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#2037202 - 02/21/13 08:19 PM Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals
grandview Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 02/20/13
Posts: 9
I have been teaching a teenage piano student for about 3 months. She took piano lessons for about 6 years when she was young (ages 6 to 12) and then quit for several years. Before starting lessons with me, she played sporadically and focused only on songs she really enjoyed (popular/movie/new age music). This wouldn't normally be a problem, but she was trying to tackle late intermediate material as an early intermediate player. I have tried to get her to go back to the basics by having her work through the material in the adult piano adventures book 2, but she doesn't seem to be interested in practicing "boring" songs. I gave her some easy piano arrangements, but after several weeks she still wasn't able to play them well. I even tried to teach her to play chord-style piano, with the same results. I think part of the problem lies with the piano lessons she took in the past. I assumed (incorrectly, it seems) that with 6 years of lessons she would be much further along than she actually is. I admire her desire to learn to play the piano for her own enjoyment and don't want to see her quit, but I'm not sure how to convince her that she needs to first learn the fundamentals of music by playing simpler pieces before moving on to more challenging (and more satisfying) songs. She is graduating high school this year and is planning to go to an out-of-state college, so I probably only have about 6 months left to influence her (she isn't serious enough about piano to continue taking lessons once she moves out). I fear it may be already be too late to do very much for her, but I thought I'd post here as a last resort to see if anyone else has experienced similar challenges ...

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#2037230 - 02/21/13 09:40 PM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: grandview]
ezpiano.org Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/10/11
Posts: 1002
Loc: Irvine, CA
You mean you have only 6 months to inspire her.
You are a great teacher!

I would ask her to pick only one song among the movie songs that she likes. (The reason I preferred movie than new age is that it is easier to make arrangement in movie songs compare to new age songs).

Then I will give her 4 different arrangements of this song from easy to intermediate. That means if you cannot find the easy one, you have to make your own arrangement for the easy one.

Before you start your first easiest arrangement, review flash card with her, make sure she knows all her basic element. Review rhythm too.

I would start the piece line by line with the "shadowing playing". That is playing the piece by placing fingers on piano at the correct keys at the correct timing but silently. This is what I have my students do when they do the sigh-reading exercise.

Hope that you can finish all four arrangements in 6 months and really inspire her to be good at foundation without really tore down the tower that she thought built over 6 years of piano lessons. I think at this age, they really do not want to go back to the "baby" thing anymore, but you can use this four different arrangement of same song to persuade her that it is nice to learn all four arrangements.

Good luck!
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#2037269 - 02/21/13 11:37 PM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: grandview]
Bobpickle Offline

Gold Supporter until July 10  2014


Registered: 05/24/12
Posts: 1383
Loc: Cameron Park, California
It sounds like she hasn't been properly taught how to approach and practice learning new material - thus even after working on material for "several weeks, she still wasn't able to play them well." This skill is generally assumed to be present in students of all types, but unless you've taught them yourself, it's safe to assume they're ignorant of the knowledge.

While I'd like to suggest practicing this with easier material, she's likely to be uninspired (personal experience). As a result (and with the assumption that you can't persuade her to learn Bach), I'd try and meet her half-way with easier pieces that she likes, assuming she's not technically deficient, in which case she's forced to use easy material.


edit: of the 2 teacher's I've studied with, neither has taught me the skill. From all I've read and studied pedagogy, this isn't at all uncommon.


Edited by Bobpickle (02/21/13 11:40 PM)

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#2037270 - 02/21/13 11:44 PM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: grandview]
Nikolas Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5246
Loc: Europe
First of all, like EZpiano says, good for you for wanting to influence her, even though she will be living you, her home and piano most probably.

Now, I would like to concentrate on the fact that you're referring to her as "teenager", while she sounds to me as a person close to adulthood (and the fact that she's graduating this year confirms that). I think that she's close to being liberate from school and pressure and all that and I'm not too sure that she's too keen to do much else rather than enjoy her time trying to learn that "awesome theme from Twilight" (clair de Lune, btw).

Just tackle things slowly, little by little, see what you can find that sounds difficult but is not and have a few talks with her, to make her understand what you want her to. Not just on piano perhaps, but in a more general sense (about the gradual building of abilities, etc)...
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#2037288 - 02/22/13 01:21 AM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: grandview]
Okanagan Musician Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/20/13
Posts: 25
Loc: British Columbia, Canada
Why not sit down and have a pow wow about what you just shared?

