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#1558875 11/16/10 10:33 AM
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I started on the piano about a year ago then, in March, I began having lessons with someone recommended to me. Since then I have worked on the Andante from Mozart's K545, Satie Gymnopedie No 1, Schubert Minuette D334, MacDowell's Sweet Lavender, a Mompou piece, Shostakovich C major Prelude from Op 87 and, lastly, Janacek 'Our Evenings' from 'On an overgrown path'.

However, I am feeling more and more discouraged. Often I leave the lesson feeling depressed about how I played and I know I need to get more dynamics and rubato into my playing.

Added to that my teacher has given me a choice of three Amy Beach pieces - none of which particularly appeal to me and the one that seems the most interesting (Dreaming, Op 15 No 3) is really a very great challenge. So I inevitably think 'is it really worth the effort' whilst I practise it.

The teacher is very talented and (inevitably) a much better musician that I could ever be, however he is a mature student taking a Master's in composition - not a professional piano teacher, and his knowledge of the musical repertoire is centred on the late C19 and the C20.

So, what to do? My inclination is to take a break from formal lessons - say for a month - to enable me to regroup. I would feel guilty about changing teachers, partly because he has helped me a great deal and I have progressed a lot whilst being with him, but also because I guess that he finds the money very, very helpful. Added to that, I have no way of knowing what any other teacher would be like.

Any thoughts?

Last edited by John_B; 11/16/10 10:33 AM.
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John_B #1558884 11/16/10 10:46 AM
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Definitely look into getting a different teacher. It sounds as though he is very limited in the music that he teaches, and you are missing out on some excellent music. Also, it sounds as though he doesn't have a clear idea of what a beginner student should be playing. A year of piano for most people does not bring them to the point of playing a sonata movement, for example.

A good teacher inspires you and you leave feeling like you want to go home and play more. Leaving feeling discouraged means this person is not doing their job. You are not responsible for making sure your teacher makes enough money. You are paying him to teach you, and it doesn't sound as though he's the right match for you.

I would discontinue lessons as quickly as your teacher's policy allows for, and if they don't have a policy, give them 2 weeks' notice. Begin your search for a new teacher during this time, interview with them, and think about the things that you don't like about this teacher, and what you'd like to get from lessons. This will help you find a teacher that matches you well.


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John_B #1558949 11/16/10 12:41 PM
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Morodiene,

Thanks for your thoughts.

Your advice makes logical sense though I feel uncomfortable with the thought of leaving my current teacher and the idea of searching for another fills me with apprehension. (I know - get a grip and stop being a wimp!)

In fairness to my teacher, I should mention that I've played the classical guitar, off and on (and more off than on) for decades and I played the piano (not very well) as teenager. So I was very familiar with musical notation and already knew my way around the keyboard. Also my hands had been used to doing weird and odd things - though quite different weird and odd things!

The fault for the Mozart movement is mine. I had been practising it before I started with the teacher (although, in retrospect, it was way too ambitious of me). He, forebearingly, then helped me with it.

To get some idea of where I am at - it took me three weeks to get Janacek's "Our Evenings" under my fingers in the sense that I could play through the piece accurately, at approaching the right temp (not that I had it *comfortably* under my fingers). But, of course, that is the very start of being able to play a piece. Some months ago when he gave me Schubert D334, he was very surprised when I played the first section (i.e. not including the trio section) through the week after.

As it happens, I have a far broader acquaintance with classical music (renaissance to C20, instrumental to orchestral) than he has . It has been one of my passions for most of my life.

Last edited by John_B; 11/16/10 02:09 PM.
John_B #1558968 11/16/10 01:05 PM
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I'm not being unfair to your teacher, but it is apparent that he is not the right teacher for you. Nothing against him or you, but it's not working out. There is no reason to feel "depressed" after lessons! None!

Again, it's not a criticism of him, but simply not a good partnership between you two. Any good teacher will understand this and most likely feel the same way and just waiting for you to arrive a the same conclusion.


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John_B #1559072 11/16/10 04:14 PM
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If you want to stick with your current teacher, I would suggest taking a program of repertoire to him and saying "this is what I want to work through". Teachers kind of like the way adults enjoy being systematic, so this won't come across as being inappropriate.

