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#2086484 - 05/21/13 10:32 PM Re: my student is crying in every lesson [Re: Nikolas]
Peter K. Mose Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/06/12
Posts: 1974
Loc: Toronto, Ontario
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
Today she had her lesson, came in and had studies, yet when she lost it and I told her to start over, little by little she blushed and then she started crying.

Nikolas, all sorts of fine advice or observations already, but I want to understand your above sentence exactly. You say she "had studies" - does that mean that she played some exercises (Hanon, scales, etc.) at the beginning of the lesson?

Does "she lost it" mean she got derailed in playing the studies? Or does it means that she lost composure and started crying?

Having a piano lesson can feel highly judgmental, even moreso in front of two men you are probably close to. Even moreso when you are 13yo and a girl, and your body is hardly yours for a couple of years.

I'd say just carry on and muddle through these challenges: you're likely doing just fine. But get Dad out of the line of sight during lessons, and out of earshot if possible.

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#2087943 - 05/24/13 12:02 PM Re: my student is crying in every lesson [Re: Nikolas]
gracegren Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/02/11
Posts: 142
Loc: California
This is a little off topic, but, as an adult, I used to take voice lessons. One day I went there, starting vocalizing, and wanted to cry because something upsetting had happened. The teacher stated that sometimes her students come to lessons and just want to cry and talk.

As a former school therapist, I often felt like my individual time with the students was the only half hour in the week that they could sit with someone and feel listened to, even if it involved a lot of silence and just playing a game of Uno. She is comfortable enough to let down with you, maybe because she feels safe. That's not a bad thing for her. It would be good to get dad out of the area.
Loving my Kurzweil MPS20 and Numa Compact. Jazz, blues, Latin, and a touch of classical and new age.

#2088050 - 05/24/13 02:12 PM Re: my student is crying in every lesson [Re: Nikolas]
chasingrainbows Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/19/06
Posts: 1591
Loc: NJ
I had a student melt down (she's very shy and 8 years old) the last two piano lessons. I've been teaching her for almost two years. She doesn't seem to like anything I or her Dad pick for her, (I give her many choices of supplemental music), doesn't practice very much. Dad has unrealistic ideas of her ability, asking me to make conservatory recommendations for her in the future. I suspect he started putting a little more pressure on her to practice more. Mom sat in on a lesson, and when I asked the little one if she'd practiced the piece that week (I could sense she had not), she had a major crying melt down. I was shocked and very concerned. Mom eventually left the room and I was able to speak to the child calmly and she was able to finish the lesson. I called the dad and he said it was because he refused to take her to the lesson that day because she had not practiced. The next time Mom sat in, the same thing happened. They dropped after that. I can't imagine having a parent sit in on a 13 year old's lesson, and would probably attribute the emotional breakdown to that factor. I know I would have HATED that when I was a teen.
Piano teacher, BA Music, MTNA member

#2088109 - 05/24/13 03:23 PM Re: my student is crying in every lesson [Re: Nikolas]
TwoSnowflakes Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1981
Ha, I was searching for another topic, and landed on this one. Just wanted to chime in that this WAS ME (well, minus the crying) as a child. Most things came rather easily to me, both on piano and academically, and as a consequence I never really worked very hard. But because I was no prodigy, there's a limit to how far that gets you and teachers found it difficult to coax change or real progress beyond quick sub-mastery of anything.

