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#1580934 - 12/20/10 08:50 PM maybe I can't teach this student
CarolR Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/29/05
Posts: 350
Loc: wisconsin
I have written about this particular student a few times before, but today I think I reached a new low with him. He's a 5th grade boy who I've had for 3 years. He cannot maintain a pulse. Going from quarter notes to eighth notes, staying in tempo, does not happen for him. Half notes do not get held 2 beats. Counting out loud does not happen at home. It has quite honestly been torture to teach him, and really, I am a patient and kind person. When I have him count something over he nearly bursts into tears. He can count correctly out loud, one hand, but when he puts hands together he simply cannot keep an even pulse anywhere. When he doesn't practice, it's awful. Today, for the first time, it came to me that I simply don't know what to do with him. We've clapped, marched, walked, sung, swung, made up rhythmic words, over and over and over and over. It's holding him back and I'm thinking maybe another teacher will know what to do with him. Have you ever told a parent that you don't know if you are the best teacher for this child? Just wondering.
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Working on:
Chopin: Barcarolle
Schubert: Sonata D959
Rachmaninoff: Daisies
Lutoslawski: Paganini Variations for 2 pianos


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#1580945 - 12/20/10 09:02 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11911
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
I have dismissed students, but more often than not it's because the student isn't practicing and lessons are painful and a waste of time and money.

I'm sure most teachers often hear from adult students, "I took lessons as a child and quit. I wish I never quit, though. I'd be a lot better at piano if I had just stuck with it." However, I believe that if that person were capable of "sticking with it," they probably would have. Now, they're older, and they really appreciate it much more than they most likely did as a child (of course, some people quit for financial reasons, I'm not talking about them).

Sometimes the best thing you can do for a child is dismiss them. If you dread his lesson every week, then how can you possibly be energized and encouraging and show him how much fun piano is? You won't be able to teach everyone at every point in their lives. Best to talk with the parents, out of earshot from the child, and let them know that you're having no success. I presume you've enlisted the help of parents to get him to practice and actually do his assignment when he's at the piano? If not, try this one last approach. Otherwise, let him go with a list of good teachers in your area.
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Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#1581016 - 12/20/10 10:46 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
CarolR Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/29/05
Posts: 350
Loc: wisconsin
I agree with you, Morodiene, that people don't really mean that they wish they'd stuck with it. They really wish they could play the piano now, without having to go through the work of it.

I am working on an email to the mother. She has not been very communicative except to say that he is an emotional child and they have battles at home over practice. He gets frustrated and cries very easily. I just looked back over my records and he started in the fall of 2008, so really 2.5 years. He has excelled in note reading and seemed to do well right from the beginning, but this rhythm this is holding him way, way back. That is a good point about dreading lessons. I just wonder if he might do better with someone else. But then, the mother, who has two younger sons, will have to drive him, and I live half a block away.

Thanks for your feedback! Lotsa snow up there???
_________________________
Working on:
Chopin: Barcarolle
Schubert: Sonata D959
Rachmaninoff: Daisies
Lutoslawski: Paganini Variations for 2 pianos


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#1581024 - 12/20/10 10:57 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11911
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Not sure...I'm not going outside!! laugh

Sounds like piano has become a power struggle at home. What about the father? Sometimes having the other parent take charge has a good effect.

Do you ever play with him at lessons? I mean play his notes with him while you both count out loud together? I have an adult student who has problems with rhythm, and she practices every day and does what I tell her. I think it's just something that is not there in some people. It's hard when the student isn't following your suggestions though. How can you possibly trouble-shoot when they don't do what you recommend?
_________________________
private piano/voice teacher - full time
MTNA member
www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#1581071 - 12/21/10 12:15 AM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
rocket88 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/06
Posts: 3160
It may be that piano is not his instrument, but another instrument is.

I had a student who had a terrible time with timing and rhythm similar to the boy described here, and both hands together in time were basically impossible for him.

He eventually quit, and went to guitar, at the same place I teach, where he excelled. His timing was not an issue with guitar...he was much more able to keep time with his strumming hand, and it worked out.

Looking back, and looking at myself and other students, rhythm with both hands is an obstacle for many people, sometimes a big one, and perhaps it is an unsurmountable obstacle for this boy, at this stage of his development.

So it may not be a power struggle, but rather a problem he simply cannot conquer.

I know that I have a different sense of rhythm and flow when I strum a guitar as compared to when I play hands together at the piano.