My best suggestion is that you acquire The Spirit series published by Alfred, edited by Nancy Bachus, and ask your teacher to help you work your way through these collections. There is a two-volume collection for the Baroque, the Classical, the Romantic and the "Beyond Romantic" periods, each book covering a wide range of styles from that period. Nancy's choices include my absolute favourite pieces (at this not-so-crazy-hard level) as well as pieces I'd never come across before. Based on your OP I imagine you should be able to learn a new piece each week (in the sense of mastering the fingerwork elements) and can then quickly proceed to the fun stuff in learning how to control tone and attack and pace for the most effective interpretation.

This way you will be introducing yourself to the best of the entire classical canon at a level that will allow you to improve rather than be discouraged!!!

Good luck!


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John_B #1559181 11/16/10 07:36 PM
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I'll second Elissa's suggestion. I like to choose my own pieces, but always get her advice regarding whether it will be good for my development. Sometimes i look through a syllabus to find pieces at the right sort of level (and also because I want to take exams). My teacher thinks it's perfectly reasonable when I say that I will not spend time on a piece that I can't love (at least grow to love!). If that doesn't fix the depressed feeling after lessons, then hunting for a new teacher may be best.

You know I always hope that my students would find it easy to leave me if they wanted to at any time. So what I do is at this time of year I have a conversation with each family where I give the impression that I assume that they will finish at end of year (december in australia). Then it's up to them to say "oh no, we want to continue". I phrase it as " I will reserve your time IF you are continuing.
Because I would HATE someone to continue out of a sense of obligation!!! That would be crazy and undesirable. You are not obliged, there will always be more students.


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John_B #1559270 11/16/10 10:17 PM
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I agree, it only makes sense that once in a while (years usually...but not always) you'll want to study with a different teacher. If you got to the conclusion that its not a great match I don't think there's nothing wrong with finding a new teacher. It doesn't mean necessarily that the current teacher is not good....but it means that currently he's not good for you. You definitely shouldn't leave your lessons depressed, you should leave them inspired ! Besides the good comments above I want to add that maybe also trying different styles of music can be enjoyable and inspiring. It doesn't have to be instead but can be in addition. Whatever styles you're enjoying listening to can be fun exploring through the piano keys. Rock, Jazz,Blues, Pop what ever gets you excited and inspired!
good luck...and remember that there's always ups & downs...so I'm sure that if you'll take some action you can find again your enjoyment and passion for piano
in the near future.


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John_B #1559444 11/17/10 06:10 AM
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Everybody is talking about pieces. Choice of pieces - which pieces are better. When we are beginners, our ability to play has to be developed. Even if a teacher uses only pieces, that has to lie underneath the teaching. That's what we draw on.

Supposing we're not taught technique, starting with basic things; also how to practice, how to approach pieces and with some understanding --- then things we try will be hard. It's muddy and confusing. If this teacher is a composition student and still young, does he know how to develop a new student? Or even think of it?

There has to be some sense of progress in that sense; and maybe a sense of direction. Otherwise you're just playing ever new pieces that get corrected with this and that being drawn out (without knowing physically how to do so - maybe). It's not motivating - at least it wouldn't be for me.

John_B #1559497 11/17/10 09:31 AM
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That's a really good point, keystring..... And I think your post draws attention to what is certainly missing in the lessons being taken by the OP!

I'm guessing from the details provided in the posts that this young teacher has a particular repertoire barrow to push, a plan for teaching musical style as compared to keyboard technique. Now lots of teachers avoid teaching material from the 20th century almost completely once students have reached a certain level, and younger teachers (I was one) feel a moral obligation to address this imbalance.

But in this case the material being taught is ill-judged in terms of difficulty more than anything else. This absolutely suggests that there is no particular plan for improving the keyboard skills of the student, more a plan for rounding out (in the eyes of the teacher) the musical taste of the student (!)

A well-chosen variety of pieces will be an excellent program for developing technique, one skill at a time, when taught by a teacher who has that aim (teaching keyboard skills) as a fundamental aspect of the lessons. Rather than teaching skills free of context, the student sees an example of when the skill comes in handy in an existing musical context, even while mastering that skill. In my experience this is a more effective approach to technique than introducing a new skill outside of repertoire: the student is already learning how to identify when that skill presents itself in a piece of music, and is gaining practice skills in the process.

Ideally, the student then has the opportunity to use the same skill in a new piece of music (ideally composed in a different time, place and style), and this tests the mastery of that skill immediately in a new musical context.



