effort that could be spent on "teacher guided" and "student directed" activities.

At this point I take an hour lesson and spend about 3/4 of my time on this type of curriculum and 1/4 on materials I bring in myself.

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#1365462 - 02/04/10 10:00 AM Re: Need advice on adult student. [Re: Dorrie]
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7348
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Oh, yes, the Festival Collection published by FJH and edited by Helen Marlais. I have been using these with a few of my transfer high school students with great success. It has some great 20th century American compositions in it as well, including pieces by Seymour Bernstein.
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#1366214 - 02/05/10 09:01 AM Re: Need advice on adult student. [Re: John v.d.Brook]
apple* Offline


Registered: 01/01/03
Posts: 19862
Loc: Kansas
i would have her learn pieces that 'secretly' teach technique.

mozart, Bach, etudes... but perhaps she is not ready for those.

I will email you a piece and link that is incredibly helpful for the left hand and stunningly gorgeous. (it's not published).
_________________________
accompanist/organist.. a non-MTNA teacher to a few

love and peace, Ă•un (apple in Estonian)

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#1366253 - 02/05/10 10:03 AM Re: Need advice on adult student. [Re: apple*]
Monica K. Offline

Platinum Supporter until Dec 31 2012


Registered: 08/10/05
Posts: 17773
Loc: Lexington, Kentucky
Oh, apple*, you realize you've piqued most our curiosity with that reference to a 'stunningly gorgeous' and helpful piece. Any chance you can post a recording of it?
_________________________
Mason & Hamlin A -- 91997
My YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/pianomonica

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#1366515 - 02/05/10 03:42 PM Re: Need advice on adult student. [Re: Dorrie]
foxyw Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/11/08
Posts: 298
Loc: New Hampshire
I'm an adult student as well. Recording pieces is definitely a nice way to help you learn to polish a piece. I have a Zoom H4n recorder for this.

Another idea might to incorporate learning to play from lead sheets. I keep a lead sheet /fake book piece in my list of pieces I'm working on and it's a great way to learn a bit about the form of music and chord progressions. Also you can apply a lot of different left hand patterns and change the feel of the music. I've also learned to voice chords as part of playing lead sheets. To me it's a great way to expand your knowledge about music.
_________________________
"Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here!" J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, 1997.


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