So perhaps it is not a change of teachers, but a change of instrument. Another suggestion is to teach him to play drums...a few drum lessons really helped me overcome a rhythm obstacle.

Just a few random thoughts.
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Music teacher and piano player.

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#1581092 - 12/21/10 01:21 AM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5486
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: CarolR
It has quite honestly been torture to teach him.

If you are operating a full studio, then you can afford to drop the student. Obviously, if $$ is an issue, then you take whatever you can get.

Have you tried duets? Easy duets?

How about have the student play with CD while practicing? Some methods have one slower track and one normal track for each piece. At least he gets to hear what "correct" sounds like.
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#1581471 - 12/21/10 02:50 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: rocket88]
CarolR Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/29/05
Posts: 350
Loc: wisconsin
Interesting thought, that maybe he would do better with another instrument. The trouble does seem to be when he tries to play two hands together. For instance, in a minuet, three quarter notes in the left hand, and in the right hand, a two eighths, dotted quarter and eighth. He ends up consistently squeezing the quarters in the left hand together. I think I am running out of creative ideas. And as SOON as he gets something wrong, he shakes his head furiously and turns read.

I did write his mom, and express my experience with him and that I wondered if perhaps another teacher could find away to help him succeed more than I have been able to.

I got an interesting email back, saying that she hoped I would stay with him, to maybe let go of the rhythm thing and focus on other things (to me, it's kind of like saying "How about he just comes and scratches his nails on the blackboard for 45 minutes every week?). Also, she has always told me that her whole family is very musical, and they have musical gatherings and he likes to play at them. BUT she offered a new piece of information, that her husband cannot count 3 beats in a measure to save his life. Interesting to know! (Why has she not mentioned this in the past 2.5 years?)

She also said he has been rather out of sorts lately, and hopefully would come through it, and has had a tough year.

She also promised to work with him more over break (even though he's difficult to work with). So, we'll see what happens. The lack of practice plus no natural sense of pulse does not make for a happy situation.
_________________________
Working on:
Chopin: Barcarolle
Schubert: Sonata D959
Rachmaninoff: Daisies
Lutoslawski: Paganini Variations for 2 pianos


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#1581484 - 12/21/10 03:04 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11911
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
You may want to suggest the father work with the boy? I had a boy who had been with me for 4 years and had all of a sudden stopped practicing for 3 months. I kept talking to him and trying to work it out, thinking it was just a funk since we were trying to recover from the summer. Finally I told his mother and she said she would have his father talk to him, then the next week, his practicing was much, much better and has continued to be for the last month. Since it's a struggle with mom, maybe a change of pace with dad would be just the ticket.

I got the sens from your OP that you really didn't want to work with him anymore, and I agree with you, that not working on the counting thing is not a solution. It stands to reason that if he's not practicing, the sense of pulse will not improve. Assuming, of course, he practices as you say he should.
_________________________
private piano/voice teacher - full time
MTNA member
www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#1581531 - 12/21/10 04:27 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
david_a Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 2913
Rhythm is not something you can just leave alone, unfortunately - it's in everything.

However, you CAN (if necessary) cut back to playing one hand at a time. In that case, I would concentrate on lots of left hand playing - it's probably what's holding back the hands together playing, if anything identifiable is. (Though it probably isn't so much left hand as the actual putting together, but still...)
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#1581557 - 12/21/10 05:18 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
miaeih Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/06/08
Posts: 267
Loc: SF Bay Area, CA
If you continue working with him you could try:
For specific piece he's working on, have him listen to recordings of how the piece should sound and try to mimic so it's less frustrating for him. Work on the counting part outside of playing.


Make flash cards with a series of notes with varying rhythm. Play one version and see if he can match what you are playing to correct card (since the problem is both hand together, do this with two hands)
Then, placing your hands on his, or vice versa, and tap out the beats
Then have your student play it.

This can help a student use patterns rather than counting.

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#1581592 - 12/21/10 06:13 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3200
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: CarolR
BUT she offered a new piece of information, that her husband cannot count 3 beats in a measure to save his life. Interesting to know!


Aha, a genetic rhythmic learning disability!

Please keep the child. If not, he will drop piano and take up singing or handbells, join a church choir, and drive somebody absolutely nuts. DAMHIKT.
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gotta go practice

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#1581637 - 12/21/10 07:14 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
Candywoman Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/14/03
Posts: 842
I think you should go with your first impulse and move him on to another teacher. Since you live so close, he can still visit twice per year and let you know his progress with the other teacher.

