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#2208762 - 01/05/14 03:41 PM Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period
Peter K. Mose Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/06/12
Posts: 1973
Loc: Toronto, Ontario
(As a teacher, I post more often on the Piano Teacher board, but I thought it would be interesting to post this here.)

Most of my students are adults - generally beginners or intermediates - and we tend to work together for many years. Friendships arise over time, and the lessons tend to be fun and stress-free. At least that's my aim.

The flip side is that I seldom have new students. However, this fall I had a few openings, and I commenced teaching relationships with 3 adult learners. Based on your own experiences working with piano teachers, how long do you think it will be before these students and I acquire genuine ease and rapport with each other? I figured it would have happened after a handful of lessons, but I was mistaken. Perhaps I've forgotten how long it genuinely *does* take. Your thoughts?


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#2208776 - 01/05/14 04:07 PM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
Eddyaknow Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/29/13
Posts: 54
I think that depends on how compatible you are with the person.
I liked my teacher from the start and that grew into great respect.
Now I can't imagine taking lessons with another teacher.
Even when saying that my playing is bad he says it in a way that is so funny that I start to laugh.

#2208787 - 01/05/14 04:21 PM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
malkin Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 4162
Loc: *sigh* Salt Lake City
I'm coming up on 2 years with my teacher. I liked him straight away, unlike the previous one that I dropped after 3 lessons. Even so, it took about 6 months for me to feel okay at lessons. I confess that I might just have the teensiest, tinsiest issue with anxiety, so I would expect a normal person would adjust more quickly.

Repeated clarification of expectations has been helpful.
Having power is not nearly as important as what you choose to do with it.
– Roald Dahl

#2208855 - 01/05/14 05:52 PM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
casinitaly Online   blank

Gold Supporter until March 1 2014

Registered: 03/01/10
Posts: 6508
Loc: Italy
I clicked with my first teacher very quickly - after just a few lessons.
I was with her for about 2.5 school years.

I've been with my current teacher for about 1.5 school years and in this case it took MUCH longer for me to feel at ease. In fact I still don't always feel as relaxed and at ease as I would like. It isn't his fault -He's perfectly friendly and supportive, but he's also much more demanding than my first teacher and has higher expectations.

I think overall that's a good thing for me - but it also gives me the window of opportunity to stress myself out before, during and after lessons.

I find it goes in waves.... when I'm on an upswing in learing I'm much more relaxed. When I hit a stumbling block or a plateau.....it gets harder for me to be at ease.

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#2208859 - 01/05/14 05:59 PM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
earlofmar Online   content
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 3030
Loc: Australia
My teacher and I got on well from the start, although I still remain anxious when performing in front of her. I think it helps we are both of a similar age and have some common interests.
Problems with piano are 90% psychological, the other 10% is in your head.


#2208881 - 01/05/14 06:31 PM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
DinaP Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/31/12
Posts: 152
I liked my teacher immediately -- and we are very much at ease with each other and have been -- I separate that from my difficulty playing in front of her sometimes because that is due to my personality, and she says it happens frequently and she will, if the student wishes, go sit in another part of the room until I have played my pieces -- and then she comes back to the piano and I can do it again more comfortably and she can now watch and make suggestions and corrections if needed.

#2208899 - 01/05/14 07:02 PM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
dynamobt Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/07/13
Posts: 966
Loc: NH
The teacher I have now (will be 2 years in June) is the first piano teacher I have ever had who I can play in front of them in my lessons without being nervous. I'm not sure why I'm not. But it has made progressing in my studies much easier. And it's not like she isn't demanding or expecting a lot from me. She does push me. And she has come to expect me to make changes in my playing in the lesson too.

I think most of the ease I have with her is due to her outgoing personality. She has also taught in schools and privately for years. She really understands people. And that's good because I am certainly not without my quirks! I walk a very fine line between being challenged enough and being pushed too fast. I may play fairly OK and be interesting to teach. I don't think it's easy being my teacher.

