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#2259438 - 04/10/14 12:20 AM Time to switch teachers?
PianoGamer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/10/13
Posts: 34
Hi All,

I'm a 35 yr old adult with a little musical knowledge as a kid, but no real technical training on the piano. I took up lessons with a wonderfully gifted teacher about a year and a half ago. She has a doctorate from USC and in her day was quite the pianist. The issue is that she is in her mid 70's and is a bit stubborn shall we say in the teaching methods she uses. I love hearing her stories and our conversation, but I'm wondering if there is a more efficient way of teaching out there. She uses the Thompson and Schaum method books, books that date back to the 40's. She tells me that when she was a kid she hated these books, but they teach fundamentals that I need to know and that once I get through these books, many classical pieces will be a piece of cake. I also have a technique book with scales, arpeggios, chord progressions, cadences, etc that we use to supplement the method books. I'm stuck on "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" from Book 2 (which I find a bit offensive lol) because it's such a big leap in difficulty for me from previous selections.

We also work on "fun" pieces, but I don't feel like I'm even at a level where I can make a success out of them. So far I've tried Chopin's Prelude in E minor (can get through most of it, but a few tough measures), Prelude in C minor (just started, but this seems like a big undertaking although I love it) and finally Waltz in A minor. I'm making progress on the waltz, but it is so slow and doesn't sound anything like a waltz at this point. =(

I guess I'd like to try someone that may offer a more modern technique. I don't know if I can hang in there with these Thompson method books, that are childish and jump in difficulty.

Does anyone have any advice? I just want to have small wins and it seems like the first year I was doing that consistently, but I've hit a wall of sorts and feel unorganized in my practice now.

Thanks in advance!

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#2259444 - 04/10/14 12:40 AM Re: Time to switch teachers? [Re: PianoGamer]
Whizbang Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/27/12
Posts: 788
Occasionally Morodiene from the Piano Teachers Forum weighs in here, and perhaps your question is better suited for that forum.

I think John Thompson isn't super well-regarded any more, but from what I gather, one of the common objections is that it teaches a five-finger method and that can get kids really confused--they get the finger numbers mixed up with the notes; D becomes '2', for instance. As an adult, you're probably much less prone to that sort of confusion.

I'd wager a lot of piano teachers went through John Thompson and probably turned out ok. Heck, I recall doing some John Thompson and, while I'm on the low end of the bell curve for talent (and the high end for stubbornness), I don't think I could lay my slow learning at the piano at the altar of John Thompson.

A year and a half to get to that Chopin Prelude? Doesn't sound too out of order, honestly. (And, even if the notes are doable, making it really musical may take a lifetime.) The dirty secret of piano is that people take DRASTICALLY different amounts of time to pick it up. Teaching can be a factor there, but it's hard to disentangle the teaching from the aptitude.

Regardless, frustrations and hitting walls is just par for the course--at least for us mortals.

If you're really clicking with your teacher; if you're constantly feeling challenged but not being made to feel like a terrible person or feel like you're being asked to do something manifestly impossible, I'd think hard before giving up on the relationship. That said, it definitely is a relationship and if you're not feeling the chemistry, then you're not feeling it. Finding a qualified teacher isn't necessarily hard, but finding the right teacher is hard.
_________________________
Whizbang
amateur ragtime pianist

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#2259447 - 04/10/14 12:56 AM Re: Time to switch teachers? [Re: Whizbang]
PianoGamer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/10/13
Posts: 34
Thanks for the thoughtful insight. I guess I'm just impatient and my biggest beef is that my teacher will not budge on the John Thompson books. Your points are well taken though and I appreciate the advice. I also posted on the Piano Teachers' Forum so I can reach the right audience, I did't know that forum existed.

Thanks again!

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#2259518 - 04/10/14 05:33 AM Re: Time to switch teachers? [Re: PianoGamer]
Kristina1 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/24/13
Posts: 123
Loc: UK
I envy you because you are so lucky to have an "old school pianist" as a teacher!
That is the sort of teacher I was trying to find without any luck!
Pianists "in the old" days had a wonderful musical training
which can be still enjoyed on so many LP's...
These days there seem to be different priorities for pianists (and piano teachers) ...
...many pianists play these days like great technical (very fast) acrobats on the piano...
...but when I hear them playing I miss the feeling,
I miss the soul and when they play so fast,
there is hardly any time to express any feeling
or let the piano breath a little...
...these days many pianists hammer on a piano
without taking the time to consider emotions...
...I have been to many piano concerts and to be honest,
these days I rather prefer to listen to an LP "of the old school piano playing"
...instead of going out to listen to a piano concert...
because on an LP the feeling and expression of the pianist still shines through...