I really don't know how I might have been persuaded to change, but I suspect that getting really granular with me would have helped. That is, specific instruction on what to have accomplished by next lesson since my inability to really direct myself led to very unfocused practicing, which led to disappointment and frustration at lessons. I just really had a hard time organizing a rational approach to learning something if it lay beyond what could be acquired by simply being good at understanding something quickly. And I think teachers didn't quite know what to do with it either; after all, I was never in any danger of failing anything. And for me, the consequences of not knowing how to apply myself beyond what came easily were really too abstract for me--or any child, really--to understand. I'll share a quick anecdote: In college, I roomed with another "lapsed" pianist and we used to take our books to the music department and reserve a practice room. I learned somewhat abruptly how far 10 years of piano training gets you when you've put in some kind of focused effort. Either because she was more inherently driven to do it well, or was required to, she had skills far beyond mine despite us playing similar pieces. And while it would be convenient to say that she had inherent talent far greater than my own (her family is a recognizably musical family; her uncle is a famous conductor) the honest truth is that she probably didn't--both of us were sort of similar in that we had some adequate measure of innate musicality, and the ability to gain a quick preliminary foothold in most anything, and what came next depended on the quality of the work put in. I think that's when it started to dawn on me that those who succeed without trying are very rare. Because even when you are blessed with great inherent talent (which I am not), you are even more motivated to see how far inherent talent AND hard work get you. The hardest workers that I see are often the brightest, not the other way around. Almost as if they must honor that talent with the work to get as far as possible.

I say all this because I'm starting again now, as an adult, and for the first time in 25 years, I have a piano teacher. I obviously have matured greatly, but still can fall into the same traps. So I make myself ask questions rather than nod passively at all her corrections. I know that later I will not absorb those corrections unless I take active steps to do so. I have her write down things that make sense to me, and solicit particular exercises or approaches that I can use so I am working well when she's not there. I also make sure that at the end of the lesson I seek out a general sense of what we covered and make sure I know precisely what I will be working on and what would constitute the kind of change/progress she thinks is reasonable.

Obviously a young student won't think to do these things, so perhaps one suggestion would be, when you have a student such as this one, to be very explicit as to what you want to see, and what is ok not to have completely fixed by the following lesson. That way you're letting her know WHICH mistakes are ok in the short term, so frustration does not follow when perfection does not occur. Write down what should be worked on, and how. This way, there's no question as to what next week's lesson will build on, and what things are going to be in progress for a while. And if there's the tendency to unfocused practicing or disorganization, something that the student can always do no matter what might give her a better foothold in the task as the week progresses.

For me, it's hard for me to not get overwhelmed when I think about all the things that I need to be working on in my pieces. There's so much I need to go back and improve, and as much as I understand that progress is incremental, it can still be hard to find a cogent approach that does not flood me with too much to do, especially since one downside of adult learning is the fact that practice opportunities can be erratic. So when that happens, I always have a "go to" thing for the week to focus on, which, if nothing else, is something I can sit down and work on no matter what. Last week it was nice arm rotation on arpeggios. This week it's scales with a really nice wrist staccato. That way, when my Chopin nocturne disappoints me in all the ways that it does and I am having difficulty prioritizing my time, I can go on autopilot, get really granular with one thing, and ultimately see tangible improvement in at least one area.

If these things have practical application in my pieces, then by default, I've at least made some kind of progress somewhere in there.

Also, I have the tendency to rush to higher speeds before I've really focused on acquiring what I need to. I know people either love or hate the metronome and while I agree it can sometimes be a detraction to a natural sense of rhythm, for those students who can get frustrated, having an external limit imposed ON them could help to reduce frustration while certain other skills are reinforced and acquired without the pressure to immediately demonstrate those things at regular tempo. So, I DO use it now. Perhaps you could almost...forbid a higher speed until certain precise things are accomplished. It helps me organize my work and also evaluate progress. After all, if I can't play the piece through with no mistakes or scrambling for position, then I should not be speeding up.

Anyway, sorry to threadbomb you here. I just saw some of myself here, and thought perhaps an adult's perspective from having been a frustrated child learner would be useful. After all, frustration is simply the feeling you get when you want to do something you think you should be able to, and can't because you didn't approach the task properly. So, to help someone like that, giving small, precise goals that, individually, are not overwhelming in complexity. Even if they all add up to the same more general goal in the same amount of time. A roadmap for the short (by next lesson) and slightly longer term (by next month) on what reasonable progress looks like, and at least one particular thing that, if time or organization is lacking, can just be tackled without further thought. And for the really frustrated or unfocused student, an actual list with time to be spent doing each thing, and no more than 10-15 minutes for each particular thing you're saying to be worked on.