Anyway, I have already expressed my thanks for my teacher being easy to talk to. I also made a promise to myself to get things right out in the open if I felt uneasy about something. In the past, I have let feelings build without talking about things. And lessons have come to an end over expectations not met or misunderstandings about such. I think it's really important for a teacher to be approachable and fairly personable. I think I've hit the jackpot with my present teacher. I'd say feeling at ease with her took about 6 or so lessons.
1918 Mason & Hamlin BB

#2208929 - 01/05/14 07:46 PM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
Sam S Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/12/07
Posts: 2216
Loc: Georgia, USA
This is so dependent on individual personalities that every answer that you get is probably going to be unique. I am very slow to make friends and get close to new people (I'm a unrepentant introvert most of the time), so it took me a while to get comfortable with my teacher. But it did finally happen. It helps that she is about my age and I can tell that she respects me and treats me as an equal.


#2208930 - 01/05/14 07:50 PM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
zrtf90 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/29/12
Posts: 3411
Loc: Ireland (ex England)
I remember my first lesson with my teacher back in '77. We got on from the outset and I was never nervous with her.

I was playing guitar in a rock group and wanted to add keyboards for Supertramp stuff. My sister told me I'd need lessons. So off I went and made it clear I didn't want to do classical stuff, just enough technical proficiency to play in a rock outfit. I came armed with the ABRSM Graded Studies books 1 and 2 and was impressed that the first thing she corrected was the phrasing.

Play it like you're singing it, she said, (grade 1 technical studies!) let it breathe and move your arms like this...

Six months later I was doing Fr Elise and K.545.

#2209075 - 01/06/14 01:08 AM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: zrtf90]
SwissMS Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/09/11
Posts: 1893
Loc: Costa del Sol
I think it really depends on what the student brings to the lesson as expectations or baggage. I am a highly analytical, goal driven individual. That means I often expect too much of myself.

When I returned to piano as an adult, I had a very easy-going, encouraging teacher. Due to my childhood experiences with a piano teacher, it still took me a good six months to relax in a lesson. In the first few lessons as an adult, my foot would tremble so much I could barely control the pedal! This very nice man helped me get over my anxiety and make progress.

When I moved to Switzerland, I was fairly confident in my playing, but I found the teaching style quite different. Constructive criticism is direct, and praise is rare. If I had faced this when I first started back as an adult (after a 30 year hiatus), I would not have been able to handle it. My first teacher in Switzerland and I never really clicked, and I left most lessons depressed, but I kept soldiering on. I lasted a year with her.

My current teacher has been a really good match for me. We seemed to click from the beginning, and I quickly learned to relax in lessons. I would say by the 3rd or 4th lesson, we were completely at ease with each other. She was encouraging, but never gave false praise. She recognizes my desire to play well, and challenges me to improve. I have been with her for two years now. Our lessons are fun. She was gentle with me in the beginning, and has become more and more exacting over time. She tells me when I am improving and gives appropriate feedback when I am off track. She now says that she is very picky with me, but it has taken a long time to reach this comfort level.

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#2209102 - 01/06/14 02:39 AM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
Peter K. Mose Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/06/12
Posts: 1973
Loc: Toronto, Ontario
All wonderful, insightful responses - thank you! Sometimes a lesson relationship simply never blossoms, though in my studio that has been extremely rare.

#2209115 - 01/06/14 03:29 AM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
torquenale Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/29/12
Posts: 569
Loc: Italy
It took me one year to be at ease with my teacher. Not for her fault, the problem is that it's difficult to be an adult out of your comfort zone and being judged on things you not competent at. Even if when you are really treated as an adult.
She is of similar age and now we can talk of similar problems with children and so on, but she is my teacher and I always feel a bit tense when playing for her. But it's me, I really don't like to perform in front of other people (trying to improve but it's a loooong way).

#2209126 - 01/06/14 04:13 AM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 968
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Hi Peter,

Most people here have written about being nervous to play in front of their teacher, even when they feel at ease with them as a person. Some of them seem to find this curious, but I don't.

In my experience, respecting and/or liking the teacher can make the anxiety worse rather than better. When I respect a teacher (which, in the case of my piano teacher, I definitely do), I want to show them that respect: I want to be "on my best behaviour" during lessons. That includes coming well-prepared, and demonstrating that I actually listen to instructions (which translates to quickly correcting any mistakes and incorporating suggestions).

