Questions for teachers of adult students

Posted by: Tech 5

Questions for teachers of adult students - 02/10/13 03:36 PM

Have you ever had an adult student who you knew would never be able to play the piano the way it was meant to be played? Would you ever consider allowing that student to continue even though you knew there was little to no hope? Is there a way to tell that a person is not capable of learning to play the piano beyond the "forever beginning" stage?

Thanks,
Posted by: currawong

Re: Questions for teachers of adult students - 02/10/13 04:18 PM

I've had an adult student who progressed *very* slowly, and who I thought would never progress beyond a certain stage. But I kept teaching her because she herself wanted to keep learning. She loved piano, enjoyed her lessons and the music she was playing. I would always keep a student like this if the interest is there. Neither of us had any unrealistic expectations, but I've learnt over the years that You Never Know. Breakthroughs happen and you sometimes have no idea why.
(I was using the past tense in that story, but actually, she's still taking lessons from me. smile )
Originally Posted By: Tech 5
Is there a way to tell that a person is not capable of learning to play the piano beyond the "forever beginning" stage?
You know, I'm not sure that there is. Not a foolproof way, at any rate. But I do know that nobody is going to really get the benefits of learning the piano if they don't enjoy the journey. Even the ones who progress very quickly still need to get satisfaction from the process, and not just think about the end product. It's not as if there are two distinct classes of student.

That's my philosophy, anyway. smile

Posted by: pianomouse

Re: Questions for teachers of adult students - 02/10/13 04:26 PM

I had an adult student who took lessons with me for about ten years. Compared with the average piano student, she didn't really make much progress during that time - but she did make some progress which for her were huge steps.

How can you know now how that student is going to develop during the next years? I think that every person has a right to learn to play piano. The most important is that they are dedicated enough to pull it through. And it is our responsability to make them feel like they're learning something - and to give them assignments they can do.

The main question in my opinion is: Are you willing and do you have the energy to teach this student? I remember from my student that it cost me a lot of energy, tons of patience and quite some imagination to figure out how to teach her.
Posted by: catpiano

Re: Questions for teachers of adult students - 02/10/13 04:43 PM

"Have you ever had an adult student who you knew would never be able to play the piano the way it was meant to be played?"

I don't know what you mean by "meant to be played." I have taught many adult beginners who I knew would (probably) never become a virtuoso given their differing circumstances. However, I have never taught an adult who I believed was not capable of learning to play somewhere between decently and very well.

"Would you ever consider allowing that student to continue even though you knew there was little to no hope?"

I don't consider myself in a position to "allow" any of my students, especially adults, to do anything. No, I would never suggest to any adult student that they should quit because of lack of progress. I have had students begin lessons with the idea that they would be able to start at an intermediate/advanced level and with those students I always provide music at a more realistic level; I don't like adult students having unrealistic expectations and playing above their level. That said, I will work with any adult student until they get it, for as long as it takes to progress.

"Is there a way to tell that a person is not capable of learning to play the piano beyond the "forever beginning" stage?"

No, I don't think there's some definitive way to tell. There are some factors that I think help adult beginners, such as having SOME musical background (even if it's on a different instrument, lessons as a kid, etc), healthy fingers (I've had a few older students whose fingers were so stiff that I knew they would never be able to play certain things), and time to practice (I've had the least success with adults who have small kids or full-time jobs). In my experience, I have not yet seen an adult beginner progress beyond an amateur level, but amateur does NOT imply bad!
Posted by: Chris H.

Re: Questions for teachers of adult students - 02/10/13 07:22 PM

Great answers so far.

All I can add is... You should hear me play the guitar!

But I still enjoy it.
Posted by: Tech 5

Re: Questions for teachers of adult students - 02/10/13 07:57 PM

Great answers, indeed! Thanks very much to all who responded...very helpful!
Posted by: Peter K. Mose

Re: Questions for teachers of adult students - 02/10/13 11:42 PM

There *are* piano teachers who will confirm an adult beginner's worst fears of self-doubt, either overtly or simply through lack of commitment to such a student.

If you sense you might be working with such a teacher, by all means change teachers, in favor of someone more positive and committed to the learning process. They do exist, as the above responses demonstrate.

Learning to play the piano even as a hobby takes some years, whether you are seven or fifty-seven. But the process should be fun and invigorating, or else I as the teacher am doing a poor job.
Posted by: Ben Crosland

Re: Questions for teachers of adult students - 02/11/13 05:10 AM

I take a similar approach with my adult students as I do with any age group, in that I adjust my expectations and standards of praise and criticisms according to what I believe they are capable of.

As to whether I would allow them to continue, the answer has always been "Yes". However, when they tell me they're thinking of quitting, it must be said that I have fought much harder to convince some students to continue than others wink
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: Questions for teachers of adult students - 02/11/13 08:19 AM

Originally Posted By: catpiano
"Have you ever had an adult student who you knew would never be able to play the piano the way it was meant to be played?"

I don't know what you mean by "meant to be played." I have taught many adult beginners who I knew would (probably) never become a virtuoso given their differing circumstances. However, I have never taught an adult who I believed was not capable of learning to play somewhere between decently and very well.

"Would you ever consider allowing that student to continue even though you knew there was little to no hope?"

I don't consider myself in a position to "allow" any of my students, especially adults, to do anything. No, I would never suggest to any adult student that they should quit because of lack of progress. I have had students begin lessons with the idea that they would be able to start at an intermediate/advanced level and with those students I always provide music at a more realistic level; I don't like adult students having unrealistic expectations and playing above their level. That said, I will work with any adult student until they get it, for as long as it takes to progress.

"Is there a way to tell that a person is not capable of learning to play the piano beyond the "forever beginning" stage?"

No, I don't think there's some definitive way to tell. There are some factors that I think help adult beginners, such as having SOME musical background (even if it's on a different instrument, lessons as a kid, etc), healthy fingers (I've had a few older students whose fingers were so stiff that I knew they would never be able to play certain things), and time to practice (I've had the least success with adults who have small kids or full-time jobs). In my experience, I have not yet seen an adult beginner progress beyond an amateur level, but amateur does NOT imply bad!


+1 Nice post, catpiano. I agree with all that has been said by other posters thus far as well.

From a teacher's perspective I do wonder if some students will no longer be able to step up to the challenge of the next skill or level of difficulty in a piece, and that if at some point I will just have to make lateral moves. By lateral I mean finding music that isn't challenging but maintaining what they already know how to do. Lateral isn't bad, however, and of course students progress even when playing more pieces at a certain level. There's just a part of me that wants them to progress forward and I have to be careful of that. I guess I get ambitious for my students because I want to see them progress, but there are different ways of measuring progress other than difficulty of pieces played.

Even with working within a student's level of playing, however, there are some nuances that I know just won't happen. It seems with some people there's only so much they can handle at one time, and so if they get the notes and rhythms correct with pedaling, that's about all I can ask. I struggle with the idea of even bothering to address things like phrasing and dynamics. So I can really relate to the poster who talked about students like this requiring more energy than others.
Posted by: manyhands

Re: Questions for teachers of adult students - 02/11/13 08:29 PM

sometimes people hit a learning plateau and pause there a while consolidating gains. That doesn't mean they will go no further. Keeping it positive and fun goes a long way in helping folks have the confidence to stick with it rather than succunbing to the occassional bout of frustration.