Your teacher sounds like the teacher I was trying so hard to find
when I first had my piano(without having any connection to the music world)
and it all ended up that I have to learn myself without any teacher
because I just can't take another risk
and end up with the wrong teacher again...
Where is this teacher of yours? (I happen to be in London)...

I also collected many of the Schaum - books for beginners
from second hand music shops
and these books have been extremely useful for my training
(unfortunately without a teacher)...

I wish you good luck with whatever you decide, Kristina.

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#2259524 - 04/10/14 06:03 AM Re: Time to switch teachers? [Re: PianoGamer]
earlofmar Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 1638
Loc: Australia
If you are unhappy then it's a no brainer, however there are a few things to consider.

First good teachers are not as easy to find as you might think so the obvious thing is to try to find a compromise with this teacher if you believe she is a good teacher. I know that's hard to judge given you might only ever had one teacher.

It will soon be a year and a half for myself as well but our courses have been very different. I have been allowed to select all my own pieces and I usually go for the hard ones and get the feeling I am missing out on some of those fundamental pieces. I have stopped and taken pause this year and am playing grade 1 stuff as well to try to find those technical issues I may have missed. That also involves playing material I am not too fussed about.

In every book you will probably find a piece (or more) that just seem impossible. For me it was a simplified version of a Chopin Etude I spend months, gave up came back later, and then more months on and never got it quite right. I can't believe it belongs in the Alfred book 2 but there you go. If the piece you are having difficulty is correctly graded you will eventually get it it's just a matter of time.

So far I have had stellar progress in my eighteen months (compared to some) and a few weeks ago I gave the world notice I was ready for Chopin. Now the easiest pieces by Chopin are grade 4, so since you have also reached that stage in a mere eighteen months then take a bow and buy your teacher a box of chocolates. I just started Waltz in A Minor as well by the way and yeah it's going to be a killer (Chopin just never fully understood the concept of easy).
_________________________
I thought I understood endurance sport; then I took up piano
XXXV-6-XXX

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#2259528 - 04/10/14 06:38 AM Re: Time to switch teachers? [Re: Kristina1]
wimpiano Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/13
Posts: 1395
Loc: The Netherlands
Originally Posted By: Kristina1
I envy you because you are so lucky to have an "old school pianist" as a teacher!
That is the sort of teacher I was trying to find without any luck!
Pianists "in the old" days had a wonderful musical training
which can be still enjoyed on so many LP's...
These days there seem to be different priorities for pianists (and piano teachers) ...
...many pianists play these days like great technical (very fast) acrobats on the piano...
...but when I hear them playing I miss the feeling,
I miss the soul and when they play so fast,
there is hardly any time to express any feeling
or let the piano breath a little...
...these days many pianists hammer on a piano
without taking the time to consider emotions...
...I have been to many piano concerts and to be honest,
these days I rather prefer to listen to an LP "of the old school piano playing"
...instead of going out to listen to a piano concert...
because on an LP the feeling and expression of the pianist still shines through...

Your teacher sounds like the teacher I was trying so hard to find
when I first had my piano(without having any connection to the music world)
and it all ended up that I have to learn myself without any teacher
because I just can't take another risk
and end up with the wrong teacher again...
Where is this teacher of yours? (I happen to be in London)...

I also collected many of the Schaum - books for beginners
from second hand music shops
and these books have been extremely useful for my training
(unfortunately without a teacher)...

I wish you good luck with whatever you decide, Kristina.



I agree completely.
At first I wanted to do the Alfred method but my teacher which is also older and a bit stubborn convinced me to do what he thinks is best. So far I like it very much and everything he teaches makes sense, if not at the first I get it later. Moments like "Ah, that's why he made me do this".
_________________________
Schimmel 116 S ..

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#2259535 - 04/10/14 06:52 AM Re: Time to switch teachers? [Re: PianoGamer]
Andy Platt Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/10
Posts: 2397
Loc: Virginia, USA
If you are able to play the E minor prelude reasonably well (understanding it's one of those pieces that we could all improve for the rest of our lives) you are doing fine for 1.5 years. So the real question is do you really want to change or are you just worried you are not learning right?

A good teacher could take the ropiest book and work magic; a bad teacher will take the world's best method book and it just won't work.
_________________________
  • Liszt - Liebesträume No. 3, S541
  • Scarlatti - Sonata in D minor, K. 213

Kawai K3

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#2259564 - 04/10/14 08:12 AM Re: Time to switch teachers? [Re: PianoGamer]
dmd Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/09
Posts: 1894
Loc: Pennsylvania
It sounds like you have a teacher who knows what works and is "sticking to it!"

It also sounds like you are ready to start looking for "faster" in terms of learning to play. We all go through that phase. It usually leads to time wasted.