The problem is that, like most adults (and many, if not most adolescents), I have a pretty busy life. I work full time, I go to school, I have weekly scout meetings for which I need to prepare, etc. Point being: even though music is a high priority in my life, I don't always get to play the piano as much as I would like. And even when I do, sometimes I have weird blockages where, no matter how many times I try something, it never quite works (or it only works after two to three weeks of trying, instead of one). That means I don't always come to lessons as prepared as I would like to be, and sometimes, I forget about some of the suggestions made because I was focusing too much on other things.

The result, for me, would be anxiety no matter who the teacher was. But with a teacher like my current one, who I respect immensely, it's worse. Bad preparation is not just my personal failure: to my mind, it becomes a sign of lack of respect.

I've read many of your posts here, and you've always seemed like a teacher who knows what he's doing, and a very nice guy to boot. I suspect you know how to mitigate most of your students' anxiety by demonstrating clear and sufficiently challenging, but flexible expectations. What I'm saying is: even if you do that, the fact that you're a nice guy (and most of your students are probably inclined to like you from the get-go) may paradoxically make it harder for them to calm down in your presence.

I can't tell you how long it will last, because I'm about 1.5 years into it with my current teacher, and I still haven't "calmed down". In fact, it seems to be getting worse. I just thought I'd throw this out here because it's another thing you might like to consider. And maybe, you can even come up with a solution. If you do, let me know wink.
Plodding through piano music at a frustratingly slow pace since 9/2012.

Standard disclaimer: I teach many things. Piano is not one of them.

#2209193 - 01/06/14 08:31 AM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
TwoSnowflakes Online   blank
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1981
Yep, I would say that nervousness in front of my teacher is the main reason for my problems. But I'm finally calming down, about 9 months in.

I like her immensely. She was my daughters' ballet teacher through first year of pointe, and also the accompanist at the studio, so I often had occasion to hear her play. She and I clearly like the same genre of music.

I would say we have certainly become friends and that's fantastic.

But lessons we are definitely teacher and student and I so desperately want to impress her, or be good enough for her. But she has rigorous, exacting standards and due to her Eastern European background and piano training, there's not a lot of "hey, you be you! You're terrific just the way you are!" If my playing is inadequate, I simply have to fix it and there's no praise or encouragement until I do, for the most part. If I'm getting extremely frustrated, ultimately I will earn a "look how far you've come, now take it further" but usually nothing else. After lessons or speaking casually, she will praise my playing but not during lessons for the most part.

I, for my part, now very much like the approach. In fact, when she is not extremely precise about this or that, I begin to wonder if she thinks I'm capable of it. I know in casual conversations with her about teaching adult ballet, for example, she speaks of tailoring corrections to capacity--a beginning student will get praise/ignored for a misalignment that another student will get corrections on. I know that she will correct a head position or a phrasing/counting issue sternly with a student who should know better and will keep her corrections more general for someone who doesn't. She'll begin to mention the additional technique that will figure in later, and take stock of how much that student starts to gravitate towards wanting to move to that point. Because there are also students in her ballet classes that for years don't seem to improve, nor want to, and she mostly leaves them alone altogether unless there's something very egregious to change or they demonstrate the interest in getting better.

So when she doesn't really criticize me, I start to worry even more! I worry about the day in which she starts to give up, because the whole reason I'm with her is that she doesn't lower her standards simply because I am an adult. But she's been doing this for a lot of years and mostly works with beginners/intermediate because she loves it so much so my guess is that if she hasn't lost her high expectations by now, she won't with me, either, unless I get complacent, which I am not likely to be any time soon.

Teachers need praise, too! So every once in a while I do express to her that what I find so valuable about her teaching, both with me and my daughter (my middle daughter takes piano with her, too), is her exacting standard. She, for her part, says she struggled a lot when she moved to the US because a lot of American kids and even their parents, do not like this approach. Over the years she has softened up but not that much and now her students tend to be either the children of foreign parents, or parents who prefer this more rigorous approach from the get-go.

She says she loves adults because she can have a specific, technical discussion about what she wants to accomplish, but she also notes that adult students, "come with a lot of, how do you say...baggage?"