At that age a student not only needs but deserves to know your honest opinion. They are paying you, don't just tell them what they want to hear.

Start with the bad news first. Say what you just said.

Then say, here's the good news. You CAN get to that next level very quickly if you just

a)
b)
c)

Now give them your solutions.

etc. It's up to you. Here's the formula, the plan that I'm laying out for you to success - how quickly you get there is now up to you.

You don't tell a 6-year old they suck. But at 17/18, they need to know where they stand.


Edited by Okanagan Musician (02/22/13 01:21 AM)
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#2037297 - 02/22/13 01:47 AM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: grandview]
theJourney Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/22/07
Posts: 3946
Loc: Banned
Does she really want to be able to play the piano or pretend to play the piano?

I mean this question seriously.
Too many students just want to pretend to play the piano.
She needs to understand the quality of result and sound that separates the two.
She needs to understand the work process that separates the two.

Why not have one "this piece we will polish to the point of you being proud of the recording we are going to make in a few weeks" that is at or below her level but has a number of technique diagnostics built in that you use to work with her together in the lesson with explicit instructions on how to practice and logging actual practice time with comments/self-critique. And another piece that is on her "dream list and over her head" that you work on painstakingly measure by measure or voice by voice or hand by hand or small section by small section etc. together in the lesson.

I agree with bobpickle that you need to take her by the hand in the lesson (and maybe a couple of "here's how you really practice new pieces at home" extra sessions in the next couple of weeks) and walk her through the initial study process step by step. The differences in speed and results between the two pieces will be instructive but the work process will be reinforced. She needs to get a good result in the short term and hear what a good result sounds like and understand the steps to get there.

Does she play any sports? As you notice deficiencies in technique you could assign exercises/etudes/pieces to address them explaining that piano is a physical skill and the analogy of in sports needing to working on your running or passing or kicking etc. separately.

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#2037313 - 02/22/13 02:36 AM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: grandview]
musicpassion Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 945
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: grandview
I think part of the problem lies with the piano lessons she took in the past.


Perhaps. Or perhaps the previous teacher hit the exact same walls you're hitting.

If you can get her to understand what quality practice looks like and feels like then you will have significantly helped her music studies.

I would suggest a lesson (or more) devoted to a mock practice session. In other words, you structure the lesson like you want her practice session to look like. It sounds like she hasn't figured out practice on her own. Some students need a lot of help with this.
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#2037317 - 02/22/13 03:07 AM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: Bobpickle]
bolt Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/23/09
Posts: 186
Originally Posted By: Bobpickle
I'd try and meet her half-way with easier pieces that she likes


This.

There are great pieces at all levels; easier pieces don't have to be boring. If she has no tolerance for pieces she finds boring then pick really interesting easier pieces that she likes.
_________________________
"There is more to this piano playing malarkey than meets the eye" - adultpianist

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#2037347 - 02/22/13 06:10 AM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: grandview]
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11658
Loc: Canada
In your opening post you keep talking about easier *pieces*, which of course she would not want to play, since that just feels like being set back. What you actually want to give her are *skills*, which is not at all a babyish thing. Why not isolate the skills she is lacking, decide which you want to give her first, and then tell her about these skills you will be focusing on, and why they're important? It may be a brand new concept for her.

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#2037383 - 02/22/13 08:25 AM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: grandview]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11764
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
I have encountered this same problem. I have a couple of students who had poor teachers in the past (or self-taught). They are high-school age and I therefore consider them adults. One is willing to put in the necessary "grunt work" of beginner stuff and is moving along very quickly. She just started so we'll see how she does in the long run, but I try to keep it fun by also working on her composing skills which she seems to really enjoy.

Another has been stuck since September. We have advanced perhaps 1 new piece every 3-4 weeks. He never practices and was self-taught. He came to me playing the Moonlight Sonata first mvt by ear with some major bad habits. No amount of pep talks or a more disciplined approach have made a difference. He says he wants to be able to play piano, and he's actually quite skilled at voice which he also studies. But piano takes a backseat to everything else. Part of me feels like perhaps I should just give him some late intermediate/early advanced repertoire that I know he can't read, but have him listen to recordings and follow along with the music and just learn that way. Certainly can't hurt at this point.