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John_B #1559511 11/17/10 10:07 AM
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Thank you, everyone, for your very helpful comments.

As far as learning pieces is concerned, perhaps an ideal arrangement for me would be to mix the approach of going through a range of more easily graspable pieces which cover a wide range of technique with working on a sequence of more substantial pieces over a longer term. I think I would get a little frustrated with the standard approach, e.g. the Janacek 'Our Evenings' might not be thought of as appropriate for me but I value having learnt that piece infinitely more than any number of the general run of pieces, as good as those might be. I suppose that is one of the problems with an adult learner who has a pretty wide knowledge of, and love of, classical music in various genres - they have defined musical tastes!

Kerstring mentioned that there is much more to learning an instrument than learning pieces. Of course learning pieces, though it carries a great deal of the burden in developing skills and technique, is just one aspect of developing musicianship. I think that can be taken as read. (Too some extent, my previous experience from learning the classical guitar is applicable to the the piano, or any other musical instrument - and that is very helpful.)

Dror Perl, talking about other styles of music - unfortunately I'm one of those people whose interest is almost entirely centred on classical music - though very widely ranging, from renaissance to C20 'difficult' composers.

I have a lesson due this evening and I am going to find the situation uncomfortable but, hey, I'm supposed to be a grown up (apart from being in my second childhood, that is). I'm pretty bad about making these decisions so I will probably arrange to take a month's break. (I know, this is probably just putting off making a decision.)

John_B #1559606 11/17/10 02:02 PM
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When the teacher hears "taking a break" they know it means "leaving"; you might as well just come out and say it. In fact, the teacher will likely appreciate the honesty more than the sugar coating.


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david_a #1559758 11/17/10 07:30 PM
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Originally Posted by david_a
When the teacher hears "taking a break" they know it means "leaving"; you might as well just come out and say it. In fact, the teacher will likely appreciate the honesty more than the sugar coating.
+1


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John_B #1560100 11/18/10 10:57 AM
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Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts and helpful advice.

Last night I went to my lesson intending, at the very least to say I wanted a break (I saw David's post too late).

I felt more relaxed at the lesson than usual, perhaps because I said at the outset that I hadn't done much work. We went through the Janacek "Our Evenings" (which, originally, was a piece that I had asked if we could work on at). Balance of voices in a few areas, building of rubato in some places, and improving the rits, etc. He also said that the final extended section (before the opening theme returns in the closing bars) was impressively good, and that the piece was almost 'done' (though, of course, I will want to revisit it after we have 'finished' it in lessons and try to take it further towards the elusive and unattainable 'done').

After that, I told him how I had been feeling discouraged and sometimes left the lessons depressed - and we talked. It was very useful indeed and I came away from the lesson feeling much more positive than I have for a long time. Curiously, the thought of taking a break (or finishing lessons with him) disappeared. I think we might be able to work something out. Probably to retrench and consolidate by using a book like Elissa recommended or, say, the grade books for Trinity Guildhall (I don't find the music for the ABRSM grades that appealing) [deleted - silly thing to say], etc, etc.

Another factor has been my self critical nature together with wanting to stretch myself (he did say that I set very high standards for myself, which was a nice thing to say). So retrenching and period of consolidation is probably a good idea.

He might not have all of the skills of a professional piano teacher but, for now, I think it might work out.

I think it is a little unfair of me to just characterise him as an mature student, though that is true (he is 29), and although what I said before is true - the choice of pieces is at least partly due to my own influence! He is actually a remarkable young man, especially as he left school early and only later found his way into studying music at university. He conducts a choir, sings in another and accompanies people in and around the university. I came across him through a lecturer who is now the head of the university music department. (I had been on two inspirational courses he gave for the general public, on Shostakovich and Messiaen, and so took the opportunity to ask him for a recommendation.) (He said he held him in the "highest professional regard". Mind you, he might have thought anybody would do for an old duffer like me!

Apologies for rambling on interminably.

And thank you all for your patience and very helpful suggestions.

Last edited by John_B; 11/18/10 01:03 PM.
John_B #1560199 11/18/10 02:24 PM
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Congratulations John! I'm happy for you. Your honesty with your teacher has paid off.

John_B #1560242 11/18/10 03:43 PM
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One of the big lessons indeed; if you're not satisfied with the way things are going, say something.


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