Yes, baggage. LOL!

Anyway, I don't know if this helps, but I just thought I would describe my relationship with my teacher.

#2209212 - 01/06/14 09:23 AM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
FarmGirl Offline

Silver Supporter until Jan 02 2013

Registered: 09/14/10
Posts: 2269
Loc: Scottsdale, AZ
Yes relationship is very important for adult students. I also appreciate a teacher who recognizes that adult learners are also serious about learning.

Here's my teacher relationship review in chronological orders in my adulthood.

Teacher #1 - we clicked very well from the first lesson. She and I were in the same uni (different majors. She was a doctorate student for piano performance and I was a business major with music minor). She helped me to get back into intermediate level where I left off as a child. This is the first time I had a teacher / friend relationship.

Teacher #2 - After 3 hsppy years, the teacher #1 moved to northern Cal after marriage. She referred me to her friend (current teacher now) a fellow doctorate student. I should have kept on but stopped the lessons. Partly because life became so busy with marriage (yes I got married too) plus new job after college and also because she was not my first teacher! Silly me.

Teacher #3 - I decided to re-return to piano in late 2008 or early 2009. I did not think I would be a serious piano student again. Picked a lady with performance degree in my neighborhood. Thought to take a lesson just to motivate me. It took a long time for me to warm up to her. We developed a cordial relationship and I learned a lot from her. But I could not forget lessons from my old teacher. I had an impression that I'm always secondary to her most important customers - kids and mothers.

Teacher #2 (returned) - I went back to her last year. Best thing I did. I feel like we are equal as human. I can ask lots of questions and I sometimes defend my interpretation. Love her lessons.
Pieces for this year to be decided soon.

#2209235 - 01/06/14 10:14 AM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
zillybug Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/11/11
Posts: 333
Loc: upstate NY
Hi Peter,
Here's my experience with teachers as an adult.

Teacher 1- I started with him during my first year in college and initially took piano to children so thought it would be nice to be able to play a little. It was a small school and e was the whole music dept. He was a very nice and gentle man and was just what I needed in the beginning. I began to love music and the piano with him. Unlike, the couple of years that I took as a child, I really loved it this time and quickly started practicing 3 hours day so i progressed pretty quickly.

Teacher 2- I went to a different school with a friend at the end of my freshman year and took piano and other music courses there for the summer. I started dreading my lessons instead of loving them. the teacher was very stern, never smiled and very critical. I was a lot more sensitive then than I am now so I was in tears by the end of every lesson. I did realize that my other teacher was not critical enough.

Teacher 3- In my 2nd year of college, my mother found a teacher who was one of the best teachers I have ever had. She was picky and made me analyze every piece I played but did it in a very nice way. She was also the only teacher that I was at ease with from the first lesson. She was truly one of the most caring people I have ever met and her love of music and teaching was so apparent. She was at home not at the college but I saw her often.

Teacher 4- I transferred to the another school in my junior year since I was looking for a school with a good psych. dept and also a music school. I had a young teacher who was just a couple of years out of Julliard. I was in shock at first and it only took a couple of lessons to realize that my typical 3 hours of day was not going to cut it with him. I quickly started practicing 4-5 hours a day. He was a very dedicated young teacher who gave a tremendous amount but also expected a lot. He had a free period after my lesson and my lessons would go at least halfway through the next period. He was also usually there during week nights and would often pop in and out of practice rooms-usually just to say hello but if he heard you struggling with something it would not be unusual for him to spend a few minutes helping you. During lessons, he was very exacting and he pushed hard to get the best out of you. However, unlike the previous teacher that had me tears, I thrived with him. I think the difference was that I could take someone being tough as long as I felt they cared. It took me about 6 weeks to be comfortable with him but I ended up doing better with him that any teacher I have ever had. Unfortunately for me, he left at the end of that year. Like the teacher at home his love and passion for music really showed.

Teacher 5- My senior year and I quit piano after the first semester. This teacher was very calm and quiet but ended up being the worst fit for me. It seemed like just a job to him and I felt that he expected next to nothing from me.