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#1581707 - 12/21/10 08:53 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
danshure Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/29/10
Posts: 347
Loc: Massachusetts
Can he play really easy music with generally acceptable rhythm? Like something out of PA Lesson 1? Or is even the easiest stuff impossible?

Has he had any other teachers?
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#1581741 - 12/21/10 09:46 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: danshure]
CarolR Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/29/05
Posts: 350
Loc: wisconsin
No, I am his first teacher.
David a, I like the idea of just working with his left hand.
I also like the rhythm flash card idea. It's one thing I have never tried. We have done a lot of rhythm drills, clapping and chanting, and he does fine in those.

Morodeine- I see your point, that maybe there would be less conflict with dad, however, if dad can't count 3 beats in a measure, I'm not so sure......

I want to add that this child tells me exactly how many seconds early or late he is to his lesson every week. He tells me the time in ship time. He understands the circle of fifths and thinks up new ways to look at them. He choses to do scales in thirds (two hands) instead of octaves. Yet, when he looks at a dotted quarter note, he cannot think 1 and 2. He cannot independently count, period. I sometimes wonder if part of the problem is that in trying to find what works for him, I have tried too many approaches, like ta-ta-tiki, or 1 and 2, or 1,2,3,4. But of all my students, he is the only one who doesn't seem to understand any of those concepts. It doesn't really make sense to me. and, even if he does get some way of counting, he speeds up and slows down, so it all goes to hell anyway.
_________________________
Working on:
Chopin: Barcarolle
Schubert: Sonata D959
Rachmaninoff: Daisies
Lutoslawski: Paganini Variations for 2 pianos


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#1581745 - 12/21/10 09:53 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
rocket88 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/06
Posts: 3160
Originally Posted By: CarolR
BUT she offered a new piece of information, that her husband cannot count 3 beats in a measure to save his life. Interesting to know! (Why has she not mentioned this in the past 2.5 years?)


I had a boy student who simply could not play both hands together. (Different boy than the one I mentioned above).

We struggled and struggled, and his mom casually mentioned that she had the exact same problem when she took piano lessons as a child, and that her son's playing was like a clone of hers.

So perhaps if talent is sometimes transferred genetically, so also is non-talent.

Also, I had a boy student who had similar problems playing both hands together, and maintaining tempo. He was 10-14 while I taught him. It was very difficult.

He came back last summer, now 20 years old, and wanted to brush up on his playing for some college event. I cringed, but took him on, and was amazed...his previous problems were gone...he could play without any hint of them. He said he had not touched the piano, nor had had lessons of any kind, since we parted.

I surmised that his brain matured.
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Music teacher and piano player.

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#1581747 - 12/21/10 09:54 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
CarolR Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/29/05
Posts: 350
Loc: wisconsin
Dansure, that's a good question. I would guess that no, he wouldn't read the easiest music in rhythm. He tends to overlook half notes. eighth notes become quarter notes. He understands time signatures very well, so he can tell me that something is in 4/4, but will go ahead and make rob a measure of 3 beats. Counting out loud is clearly torture for him.

We talk a LOT about feeling the beat before even starting. We talk a LOT about the importance of counting - how it is one of the most important things in playing any kind of music. We go over, and over, and over a passage......and it comes back goofy.

So most of our lessons focus on correct timing errors, tapping, clapping, on and on and on and on.
Sometimes he brings a piece in that he has been working on at home. The last one was Jingle Bells. Wow - it's great that he's been working on it! Fa la .........la..................la lalalalala.
There's no correcting it at this point, it just doesn't happen!

Carol
_________________________
Working on:
Chopin: Barcarolle
Schubert: Sonata D959
Rachmaninoff: Daisies
Lutoslawski: Paganini Variations for 2 pianos


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#1582157 - 12/22/10 12:53 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3200
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: CarolR
He understands time signatures very well, so he can tell me that something is in 4/4, but will go ahead and make rob a measure of 3 beats.


Reminds me of a painfully repressed experience a few decades back, probably early 70s or so.

I played with a polka band.

The band leader was the Cordovox player, sort of a fancy amplified accordion, now long obsolete. He was personable and a good salesman and got us lots of gigs.

As a musician, ....... well, he played well but had some kind of rhythmic learning disability.

