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#2075639 - 05/02/13 05:18 AM Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition
AaronD Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/28/13
Posts: 10
Loc: New Jersey
Hi everyone,

Any suggestions on consoling a student on not making it into a recital in an audition? Here's some background: I received this new student around December. Her previous teacher had a baby and had stopped teaching, so she hadn't taken lessons for over 6 months.

I looked at some of her previous work, which was around late intermediate, but accepted her suggestions on some pieces she wanted to study. They were a bit more difficult, but I figured I'd work on technique as we went along, and I'd continue to evaluate her level. But a couple weeks later, her mom told me she did the NJMTA spring recitals, and prior to last year, she had played in the high honors recitals (like first place winners) for 4 consecutive years. The fifth year of making a recital gives you a trophy, so that was important to them.

So for the past four months we pushed ahead, getting those pieces ready. I realized there were technique issues that were holding her back, but pretty much had to abandon any big change because there wasn't enough time. She worked really hard and played well, but not well enough to make a recital in the advanced category (which may have been her first year in that). I just had to break the news today in her lesson, and she was visibly upset. She didn't actually show much, but she played horribly and distracted and I felt bad for her. I explained some of these factors and tried to encourage her. I also explained that we would have to break down some of her technique/bad habits and build it back up in order to play at the next level, but assured her we'd be back next year.

Of course as a teacher, I feel responsible, even though I know the timeframe was just too rushed to get a really good start. So I'm feeling a bit guilty about continuing with the more challenging pieces instead of going back and picking some easier ones. Or maybe I shouldn't have entered her this year while I got to know her. And maybe a little bit inadequate as a teacher frown .

Any suggestions on what else I can say or do that will help encourage her in the coming weeks?

Thanks so much!
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#2075653 - 05/02/13 06:18 AM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: AaronD]
Nikolas Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5265
Loc: Europe
A few questions which might help the next posters:

1. How old is she? If she's like 11-12 then you can probably handle it easy enough. But if she's 16 then you need to handle it in different ways.

2. Do you feel that it's (partly) your fault that she failed?

3. Do you fear that she might quit for another teacher?

Depending on your replies things can different vastly I think.

But in any case: MAJOR OUCH!
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#2075664 - 05/02/13 07:15 AM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: AaronD]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11940
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: AaronD
Hi everyone,

Any suggestions on consoling a student on not making it into a recital in an audition? Here's some background: I received this new student around December. Her previous teacher had a baby and had stopped teaching, so she hadn't taken lessons for over 6 months.

I looked at some of her previous work, which was around late intermediate, but accepted her suggestions on some pieces she wanted to study. They were a bit more difficult, but I figured I'd work on technique as we went along, and I'd continue to evaluate her level. But a couple weeks later, her mom told me she did the NJMTA spring recitals, and prior to last year, she had played in the high honors recitals (like first place winners) for 4 consecutive years. The fifth year of making a recital gives you a trophy, so that was important to them.

So for the past four months we pushed ahead, getting those pieces ready. I realized there were technique issues that were holding her back, but pretty much had to abandon any big change because there wasn't enough time. She worked really hard and played well, but not well enough to make a recital in the advanced category (which may have been her first year in that). I just had to break the news today in her lesson, and she was visibly upset. She didn't actually show much, but she played horribly and distracted and I felt bad for her. I explained some of these factors and tried to encourage her. I also explained that we would have to break down some of her technique/bad habits and build it back up in order to play at the next level, but assured her we'd be back next year.

Of course as a teacher, I feel responsible, even though I know the timeframe was just too rushed to get a really good start. So I'm feeling a bit guilty about continuing with the more challenging pieces instead of going back and picking some easier ones. Or maybe I shouldn't have entered her this year while I got to know her. And maybe a little bit inadequate as a teacher frown .

Any suggestions on what else I can say or do that will help encourage her in the coming weeks?

Thanks so much!


So you made a judgment call with limited information. The more you knew about her, the more you realized she has some serious technical flaws that would hold her back in these more difficult pieces. I think the only thing you can do is learn from this, just like your student can (and how you should approach it with her).

If it makes you feel better, let her know that you weren't aware of her technical problems until you got to know her better, and with transfer students it takes a couple of months to really get a feel for what a student can and can't do. But now it's not only coming from you that she has these technical flaws, it's apparent in her playing since she didn't get in. Let this be something that can fuel her fire to go back and really rework some things. She's obviously at the limit of her current technique and you believe she can learn to play even better, and if she is patient with herself and follows your advice, by this time next year she will be ready to perform.
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#2075748 - 05/02/13 09:47 AM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: AaronD]
Minniemay Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/09
Posts: 1702
Loc: CA
I love that perspective, Morodienne. Right on target, I think.
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#2075856 - 05/02/13 11:59 AM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: AaronD]
ezpiano.org Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/10/11
Posts: 1011
Loc: Irvine, CA
Originally Posted By: Aaron
But a couple weeks later, her mom told me


That is the problem.