Last student has some LD I'm sure of even though his parents never flat out told me. I also discovered he needed glasses for reading, which when he remembers to bring them (and not just the empty case like he did yesterday) he can actually read just fine. He refuses to practice what I assign, and will only play what he chooses. I told him to pick a song he likes - any song - and we'll figure out how to play it on piano by ear.

The above last 2 students I'm not really sure if this is a good approach, but I'm literally out of ideas and sick of listening to excuses and the same unprepared lessons each week. smirk
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#2037450 - 02/22/13 11:18 AM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: grandview]
rada Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/07/06
Posts: 1124
Loc: pagosa springs,co
Teach her what you can. She still has a lifetime to learn and you may never know how you've helped but you can choose to make it all positive. I've had students return to me after college. There must be a mathematical formula that explains time needed to advance to specific levels which must allow for capacity, desire, persistence and of course the best, love of playing.

rada

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#2037507 - 02/22/13 12:57 PM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: ezpiano.org]
grandview Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 02/20/13
Posts: 9
Thanks everyone for the great ideas!

ezpiano, I like the idea of giving her four different/graded arrangements of the same song and letting her work through them. The simpler versions will build confidence and the more complicated arrangements will help her build skills and reach higher.

Bobpickle, I love the idea of helping her "learn how to learn" and practice more effectively. I teach this to my beginning students but need to make sure my transfer students know it too.

Okanagan, I love the idea of sitting down with her and "giving it to her straight" with a plan to help her improve.

theJourney, she is a lacrosse player so a sports analogy would be PERFECT for her - thanks for the idea!

My goal at this point is to keep her playing and give her the best foundation I possibly can for a lifetime of music-making.


Edited by grandview (02/22/13 12:58 PM)

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#2038883 - 02/25/13 07:33 AM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: grandview]
Marco M Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/28/12
Posts: 451
Loc: Europe
Apologize that I comment on your question, being only adult beginner and not a teacher. But her story sounds pretty much like my own story: she knows that she has to learn something for becoming able to play the way she would like to play. But it is hard for her to accept that 6 years of classes, which she enjoyed much and her parents payed expensive for, have been of low quality - maybe because of her teacher, maybe because of herself.
The truth is that the "something" she needs to learn is not something new, but something old to mend. You have to be straight with her about this. Then teach her how to learn, because she obviously does not know this, otherwise she would notice herself that there is much old stuff to mend first.
If you can make her accept the situation, then you have done an excellent job as a teacher, and she will find her way!
_________________________
learning Piano on my Roland HP-505
before playing Drums in adults bluesband on handpicked set; before crashing E-Guitar in kids garage band; raised on home entertainment Organ and Keyboard models Eminent Solina P240, Farfisa Maharani 259R, Technics KN800, and on Mouth Organ, Recorder and Accordion

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#2038906 - 02/25/13 08:19 AM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: Marco M]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11764
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: Marco M
Apologize that I comment on your question, being only adult beginner and not a teacher. But her story sounds pretty much like my own story: she knows that she has to learn something for becoming able to play the way she would like to play. But it is hard for her to accept that 6 years of classes, which she enjoyed much and her parents payed expensive for, have been of low quality - maybe because of her teacher, maybe because of herself.
The truth is that the "something" she needs to learn is not something new, but something old to mend. You have to be straight with her about this. Then teach her how to learn, because she obviously does not know this, otherwise she would notice herself that there is much old stuff to mend first.
If you can make her accept the situation, then you have done an excellent job as a teacher, and she will find her way!


Great comment, Marco. I agree totally that when dealing with a transfer student, this is usually the case. It's been a rare transfer student that didn't need some remedial work - after all, there is a reason why they left that other teacher. However, knowing that their previous teacher was insufficient and actually getting down to the details of what exactly needs to be done to fix that are two different things, and it takes a bit of educating the student on what is wrong and what you will do to help them correct that. Once they're on board it's not a problem, but with some it takes a while for them to actually get on board with your solution.
_________________________
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Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#2039405 - 02/26/13 02:12 AM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: Morodiene]
Bobpickle Offline

Gold Supporter until July 10  2014


Registered: 05/24/12
Posts: 1383
Loc: Cameron Park, California
Originally Posted By: Morodiene
Once they're on board it's not a problem, but with some it takes a while for them to actually get on board with your solution.