No measure in any piece, no matter how familiar, could be counted on to have the right number of beats. It might have three. It might have four. It might have 2 and 3/7, it might have 4 and 11/75ths. One had to be extremely alert, and carefully monitor consumption of beer, to play with that band.
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gotta go practice

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#1582195 - 12/22/10 02:02 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
FarmGirl Offline

Silver Supporter until Jan 02 2013


Registered: 09/14/10
Posts: 1990
Loc: Scottsdale, AZ
Carol, I may have responded to you in your earlier post. I feel for the boy and you because it’s a bit personal for me. I started piano when I was six years old with my mom wanting me to play. I heated the lessons. Piano lessons convinced me that I am a failure, have zero sense of rhythm and there’s something wrong about me, i.e. lack fundamental sense of body coordination. I remember my mom’s voice, “there, there, there, you are gonna fail again. Why can’t you do it….there must be something seriously wrong with you.”. With her comment like a seal of fate, I failed every time. I remember hearing my quickening heart beat, my mom’s voice and my teacher’s voice counting. I could not hear the beat any more. My teacher totally gave up on me. It lasted for a long time until my younger brother said that I could reproduce Christmas songs that I heard somewhere on the piano with decent rhythm. So my teacher told my mom to excuse herself and made me play those songs. She told me with a smile that I had a sense of rhythm and I was all right. Things changed slowly after that. I am wondering if he could reproduce some tune on the piano with decent rhythm. You can play something simple right on the piano with simple rhythm. If he could reproduce the rhythm, then, he is alright with respect the rhythm. Not sure which one is easier to deal with, but then, the cause is not physiological but psychological.
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Solo - Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, Schubert Sonata D960 Andante sostenute (9/7/14), Bach f minor Fugue WTC Bk1, Rachmaninoff Elegie Op 3 #1, Chopin Trois Nouvelles Etudes #1



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#1582219 - 12/22/10 02:43 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
scotpgot Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/26/10
Posts: 128
Originally Posted By: CarolR
I want to add that this child tells me exactly how many seconds early or late he is to his lesson every week. He tells me the time in ship time. He understands the circle of fifths and thinks up new ways to look at them. He choses to do scales in thirds (two hands) instead of octaves. Yet, when he looks at a dotted quarter note, he cannot think 1 and 2. He cannot independently count, period. I sometimes wonder if part of the problem is that in trying to find what works for him, I have tried too many approaches, like ta-ta-tiki, or 1 and 2, or 1,2,3,4. But of all my students, he is the only one who doesn't seem to understand any of those concepts. It doesn't really make sense to me. and, even if he does get some way of counting, he speeds up and slows down, so it all goes to hell anyway.
I find the first half of this paragraph to be extremely fascinating. At first I thought, maybe, "AH! A mathematical mind! That is why he can't 'feel' the rhythm. His head is full of numbers." Perhaps a more mathematical approach would do him well...how a metronome speed is arrived at (beats per minute...how many beats per second would that be, etc.). How wholes becomes halves become quarter and so on...

But reading it again I am not so sure. I am quite convinced there is something plain as day here that we as a group are not seeing. I wonder...have you experimented at all with different styles at all? I'm thinking the "swing" of jazz, or the off-beats of some of the Sousa music. Ragtime, anything that comes at "the beat" from a different angle.

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#1601755 - 01/20/11 09:21 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
lechuan Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/17/10
Posts: 180
Can he tap the piece reliably? (ie. tapping, with metronome/counting, the RH rhythm with his RH, and LH with LH, and then tapping both (with each hand doing their respective part)?

It may be easier for him to concentrate on the rhythm alone without worrying about hitting the right keys, dynamics, pedal etc. This isolation may also verify whether or not it is rhythm, and not, say poor note reading, that is causing the issue.

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#1601818 - 01/20/11 10:38 PM Re: maybe I can't teach this student [Re: CarolR]
malkin Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 2540
Loc: *sigh* Salt Lake City
Can he listen and imitate?

Can he clap the rhythm of his name?

Can he speak words in rhythm--like in Sally O'Reilly's String Rhythms--and then play them?

pie pie pie pie (4 quarters)
apple apple apple apple (8 eighths)
huckleberry huckleberry (8 sixteenths)
apple pie (eighth eighth quarter)
etc.

If he is really impaired in this area, take good notes about what his current ability is. Then after continuing for a period of time you may be able to see some (very) small improvement, and it may be encouraging.

The better your data, the smaller increment of improvement you will be able to itentify.


Edited by malkin (01/20/11 10:42 PM)
Edit Reason: looked up rhythm book ref.
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