Whatever she told you couple weeks later should be told on your first interview session so that you can make good judgement about what to do next and how to pick up from what the previous teacher left off.

Another method would be talking to her previous teacher right after interview and ask previous teacher what kind of goals she has for this student if this student is going to continue with her. From there, you can have a smooth transition and pick up at the right place instead of misplace your teaching material.

As of whatever happen already happen. Other than saying sorry to the mom and student, I do not know what else you could do.

But do learn your lesson, don't repeat the mistake next time.
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#2075877 - 05/02/13 12:21 PM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: AaronD]
Overexposed Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2647
Aaron,

Welcome to PW!

Thank you for posting about this because we can all learn from it. We're reminded that getting to know the abilities of a transfer student takes time, and we would be wise not to agree to a competitive endeavor right away. Especially if it's been 6 months or more that the kid has been away from lessons.

Anyway, I wish you well. And I hope your confidence in teaching returns soon.

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#2075885 - 05/02/13 12:43 PM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: AaronD]
Overexposed Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2647
Aaron,
I'm thinking that the event can be used as information for moving forward. It gives the child and parent a reality check. It supports your own evaluation that there is a need to back up and do work at a lower level.

In other words it can be mentioned in a positive light as giving guidance for future work, instead of just being a failure.

Hope this helps.

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#2075898 - 05/02/13 01:13 PM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: Nikolas]
AaronD Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/28/13
Posts: 10
Loc: New Jersey
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
A few questions which might help the next posters:

1. How old is she? If she's like 11-12 then you can probably handle it easy enough. But if she's 16 then you need to handle it in different ways.

2. Do you feel that it's (partly) your fault that she failed?

3. Do you fear that she might quit for another teacher?

Depending on your replies things can different vastly I think.

But in any case: MAJOR OUCH!


1. She's 13. I don't think she has professional aspirations, but it's obviously very important to her at this point.

2. I think as a teacher, I always feel at least partly responsible for my students performances, and if things don't go as well as hoped, I sort of question myself a bit.

3. I was worried about that a bit, cause I wasn't sure how important this was to them. But I called her mom and told her before her lesson, and she was okay with it (I think) and was more worried that the girl would be disappointed.

Thanks for your input!
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#2075907 - 05/02/13 01:21 PM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: Morodiene]
AaronD Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/28/13
Posts: 10
Loc: New Jersey
Originally Posted By: Morodiene


If it makes you feel better, let her know that you weren't aware of her technical problems until you got to know her better, and with transfer students it takes a couple of months to really get a feel for what a student can and can't do. But now it's not only coming from you that she has these technical flaws, it's apparent in her playing since she didn't get in. Let this be something that can fuel her fire to go back and really rework some things. She's obviously at the limit of her current technique and you believe she can learn to play even better, and if she is patient with herself and follows your advice, by this time next year she will be ready to perform.


Thanks for this, it puts it into perspective. It does take time to find out flaws and address them, and that's exactly what happened. In this case, it was unfortunate that it lined up to be around the audition. But we did end up finding the flaws smirk .
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#2075914 - 05/02/13 01:36 PM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: Overexposed]
AaronD Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/28/13
Posts: 10
Loc: New Jersey
Originally Posted By: ezpiano.org


But do learn your lesson, don't repeat the mistake next time.


Thanks ezpiano, and I will definitely not make that mistake again smirk. Most of my students have been homegrown (from complete beginner) or coming from other teachers without real goals or aspirations and I'm learning how important it is to make sure I know exactly what I'm getting into. And to be able to say no to a competition if it's too soon for me to tell.

Originally Posted By: Ann in Kentucky
Aaron,
I'm thinking that the event can be used as information for moving forward. It gives the child and parent a reality check. It supports your own evaluation that there is a need to back up and do work at a lower level.

In other words it can be mentioned in a positive light as giving guidance for future work, instead of just being a failure.

Hope this helps.


Thanks for your words, Ann. She was starting to come around toward the end of the lesson, maybe realizing that the result of the audition was supporting my encouragements examine technique. I think I can remind her that everything we do is focused on get better, even the judge's comments are there to help her improve. So in that respect, we accomplished exactly that even though it may not feel as good as winning wink.
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#2075959 - 05/02/13 02:54 PM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: AaronD]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5487
Loc: Orange County, CA
I don't think you need to do anything extra or special. Life goes on. Kids need to learn to deal with adversity on their own. And if she dwells on the negatives, just tell her to "Get over it!" Not making it through an audition is NOT the end of the world.
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#2075984 - 05/02/13 03:19 PM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: AaronD]
Candywoman Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/14/03
Posts: 842
I agree with AZN.

