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Advice needed about an adult pupil


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#1 jenny

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Posted 02 July 2019 - 10:31

A lesson yesterday with an adult pupil took a very unexpected turn and I'd appreciate advice from others. He's been having lessons with me for just over two years, was a complete beginner when he started and has been the most hard working, enthusiastic adult pupil I've ever taught. He bought himself a very good digital piano and right from the start was practising for at least an hour a day, often getting up early in the morning to practise before going to work. He became very interested in theory, as many adults do, and took Grade 4 recently, having passed Grade 3 last November with 100 marks. On the practical side, he started with an adult tutor book, but then progressed to using quite a wide range of other books so that he was introduced to different genres and composers. He has done a lot of work on scales and sight reading but has not been thinking about taking practical exams.

He arrived for his lesson yesterday and seemed rather subdued and a bit 'down', so we chatted about how his week had gone and how he was feeling. He told me that he feels as though he's lost his enthusiasm for playing, although he insisted that he definitely wants to keep playing and having lessons. We discussed various ways of trying to remedy this and I suggested bringing more structure into his practice sessions, which he seemed to agree with. But I have to admit that I was very taken aback and am now trying to think of ways to help him. I know that he feels that his sight reading is holding him back from playing pieces that he would like to play, which is something that most pupils feel. It's obvious that after his 'flying start' he has now plateaued and I need to find ways of getting him past this and get the passion back into his practising,

He really enjoys playing music by Martha Mier and Barbara Arens and is not so keen on/comfortable with baroque and classical composers, although he has been working through some technical studies books. I'd be very grateful for any ideas from other teachers who might have found themselves in this kind of situation.               


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#2 HelenVJ

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Posted 02 July 2019 - 10:58

I'll come up with some more ideas later, but meanwhile - firstly plateau-ing is very normal, and it's quite pleasant to stop and admire the scenery where you are right now, rather than endlessly plodding upwards. So much wonderful music available - my students are enjoying the new Small Hands book, only 50% of which is music by Arens, so there is more variety. The Gillock/Czerny book is another favourite.

Secondly - duets, ensemble playing etc, and maybe an informal adult performance evening, with adult students playing to each other? A good duet book at this stage is Alfred's Essential Keyboard Duets ( probably Vol 3 would be the right level).


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#3 mel2

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Posted 02 July 2019 - 11:03

Anyone can have an off-week.
I wouldn't do anything for a little while, just wait and see how he is in a week or two.
I remember an adult student of mine having a bad lesson and I felt dreadful, imagining all sorts of failings on my part but the next week he apologized. Work had been heavy, he hadn't slept well and so was generally out-of-sorts.
Perhaps your man would enjoy something like a composition project, or maybe you could devise a 'workbook' based on a piece he would like to play but is currently beyond him?
He could analyse it, spot the intervals, find patterns, identify key-changes, learn small sections, improvise around them... It might take a couple of days for you to compile but you might be able to re-use the format for other pupils.
It would give him a rest from his other tasks if nothing else.
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#4 Latin pianist

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Posted 02 July 2019 - 12:23

I fancied having a look at the Small Hands book but found it was nearly £18 on Amazon. I really couldn't ask any of my students to pay that and at the moment not sure I can run to that for a copy to lend out.
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#5 HelenVJ

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Posted 02 July 2019 - 12:35

LP, I think it's slightly cheaper vis musicroom.com. I bought a copy for myself, and a few of my adults have been happy to buy their own. There are 40 pieces, so it should last a couple of years, and I think overall it's a pretty good investment. Less than the cost of one lesson!


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#6 Dorcas

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Posted 02 July 2019 - 12:37

Ah, the dreaded sight reading issue.  Can you rermind your student how far he has travelled musically?  I once had an adult who insisted I spent his entire lesson giving him an inspirational speech, and refused to play a note.  I can normally manage a couple of minutes, or five at a push, but half an hour, and I was sick of the sound of my own voice.  He insisted it was my job to motivate him.  He had a point, but a limited one.  Realising that learning an instrument will always be a work in progress can make many people flag a bit. Sometimes a different choice of repertoire can help, but in the end, students and circumstances change and motivation is not infinite.


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#7 jenny

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Posted 02 July 2019 - 13:17

I do remind him regularly how far he's come in a relatively short time but he brushes off my praise somewhat. I know that he lacks self confidence and I felt very moved when he told me last autumn that he wanted to do a theory exam because he had always been 'a failure' at school and wanted to prove that he could succeed in an exam. He took Grade 3 and got 100 marks! He doesn't open up to me very much, so it's hard to tell if this was just a bad week for him. I know he has recently joined a gym after having some health concerns and is going there three evenings a week, so obviously his routine has changed lately. I suppose I was left feeling that perhaps he needs a change of teacher, although I have no reason to think that he's thinking that. I suggested that he might like to work at a certain grade level for a while, concentrating on the scales, sight reading and pieces at that level, as though he were preparing for an exam (even if he doesn't take the exam). He seemed to like that idea and it would provide some structure to his practising and to our lessons. He has an hour's lesson every week so there is plenty of time to fit in Grade 5 theory work as well. By the way, he is borrowing my copy of the Small Hands book by Barbara Arens, as well as her Rendezvous with Midnight.      


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#8 Dorcas

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Posted 02 July 2019 - 14:31

It sounds like you are trying everything you can.  Students go through cycles, and for adults it is no different.  From what you have just said about the health issue and going to the gym three times a week, that will impact on his availability to practise, and impact on his perception of success.  


