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How to tell you are making progress
#1966915 09/30/12 03:32 PM
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Hello everybody!

Since I am fairly new to the forum, I think I should quickly introduce myself, since it will help with understanding my question.

Twenty years ago during an exchange year abroad, I had access to a piano in my host school. There was a teacher - but she only looked in every couple of weeks or so, gave a comment or two and that was it. Consider me trying to teach myself during that year.

Fast forward 18 years. After finally moving into a house of our own, with no neighbours wall to wall and the space and the financial backing, I fulfilled my longtime dream and bought an accoustic piano.

The first weeks I pratctised on my own while I hunted for and finally found a piano teacher that I liked. (Seems to me that in my area piano teachers haven't really embraced Web 2.0 yet... Either that, or there are amazingly few piano teachers here in the middle of Nowhere.) She first straightened out all the wrong things I managed to teach myself, like seating position and finally managed to teach me how to play staccato and legato. Since I work fulltime my progress was slow, but steady and for me recognizable. Each piece was more complex than the last one: more voices, syncopation, letting a finger rest on a key while playing with the other fingers of that hand and so on. While she didn't tell me what she wanted to achieve with each new piece I could usually guess it and as I trusted her, I wasn't bothered that she didn't tell me on my own.

After a year, she moved away. The school that I had my tutoring contract with supplied a new teacher. She is... nice. A very nice person. But while I am connecting to her well on a personal level, I am not sure if her way of teaching is right for me.

I am a teacher of biology and chemistry and for me it is very important to point out to the students where we are in our progress of learning and what challenges will await them next. I sort of assumed the same would be true for teaching an instrument - but either that is not the case or such is not the way of my teacher.

She does not tell my why we work on a new piece. Unlike with my first teacher, I can't see a progression in complexity or something new in a piece that would be the reason for choosing it.

A lot of people complain about technical exercises like scales or arpeggios or such. I did those when I learned to play the guitar, but we have never done them on the piano. We don't use a book, only copied sheet music, so I can't even say: oh, another page finished. I *am* making progress.

The last pieces we played are Prelude in C major from Bach's 12 Little Preludes, Bach's Menuett in D minor from Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach and Mozart's Menuett in F major. All of them are from Schott editions - no idea wether they are the original versions or edited versions to make them easier. I even have no idea wether I should still consider myself a beginner or an advanced beginner or what...

Emotionally, it feels as if I am *not* making progress, as if I hit a plateau that I somehow can't get pass. That might be only in my head - I can't tell. I miss signs of clear progress.

When I addressed that to my piano teacher, she told me I shouldn't be so systematical. Yeah, I admit it: that might be the science teacher in me.

But is it wrong of me to expect clear signs of progress? Should I adjust my attitude? Or is my teacher keeping her cards to close to her chest and should I look for a new one?

I am half tempted to leave the music school as it is. Not because of the teacher, but because of the fact that at the same time that we have our lessons, a trumpet is playing in one of the neighboring rooms and a violin in another at a volume that I wouldn't find tolerable even if I did not try to concentrate on getting thirds right. Maybe I should look for a school with better sound proofing or a teacher that teaches outside a school.

Any comments or suggestions are very much appreciated.


Currently working on: Venetian Gondola song by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
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Re: How to tell you are making progress
Barbareola #1966943 09/30/12 04:15 PM
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As a fellow teacher (not piano) I don't find it unreasonable to see your progress.

As in teaching we say its a process of climbing a ladder, you are to reach a goal and hit targets along the way.

TBH the progress is so incremental in piano sometimes you don't see it. The Aaron book I learnt from the pieces all introduced something new in them.

Either write a reflective journal so you can see the incremental progress better or film yourself.

Its almost embarrassing to watch old videos of myself thinking I could play compared to now.

Re: How to tell you are making progress
Barbareola #1966964 09/30/12 04:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Barbareola
...
But is it wrong of me to expect clear signs of progress? Should I adjust my attitude? Or is my teacher keeping her cards to close to her chest and should I look for a new one?