In this case, you might have offered extra lessons (paid of course) to deal with the technique problems. If they didn't take the lessons, they'd know they were to blame.

But I don't think you need to do all the soul-searching or any of the soul-searching. Share the soul-searching work around!

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#2075987 - 05/02/13 03:25 PM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: AaronD]
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11688
Loc: Canada
I'm reading that she just came to you from a previous teacher, and they had done all these recitals, and also that you are finding technical issues. Is it possible that the previous teacher left holes in the effort to make the recitals, and you're now holding the bag? I.e. that you are not a bad teacher, but that the situation has its reasons?

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#2075988 - 05/02/13 03:25 PM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: AaronD]
Amy B Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/23/12
Posts: 78
Loc: San Francisco Bay Area
As a teacher, I would like to take the feedback/scoring from the judges, to see if it aligned with what I felt about how well prepared, or not prepared, the student was.
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#2076047 - 05/02/13 04:58 PM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: AZNpiano]
ten left thumbs Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
Kids need to learn to deal with adversity on their own.


This is very true, and good on her for even trying. But she'd had a break and it took it's toll.

Welcome to you Aaron. This is a wonderful place for sharing the highs and lows. I don't have students as advanced as yours and I have no idea how I would have handled it. But I am glad you shared your experience here.
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#2076260 - 05/02/13 10:52 PM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: keystring]
AaronD Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/28/13
Posts: 10
Loc: New Jersey
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
I don't think you need to do anything extra or special. Life goes on. Kids need to learn to deal with adversity on their own. And if she dwells on the negatives, just tell her to "Get over it!" Not making it through an audition is NOT the end of the world.


Thanks for the perspective. As a teacher, I can be pretty sensitive to my students and it works against me sometimes. I have no problem being tough on instruction, but when it comes to stuff like this, it's a bit harder.

Originally Posted By: Candywoman

But I don't think you need to do all the soul-searching or any of the soul-searching. Share the soul-searching work around!


Thanks, I will try not to smile. Life indeed does go on!


Originally Posted By: keystring
I'm reading that she just came to you from a previous teacher, and they had done all these recitals, and also that you are finding technical issues. Is it possible that the previous teacher left holes in the effort to make the recitals, and you're now holding the bag? I.e. that you are not a bad teacher, but that the situation has its reasons?


This is an interesting point keystring. She seemed pretty prepared to my initial observations. She counted. She had a book of exercises that she used to warm up which I eventually told her to stop doing, cause they were kind of reinforcing some of the things I wanted to fix (like not using arm weight properly or reaching with fingers). But she had never done any voicing whatsoever when there's two or more notes in one hand, and fast passages would get labored from not using rotation/support. Unfortunately, the pieces we worked on had both of those challenges!

Looking at some of her previous work, it's quite possible her teacher kept her away from pieces that would challenge her in these ways. I can't say definitively though. She really took to the challenge of pieces we studied though, so I guess I shouldn't have regrets about that. She's a very hard worker so I feel confident we can help her improve!
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#2076271 - 05/02/13 11:05 PM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: ten left thumbs]
AaronD Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/28/13
Posts: 10
Loc: New Jersey
Originally Posted By: Amy B
As a teacher, I would like to take the feedback/scoring from the judges, to see if it aligned with what I felt about how well prepared, or not prepared, the student was.


You're right. I feel like the judges' feedback did line up, not in the sense that they pointed out her technique, but they asked for things that required you to be free and in control of your tone.

Originally Posted By: ten left thumbs


Welcome to you Aaron. This is a wonderful place for sharing the highs and lows. I don't have students as advanced as yours and I have no idea how I would have handled it. But I am glad you shared your experience here.


Thanks so much for your words of encouragement. One day, we'll all be perfect teachers, right? wink
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#2076291 - 05/02/13 11:20 PM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: AaronD]
Kreisler Offline


Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13789
Loc: Iowa City, IA
Originally Posted By: AaronD

Thanks so much for your words of encouragement. One day, we'll all be perfect teachers, right? wink


The fact that you're aware of the issue and publicly asking others for advice is proof that you're already about as perfect as a teacher can get.

You and your student need to get up off the mat and get back into the fight.
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#2076615 - 05/03/13 11:57 AM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: AZNpiano]
Nannerl Mozart Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/19/08
Posts: 732
Loc: Australia, Melbourne
People have feelings you know - life goes on, but sometimes we get hurt in the process. I've been rejected from auditions before and it stung, it happens to all of us, some of us give up (or seek an alternate path) others keep trying - whatever happens, sure, life goes on... but it's OK to acknowledge ones disappointment/ upset/hurt.

Originally Posted By: keystring
I'm reading that she just came to you from a previous teacher, and they had done all these recitals, and also that you are finding technical issues. Is it possible that the previous teacher left holes in the effort to make the recitals, and you're now holding the bag? I.e. that you are not a bad teacher, but that the situation has its reasons?