I think I would "suck it up" and place the proper value on what you have ... a teacher who knows what works and is not going to sway from that because her student is becoming impatient.

Hang in there. You are one of the lucky ones.
_________________________
Don

Current: ES7, Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 audio device, SennHeiser HD555 Phones, Focal CMS 40 Powered Monitors, Ravenscroft275, Ivory II American Concert D, Pianoteq 5

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#2259576 - 04/10/14 08:57 AM Re: Time to switch teachers? [Re: PianoGamer]
rnaple Offline

Silver Supporter until April 24 2014


Registered: 12/23/10
Posts: 2107
Loc: Rocky Mountains
It does sound like you have a real good teacher. We all have doubts now and then.

I would like to reinforce the idea of an older teacher. Retired, etc. I'm on my second one. Left the first not because of the teacher herself or her methods.
They always have so much experience to share. It isn't about them. It's about you. Your success. They have wisdom that many don't bother to think about. They also don't have to teach to make a living. They teach because they love it. They want to see people succeed.

EDIT: Amongst everything else. These older teachers seem to always have you work on pieces that you love. In your case you said: fun pieces. I think that is because they look back and see what it is that motivates a person to play. It also motivates you to learn what isn't so much fun. Because you can see that you need that.


Edited by rnaple (04/10/14 09:32 AM)
_________________________
Ron
Your brain is a sponge. Keep it wet. Mary Gae George
The focus of your personal practice is discipline. Not numbers. Scott Sonnon

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#2259608 - 04/10/14 10:04 AM Re: Time to switch teachers? [Re: PianoGamer]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 12044
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
No method book is going to be perfect, and a good teacher knows how to supplement so that the holes are filled in. Thompson and Schaum are what I grew up on, and I hated them then, too. So why would I want to use that with my students? I'm not in my 70s though, so I guess I'm a bit more flexible yet.

Yes, new methods are better pedagogically speaking, but a good teacher can often be hard to find. In this case, since the only complaints I hear from you are 1) Using an old method book and 2) You're not progressing as fast as you'd like I recommend staying with the teacher a bit longer. Do exactly as she says and practice those method books pieces so you can get through them quickly (avoiding only prolongs things). Try to understand what specifically each piece is designed to teach you, and pinpoint exactly why you aren't progressing in them so you can ask your teacher what specific practice techniques to use to move forward. In the end, it comes down to trusting her knowledge and expertise that you are paying her for.

What is a fun piece, but one that you can play well? Put another way, playing piano is fun, but only if you can do it! What makes it so rewarding is when you work on a difficult piece and push through the frustrations and plateaus and come out on the other end having accomplished something you perhaps didn't think you could do. That in itself makes a piece fun as well.
_________________________
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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#2259882 - 04/10/14 05:09 PM Re: Time to switch teachers? [Re: PianoGamer]
PianoGamer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/10/13
Posts: 34
Thanks everyone for the advice. I believe you've essentially told me to eat my vegetables, which I understand and sounds like what I need to hear at this point in my piano lessons. I used to be a professional dancer and there were many classes I took that I wasn't good at that frustrated me, but ultimately made me a better dancer.

You're also right to point out that I likely am lucky to have a teacher that focuses on the important things. I believe her when she discusses concepts like using the weight of the arms and having a flexible wrist and things that perhaps some professional pianists could understand better. I guess I just need to get over myself and practice more so that I can conquer that damn Carry Me Back to Ol Virginny song. The biggest issue I think it is exposing is that I don't count when I play. I think because I have a natural sense of rhythm (and the pieces I've played thus far were fairly simple rhythmically) I ignore that part of my playing and still get by, but when a rhythm goes against what I think it should be in my brain, I have to really pay attention and actually count it out to make sure I'm playing it as written. I don't like doing this lol which means I need to do it more!

This has definitely been an eye opening discussion. Thanks again!

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#2259900 - 04/10/14 05:49 PM Re: Time to switch teachers? [Re: PianoGamer]
David Farley Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/27/13
Posts: 363
Loc: Illinois
Just out of curiosity, is your teacher using any of the supplemental John Thompson books? Does anyone? I'm relearning the piano after many years away, and have actually been enjoying the famous red books. I've sort of focused on moving steadily through them while working on and off through other similar level material to mix it up. One thing I eventually noticed was that Thompson edited a ton of supplementary material to go with the basic course. For instance at level two there is a book of 50 etudes. For level three there is a book of 50 velocity studies. There's a bunch of other stuff, too, all written to go with certain levels, and it really seems to be a much more coherent method to work on the supplementary material with the main books. I had to really dig to find it all. Much of it is still available new, but for some titles I could only find old used copies.

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