....


No. Of course it's not wrong of you. As an adult learner your teacher should be prepared to map out the big picture for you and to recognise that you bring your other life experience (and teaching skills) to the piano.


Guitar since 1966. Piano (Kawai DP80) since 2011.
Re: How to tell you are making progress
Barbareola #1966967 09/30/12 04:42 PM
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When you learned to speak your mother tongue as a child were you concerned about your progress?

Would it have improved your progress if you had worried about it?


Learner
Re: How to tell you are making progress
Barbareola #1967176 10/01/12 03:17 AM
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Good question: how to meausure progress.

I don't have a teacher, so my "calculated" progress is measured by the pieces I can play - in this case pieces are like small steps towards a major goal-. On the other side, my "spiritual" progress is measured by the pleasure I have playing something or, better, the feelings I have when I play something.

In any case it depends on your objectives: do you want to be a master pianist or do you play for pleasure/fun? Define your objective so you can measure your progress.


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Re: How to tell you are making progress
Barbareola #1967195 10/01/12 06:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Barbareola

I am a teacher of biology and chemistry and for me it is very important to point out to the students where we are in our progress of learning and what challenges will await them next. I sort of assumed the same would be true for teaching an instrument - but either that is not the case or such is not the way of my teacher.


Emotionally, it feels as if I am *not* making progress, as if I hit a plateau that I somehow can't get pass. That might be only in my head - I can't tell. I miss signs of clear progress.

When I addressed that to my piano teacher, she told me I shouldn't be so systematical. Yeah, I admit it: that might be the science teacher in me.


Learning to play the piano is not a science where progress is measurable in numbers, or anything like that.

Basically, the learning process not linear. With math, for example, if every day you put a dollar in a piggy bank, after 7 days you have 7 dollars.

With the piano, if you practice for an hour a day, after 7 days you may see a little bit of progress, no progress, or a good bit of progress. Or the benefit of what you practiced might show up 6 months later in an unexpected place in your playing.

Also, one problem students can have is that, once past the beginning stage, where things are very simple, and thus mastered quickly, the progress can be slower, as the material becomes more complex. Thus, you have to look at a bigger picture, measured in 6 month to a year segments, to get a fair glimpse of your progress.

As for your teacher, it sounds like she is not helping you at all in gauging progress by just handing out copied sheets.

If you want to continue with her, I would suggest purchasing your own books and sheet music. Go on-line in your search if no well-stocked music store is handy.

Get a book of scales, and ask her to show you how to play them. And get a book or sheet music of that music you are studying, and use that instead of those copied sheets. Having printed materials would go a long way to helping you solidify your progress. And books are, well, books, and have a special cachet all of their own that copied sheets do not. I still have books from my piano studies as a child.

Your questions and concerns are very valid.


Piano teacher.
Re: How to tell you are making progress
Barbareola #1967204 10/01/12 06:55 AM
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hello Barbareola!

difficult question you are asking! But you already give a pretty cool answer yourself, with your prior teacher, you didn't have so much clues about your progress, but you didn't care much because you had trust in your teacher. I guess this is the main problem, you don't trust your new teacher, which is totally legitimate, you need some times to get to know better the person,...

However, if after a while, and talking to your teacher, you still have hesitations, I would change teacher, to find one you like, like your previous teacher! But if you don't have so many options because of lack of teachers, I could continue with the actual one. Better have a teacher than nothing, I'm pretty much sure about that (there are exceptions, right?)

You don't feel much progress usually, or maybe a lot of progress the firs year, with the basics, but then, you need sometimes months or years before you realize yourself what you have done!

best,

merlin

Re: How to tell you are making progress
Barbareola #1967236 10/01/12 08:38 AM
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Originally Posted by Barbareola

She does not tell my why we work on a new piece. Unlike with my first teacher, I can't see a progression in complexity or something new in a piece that would be the reason for choosing it.