This is an interesting point keystring. She seemed pretty prepared to my initial observations. She counted. She had a book of exercises that she used to warm up which I eventually told her to stop doing, cause they were kind of reinforcing some of the things I wanted to fix (like not using arm weight properly or reaching with fingers). But she had never done any voicing whatsoever when there's two or more notes in one hand, and fast passages would get labored from not using rotation/support. Unfortunately, the pieces we worked on had both of those challenges!


I can't help but think - maybe the way you approach technique is different to the way she has been taught. You find that with professional players - some of them play with strange technique, different to what you'd normally do, but they make a great sound...
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#2076652 - 05/03/13 01:08 PM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: AaronD]
KurtZ Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/13/10
Posts: 900
Loc: The Heart of Screenland
The dark side of playing for scores, certificates and trophies. I know it's the world you teachers live in but it's also a world you helped to create. Console her by helping her remember that there's more joy in reveling in the art she's making than there is in worrying about whether or not she got a piece of paper in a cheap frame. I've read all the arguments over the years for C of M and ABRSM etc. but I am not convinced. All the pitfalls of Comparing simply cannot be avoided. Who's playing Bach by age6 or not. Why Mary hasn't passed level 6 yet? Her friend passed this year and she started a year after Mary? Of course it's a recipe for suffering. There's simply too much emphasis on attainment and not enough on enjoying the process.

I was a park league volleyball coach for seven years. I too used to gnash my teeth about winning and losing. I had my share of kids that were hard to coach or didn't want to be there. I had the parents who didn't bring their kids to practice and then complained when they finished the season still not being able to pass, set or hit. It was only after the season that we went 1-15 followed by a season in which we were 2 points from being 16-0 that I realized that while it's more fun to win, the real benefit is being in the park with a bunch of interesting kids (if at times frustrating) and helping them learn one of the most exciting games around. One that they could play all their lives for fun and health. I stopped WORRYING about win loss record and worried about the moment I was in; what was the magic word or mental image I could use to help this child learn the skill at hand. How could I make TODAY a good day. When we lost on tournament days, all my kids knew I loved them just the same as when they won. I was still the same goofball coach that they loved to call Homer. A lot of those kids still play volleyball on high school and club teams. I hope that sometimes, when they think, "This is fun." that they remember that's how coach Homer taught them to play.

I've just had another thought while previewing for clarity so instead of re-writting the whole paragraph I append it here. I learned this from another coach who never yelled, never chided and never showed his frustration. All his kids seemed to want to play to make him happy. They had an enthusiasm that no coach I've seen who was a "yeller" ever seemed to have. That may also be a moment that set me away from a win/loss emphasis and one where I simply tried to make my kids want to play well for me and each other. I knew that after that, the kids would find their level while win/loss would take care of itself. John Holt, whom I hope many of you know, has a lot to say about the pitfalls of codifying ANY kind of education into a "system" of levels and grades that make assessment easy but success difficult.

humbly submitted,

Kurt
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#2076932 - 05/04/13 12:19 AM Re: Consoling a student (and myself) RE: competition [Re: KurtZ]
AaronD Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/28/13
Posts: 10
Loc: New Jersey
Originally Posted By: Kreisler


The fact that you're aware of the issue and publicly asking others for advice is proof that you're already about as perfect as a teacher can get.

You and your student need to get up off the mat and get back into the fight.


This was perfect encouragement, if I've ever seen it laugh. Much appreciated!

Originally Posted By: Nannerl Mozart

I can't help but think - maybe the way you approach technique is different to the way she has been taught. You find that with professional players - some of them play with strange technique, different to what you'd normally do, but they make a great sound...


I'm almost certain that's the case. You're right, it doesn't mean it's necessarily wrong or ineffective. I do know that the technique I teach will help her improve though.

Originally Posted By: KurtZ
The dark side of playing for scores, certificates and trophies. I know it's the world you teachers live in but it's also a world you helped to create. Console her by helping her remember that there's more joy in reveling in the art she's making than there is in worrying about whether or not she got a piece of paper in a cheap frame. I've read all the arguments over the years for C of M and ABRSM etc. but I am not convinced. All the pitfalls of Comparing simply cannot be avoided. Who's playing Bach by age6 or not. Why Mary hasn't passed level 6 yet? Her friend passed this year and she started a year after Mary? Of course it's a recipe for suffering. There's simply too much emphasis on attainment and not enough on enjoying the process.



Great point about the negative aspects of competitive playing. It's definitely got its drawbacks, but at the same time, the standards of quality that I have for myself on pieces I work on for fun are a result of all those scores and grades I received growing up. But I do agree that the most ideal (and maybe most effective) motivator is a pure passion for music, or sport, etc. That's what I can model and try to get across to my students.
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