I unfortunately can personally attest to how this can take time. Hopefully the two of you have already formed a strong bond over time and that she's come to really trust you. Even if she's sensitive, there are mostly certainly ways you can approach the need for change in a gentle manner, planting seeds so-to-speak to correct the track she's on.


Also, very nice post, as mentioned, Marco.

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#2039598 - 02/26/13 12:27 PM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: grandview]
Joyce_dup1 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/01/02
Posts: 191
Loc: Chicago
I have a few students like this. They have been taking lessons for a number of years and are poor players, and are making slow progress. Why? Because they don't practice. They don't listen. They don't put in the effort. We do remedial work, we discuss effective practicing, we try various strategies to incorporate practicing into daily routine. We try numerous ways to incorporate necessary fundamentals into music that appeals to the student. All with minimal success. Many teachers would simply dismiss the student. I don't because I make my living from piano fees. But, it always irritates me when the teacher is immediately presumed to be the culprit. Doesn't the student have a stake in the game? (and their parents?). I can count on these students walking into their next lesson with no preparation on technical warm-ups, most likely playing the wrong scale or arpeg (and expressing shock when I show them the one listed on their assignment sheet), and setting aside their newly assigned piece (and therefore concept) saying "I didn't really like this". This is why they know so little after six years of lessons.

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#2039662 - 02/26/13 02:21 PM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: grandview]
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11658
Loc: Canada
The point is not to see who is to blame, but what the problem is, and how to address it. I'm not sure we know what it is yet. Deciding to play easier music doesn't pinpoint anything. Does the student know how to practice? Can the student recognize notes, or was this done through finger numbers? Etc. What the former teacher did, and how good the former teacher is, has nothing to do with it.

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#2039665 - 02/26/13 02:25 PM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: Joyce_dup1]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5461
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: Joyce_dup1
But, it always irritates me when the teacher is immediately presumed to be the culprit. Doesn't the student have a stake in the game? (and their parents?).

True. But if the teacher has many students like this, it doesn't really look good, does it?
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#2039677 - 02/26/13 02:57 PM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: AZNpiano]
Joyce_dup1 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/01/02
Posts: 191
Loc: Chicago
And if the teacher has many other students winning competitions, excelling at recitals, enjoying piano, playing well - does it say something about the slow progressing students? It bothers me because I so often see piano teachers showing a lack of respect for each other, and a definite failure to gather information before making judgments. Just a pet peeve. I have a second grader who stopped by to visit at the home of the very same student I was thinking of above - and to the amazement of all - she sightread the older students current assignment. Wow! I must be some teacher. Oops. What about the other student who still, after several weeks, can't play a line. mmmm. Gotta pull out those ideas and try another approach this week. Regardless of the student's continuous excuses.

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#2039688 - 02/26/13 03:13 PM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: keystring]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5461
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: keystring
The point is not to see who is to blame, but what the problem is, and how to address it. I'm not sure we know what it is yet.

Unfortunately, this diagnosis might take more than 6 months. Usually by 6 months a teacher has finally figured the student out.

I see the OP's position as an unenviable one. There's really very little that can be accomplished, no matter how inspiring the teacher is.
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#2039848 - 02/26/13 08:41 PM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: grandview]
pianogirl87 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 107
Loc: New Jersey
Try to find music that sounds more difficult than it really is. Something kind of flashy and something they can really "show-off" with. There are some great intermediate-level pedagogical pieces that do just that.

Also, as others have said, be completely honest with the student. Tell her what needs to be done so that she can play harder pieces. You might get some insight about what the actual problem is, or you may have to figure it out yourself. In general, it's never fun to have to go back before going forward, and I can tell this may be frustrating her. However, it may be necessary in order to move forward.
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#2039874 - 02/26/13 09:20 PM Re: Teenage piano student lacking fundamentals [Re: grandview]
ezpiano.org Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/10/11
Posts: 1002
Loc: Irvine, CA
I agree with ANZ. GrandView has only 6 months. She would not have enough time to do the full diagnose with this student. She can only give her best shot with this student at this point.

That means no time for lecture either. Just have to jump in actions at this point.


Edited by ezpiano.org (02/26/13 09:21 PM)
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