Well, that's all I can think of for now. Off to go practice! smile

#2088571 - 05/25/13 01:00 PM Re: my student is crying in every lesson [Re: chasingrainbows]
Kimsie Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/29/08
Posts: 95
Loc: Arlington, WA
Originally Posted By: chasingrainbows
I can't imagine having a parent sit in on a 13 year old's lesson, and would probably attribute the emotional breakdown to that factor. I know I would have HATED that when I was a teen.

This is interesting. I almost always sit in on my 16 year old son's lessons. I always have. Music is the most important thing in my son's life and I like to be a part of it to share it with him. He doesn't seem to mind at all, although I think I will ask him if he would prefer that I didn't come, but I suspect that it doesn't matter to him one way or the other. I don't attend his music academy lessons that he goes to on Saturdays, though (they are too boring and his piano lessons are fun!). Perhaps the difference is that my husband and I never thought of his being serious about music, that was his choice. He got us interested in classical music and not the other way around.

#2088580 - 05/25/13 01:34 PM Re: my student is crying in every lesson [Re: Nikolas]
Nikolas Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 6491
Loc: UK
Reason I've not posted is that new work came in suddenly but even more so, I'm meeting with the student tomorrow so I'll see how it goes (on a Sunday, yes). And then on Monday we have our regular lesson so I'll be able to pick up a few more things...

#2089026 - 05/26/13 05:44 AM Re: my student is crying in every lesson [Re: Nikolas]
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4264
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
Hi Nikolas,

The issue of “perfectionist” got me thinking ...
particularly as my vocation as architect has steered me away from perfectionism ... as there is always something more to get right.

Perfectionism in my book, is just an excuse for pulling on the brakes,
and not wanting to go too fast.

All the crying bit makes me wonder whether there is a sufficiency of
snotty handkerchiefs.

PS Piano lessons are a bind for the young ... it’s difficult to sight-read especially as the system of notation is wooly in it’s antiquated Middle Ages concept ... and it doesn’t get any easier as the keyboard studies become more complex.

Perhaps it’s time for the little missy to play with dolls ...
or go and play in the traffic (shouldn’t have said that)...
or better still, go and visit the Parthenon ...
the wonders of the Golden Age of Greece make people fly.

I know ... my feet don’t touch the ground when I think about
Pythagoras, Archimedes, Pericles, Sophocles, Demosthenes, Plato
and the rest.

One of my matric set-work books was called “The Pageant of Greece”
to this day I find myself reading up on the thinking of these great men.

Here’s something by Aristotle on courage

“Courage has to do with fear and confidence and is a Mean.
Men may have too little fear or too much confidence:
there is a word to describe the former of these,
but an excess of confidence is called rashness.
An excess of fear or deficiency of confidence is called cowardice.”

How the heck did they expect matric schoolboys
to understand the depth of Golden Age Greek thinking?
But how I treasure my book “The Pageant of Greece”.

regards, btb

#2089369 - 05/26/13 06:04 PM Re: my student is crying in every lesson [Re: Nikolas]
Nikolas Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 6491
Loc: UK
Reporting back from a rehearsal!


So, today 7 of my students, were in my house for a rehearsal prior to their recital (to happen in a couple of weeks). The girl came, with her father (of course), but the father left.

She felt fine, she didn't cry at all, did her piece a little (though stopped at several points and I did tell her, etc), and she noticed other students were also stopping, making mistakes, etc!

Overall she was very fine and I made sure she was the last to leave, to have 5 minutes alone with her. Again not a problem at all, she played the piece a little, had a joke here and there and then her father came to pick her up.

I'm reaching a conclusion that her father's presence is making her cry... But I'll see tomorrow, and if this does happen (the crying, while today she was fine) I'll make sure not to let him in the lesson again.

#2089453 - 05/26/13 08:19 PM Re: my student is crying in every lesson [Re: Nikolas]
Overexposed Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2651
Thanks for the update. Sounds like the situation is being well managed.


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