You should ask her to explain why she picked that piece for you. Also it sounds like you are at the point where you should be able to suggest some pieces to start working on for yourself.

Originally Posted by Barbareola

A lot of people complain about technical exercises like scales or arpeggios or such. I did those when I learned to play the guitar, but we have never done them on the piano.


This strikes me as a little odd. I thought most people worked on scales, arpeggios, and technical (e.g. Hanon) exercises at basically every practice.

Originally Posted by Barbareola

All of them are from Schott editions - no idea wether they are the original versions or edited versions to make them easier.

I would compare these with http://imslp.org/wiki/ to find out whether they are simplified arrangements.

Originally Posted by Barbareola

I miss signs of clear progress.
When I addressed that to my piano teacher, she told me I shouldn't be so systematical. Yeah, I admit it: that might be the science teacher in me.

I don't blame you. I'm an engineer and I like to see progress as well. You should be able to at least see this in the level of the pieces you are playing. Also I think your teacher's answer is a cop out. She should be able to tell you in detail the areas in which you are improving: better timing, expression, dynamic control, sight reading, pedaling, etc. There are a lot of useful comments she could make other than what she said.

Originally Posted by Barbareola

But is it wrong of me to expect clear signs of progress? Should I adjust my attitude? Or is my teacher keeping her cards to close to her chest and should I look for a new one?

I am half tempted to leave the music school as it is...

It sounds like you would flourish under a better teacher that could provide more structured practice, constructive feedback, and a clearer path forward for you and also be in a quieter environment. I like the idea of finding a new teacher who teaches from their home.

Hope that helps and welcome to the ABF! smile


"Today you are the perfect age to chase your dream." - Jon Acuff
Re: How to tell you are making progress
Barbareola #1967328 10/01/12 01:04 PM
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<<How to tell you are making progress>>

A study plan with Targets, Standards and Benchmarks to work towards. Then Practice logs, audits and reviews to measure and track progress against items in the plan.... many, many ways.


Last edited by EJR; 10/01/12 01:04 PM.
Re: How to tell you are making progress
Bentissimo #1967329 10/01/12 01:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Bentissimo
Originally Posted by Barbareola

She does not tell my why we work on a new piece. Unlike with my first teacher, I can't see a progression in complexity or something new in a piece that would be the reason for choosing it.


You should ask her to explain why she picked that piece for you. Also it sounds like you are at the point where you should be able to suggest some pieces to start working on for yourself.

Originally Posted by Barbareola

A lot of people complain about technical exercises like scales or arpeggios or such. I did those when I learned to play the guitar, but we have never done them on the piano.


This strikes me as a little odd. I thought most people worked on scales, arpeggios, and technical (e.g. Hanon) exercises at basically every practice.

Originally Posted by Barbareola

All of them are from Schott editions - no idea wether they are the original versions or edited versions to make them easier.

I would compare these with http://imslp.org/wiki/ to find out whether they are simplified arrangements.

Originally Posted by Barbareola

I miss signs of clear progress.
When I addressed that to my piano teacher, she told me I shouldn't be so systematical. Yeah, I admit it: that might be the science teacher in me.

I don't blame you. I'm an engineer and I like to see progress as well. You should be able to at least see this in the level of the pieces you are playing. Also I think your teacher's answer is a cop out. She should be able to tell you in detail the areas in which you are improving: better timing, expression, dynamic control, sight reading, pedaling, etc. There are a lot of useful comments she could make other than what she said.

Originally Posted by Barbareola

But is it wrong of me to expect clear signs of progress? Should I adjust my attitude? Or is my teacher keeping her cards to close to her chest and should I look for a new one?

I am half tempted to leave the music school as it is...

It sounds like you would flourish under a better teacher that could provide more structured practice, constructive feedback, and a clearer path forward for you and also be in a quieter environment. I like the idea of finding a new teacher who teaches from their home.