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#9 BadStrad

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Posted 02 July 2019 - 14:42

You're probably already doing this, but I think one of the things that can really help is learning to spend time with the music before you take it to your instrument.  This pupil likes theory from the sound of it so that's half the battle.  Perhaps you could spend time with him "approaching" a new piece.   For example:-

Look at the key signature - what are the sharps and flats?  Are there any accidentals?  Is it a minor key?  Mentally play through the scale.

Find the cadences.  Mark them in (use a photocopy maybe). 

Look at how the phrases are structured, length, repeated patterns, etc. Spotting that a pattern repeats rather than seeing it as a new thing every time it crops up makes the piece less work.

Are there any bits that look tricky?  Maybe a complicated rhythm?  Tap them out on the table or knees, slowly.  As slow as they can, not as fast as they can't.

You get the idea.

 

Then once he has a feel for the piece, even if he can't hear it off the page, he'll have some idea of where to start work when he gets to his piano rather than starting at the first bar and plodding through it and meeting the "obstacles" as he goes along. 


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#10 hummingbird

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Posted 02 July 2019 - 15:00

If you wouldn't mind some input from an adult student...

 

Learning the piano can be such a lonely experience sometimes.  It's very different from other instruments where you can join a band or orchestra; and even if you have a friend who is learning, say, the sax, you've got to be at quite a decent level before you can accompany.

 

Teachers often say how good this forum is for feeling that they're not alone, and the same can be said for adult students too.  Very often adult students have no-one who they can talk to about their musical journey, or even if they do have someone to talk to about it, very few people except other adult students really understand the journey.  One of the great things about this forum is the feeling that you're not alone on the journey, and that there's always somebody ready to listen to your tale of woe, or to celebrate your achievements with you, or to help you in-between lessons.  I've been a member of this forum for 13 years and it's been a lifeline on more than one occasion when I've felt particularly down about my progress.  So I would suggest to him that he joins this forum of like-minded souls so that his musical journey isn't an isolating one and he realises that we all have the same peaks, troughs and plateaux smile.png


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#11 vron

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Posted 02 July 2019 - 16:58

A an adult learner of coming up to 3 years I can relate to all he says and feels as well as to the answers given. We have all been there and in fact just this week I have had one of those weeks where motivation has been low. It started with a slight attack of the dizzies which meant practice has been limited and progress was non - existent and then the rest of the week has seemed a hard slog coupled with a piece which I am really struggling with meant a loss of motivation. It has happened before and I now know it will pass and enthusiasm will be back and that in the meantime if I don't do so much it won't hurt long term. I have revisited a few easier pieces and also done some gardening and not worried about it.

It may be that so far your student has found it relatively easy to progress practically with the amount of practice he does and his theory results indicate he has a good grasp of what is going on. he may have hit a patch where for the first time it is not within his grasp as easily and it has knocked his confidence.
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#12 Gran'piano

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Posted 02 July 2019 - 17:17

Do you know why the guy started lessons in the first place? Does he know? Did he have a specific goal or an idea of what he wanted to achieve? Thinking this over  might remind him how far he has already come.

 

Learning to play the piano as an adult is indeed a lonely life and I suppose having access to so much music of such a high qualitiy is inspiring but also depressing to see (hear) how far we are from reaching this level.

 

Hope you find a good solution.


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#13 jenny

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Posted 02 July 2019 - 18:01

Thank you all so much for your replies. As always, this forum is so helpful and I really appreciate all of your suggestions. I have to say that I've never taught anyone like him before and I've been so impressed by his passion for playing the piano and for all the hard work he puts in at home. He was a complete beginner when he started and his wife started lessons with me at the same time, but gave up after only a couple of months. I got the feeling that she was a bit daunted by the progress that he was making. They are a rather shy couple and I remember that he told me that he was glad he could approach me about lessons through my website, as he would have been too shy to talk to me on the phone. I'm not sure what motivated him to decide to have piano lessons and they didn't have an instrument at home, although I think his wife plays the guitar. He has told me that his parents are really thrilled to hear him play, although he was so nervous about playing to anyone at the start (even his wife) that he was shaking. I really like your idea of suggesting he join the adult students' forum, hummingbird - that's something I'd not thought of and I'll certainly suggest it to him.        


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#14 vron

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Posted 02 July 2019 - 18:51

May I make the suggestion that if you do encourage your student to joint the forum, that you delete your post. If your student is as shy as you say he might not like the idea of being talked about . I am a student but visit and read posts from every section , not just the adult beginners section.
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#15 ten left thumbs

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Posted 02 July 2019 - 19:31

Beginners, especially motivated adults, can get an addictive giddiness out of progressing quickly - practicing well and loving getting stuff to work, the magic of making their fingers do things they had previously dreamed of. But the speed of progress doesn't last. That is, it feels like a plateau (a word already mentioned). It isn't really a plateau - all that time the coordination is improving, legato is consolidating and the hands are learning about balance and tone - but it can feel like I've not learned anything new in the last 6 months. It may help to address this directly with him.

 

Also, I know it's not against the rules, but it is odd for a student to go ahead in theory well beyond their practical level. It may be he has a strong need to be absolutely correct about things. And that is possible when you're writing down the correct note, but not always the best attitude to take to playing music. Maybe he needs some improvisation to take him out of his 'box'? Of course, he may be doing this already. 


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