Hope that helps and welcome to the ABF! smile


Agreed 100%!

It's not at all wrong of you to want to take a clear and systematic approach to your lessons, Barbareola. It may be that your current teacher knows to bring along a student but needs to take the time to make the process more transparent to you — or it may be that she is not able to elucidate her approach, and you will never be fully comfortable with her as your teacher.

Definitely, a quieter environment would be beneficial.

Good luck and keep us posted!


Deborah
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Re: How to tell you are making progress
Barbareola #1968233 10/03/12 12:18 PM
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Thanks everybody for your feedback. It gave me lot to think about.

I think that in the mid-term, I will be looking for a new teacher. But I will take my time to carefully consider what kind of teacher I need, to look for that teacher and to part with my current teacher with the grace and consideration that she does deserve.

I am likely to come up with many other questions, for example about sight reading. I am very happy to have found a place where other people who love the piano come together. Especially adults who like me decided to challenge the assumption that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. smile


Currently working on: Venetian Gondola song by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
Re: How to tell you are making progress
Barbareola #1968294 10/03/12 03:15 PM
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If I read between the lines, here is the question I see:

"My new teacher is very nice, and I like her as a person, but I'm not sure she is teaching me well."

My answer:

Start looking for a new teacher.

Re: How to tell you are making progress
TromboneAl #1968299 10/03/12 03:27 PM
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You could do what I am doing and use a music board exam system to track what level you are at. I am using the ABRSM syllabus. It has 9 pieces for each grade up to grade 8. I am going to polish each piece for each grade before moving onto the next. I will also try to incorporate some extra pieces to keep me interested and for sight reading practice.

I'll also learn the scales and arpeggios required for that grade as well.


My blog tracking my progress as I learn the piano.

http://www.pianoendeavour.blogspot.com
Re: How to tell you are making progress
Barbareola #1968556 10/04/12 04:53 AM
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I think measuring progress on short timescales is very difficult, because there are fluctutations. Sometimes you feel you are not only making no progress but are actually going backwards. Also, in my experience there are extended plateaus, followed by periods of breakthrough. On long timescales however, a great way to measure progress is to revisit work from long ago. I was reminded of this very recently when I happened across the score to a piece I had given up on a few years ago. It's a piece I really like, so back then I was quite keen to work at it but I soon realised it wasn't going to happen. Now, however, I found I could sit down and read my way
through it and I don't think it will take too much work to learn. It's very encouraging when you realise that in the intervening years, your skills have improved sufficiently to play things that were demonstrably beyond you the last time you tried.

Re: How to tell you are making progress
Barbareola #1968665 10/04/12 11:05 AM
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Here how you know. When you finally play a piece fairly well, and think back to how much you struggled with it at first.

Remember even for more advanced pianists every new piece is a challenge. Experience shortens the time frame considerably but there are not many shortcuts. Really learning a piece is like investing. Steady progress over a long time gets the job done.


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Re: How to tell you are making progress
Barbareola #1968730 10/04/12 01:37 PM
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There is the question of a second teacher replacing a first teacher, not by the OP's choice. The first teacher clearly worked methodically toward defined goals in the beginning, and subsequent music still showed purpose. With the second teacher that sense vanished. It is possible that the second teacher is not working toward goals, or that with the second teacher the goals are not as obvious. The fact of photocopied material is a concern.

Re: How to tell you are making progress
Barbareola #1971170 10/10/12 04:10 AM
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How to tell you are making progress? By looking back at where you were a few weeks/months/years ago and seeing it as the large gaps in time make it absurdly obvious.

How to tell you are making progress in real time? By very disciplined practice from session to session and you'll steadily be able to play your piece(s)/exercises in question arbitrarily better. There's extensive advice on how to practice on these forums and also just the internet in general. Regarding learning individual pieces anew, I like Josh Wright / Robert Estrin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-en1Bi7kwY&feature=relmfu


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