Teacher 6- I waited over 40 years to feel brave enough to start taking lessons again. Even though I was just doing it for myself, I knew a wanted a teacher who would take me seriously. I started at a local music school. When I asked the assistant what she could tell me about their teachers, that had openings she said- one is young and has a lot of new ideas; one has been there for 20 years and is very nurturing and one is calm but does expect a lot from his students and can be outspoken about it. Well I realized that I never wanted a teacher again who I felt didn't expect anything from me so I chose the one who expected a lot. I knew I was going to practice a lot so that would not be an issue. It will be 3 years in February and I am pleased and so happy to be playing again. It did take quite some time to be comfortable but that is more me than him.
Teacher 7- I am still taking regular lessons from teacher 6 but have been going to Summerkeys in Maine for the last 2 years and this will be my 3rd year this summer. I have been fortunate to have had Bruce Potterton, the founder and director, the years that I have attended. Well, I will say that I was at ease about half way through my first lesson with him. He is one of the most gifted teachers that I have ever had. He is very picky but does it in such a nice way. My friend went with me last year and after one lesson said he was the most inspiring and motivating teacher that she ever had.

Sorry for the long post.

#2209277 - 01/06/14 11:21 AM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
Andy Platt Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/10
Posts: 2496
Loc: Virginia, USA
The teacher I have is the only one I have had as an adult (and since I took lessons as a child for less than six months I don't think that counts much.) I was self-taught prior to finding my teacher, stuck for many years in a rut.

I remember shaking quite a bit for the first few lessons but that went quickly. At what point we moved towards what you describe isn't clear to me - I suspect sometime in the second year. We definitely have a relationship now that has that genuine ease and rapport you mention and I'm at the 3.5 year mark. So, sometime between 1 and 3.5 years! wink
  • Debussy - Le Petit Nègre, L. 114
  • Haydn - Sonata in Gm, Hob. XVI/44

Kawai K3

#2209289 - 01/06/14 11:35 AM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
Michael D Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/04/14
Posts: 29
Loc: Seattle, WA
I've been a student with my teacher for about 4 years now. I took about 8 months off, partly at her suggestion (life got in the way of lessons) and started again about two months ago.

I'd say it took about 2 or 3 months to build up a good rapport with her. She's eastern European, so she believes in a rigorous approach, as do I. She doesn't let mistakes go, but isn't some terrifying ogre either. She has a good sense of humor, "Michael, can you show me where the forte mark is on the score, you're playing it like that but I don't see it". Or my favorite from her when I was struggling with Mozart's Turkish March, "if you want to play movie tunes and some popular music, you don't need to work on scales and arpeggios, but if you want to play Mozart, do your scales!" smile

At present, I am her only adult student - it seems that most of her kids have parents who sought out a more rigorous approach than the typical American teacher. Should make for an amusing recital group photo, a bunch of kids with the grey haired guy standing around a piano.

For me, having this rapport with her is critical. At work, I can deal with bland personalities and have sterilized interactions with people and still make progress, but music is fun and has a lot of emotion. I can't imagine a teacher that I couldn't have a few laughs with, and get very honest, direct and critical feedback (especially with a tinge of humor).

To the poster above who mentioned that the nice guy approach can paradoxically make it a bit harder for the student to perform, I'd agree. I am still quite nervous playing for her; many a time I've insisted, "this sounded great at my house, honest, really".

#2209319 - 01/06/14 12:11 PM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
Peter K. Mose Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/06/12
Posts: 1973
Loc: Toronto, Ontario
All great posts! I'm sure every piano teacher could write similar posts about past relationships with our own teachers - i.e., some scary, some comfortable, some enlivening, some tedious, etc. When you find, or reach, that sweet spot in a music mentoring situation with another adult, it's very special. You feel like you can accomplish anything!

Judy, everything I have heard about Summerkeys and Bruce Potterton sounds like your experiences.

#2209361 - 01/06/14 12:48 PM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
PianoStudent88 Online   content
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/16/11
Posts: 3946
Loc: Maine
Peter, what do you mean by "genuine ease and rapport"? What is it about these lessons that you are hoping to be different?
Elie Wiesel, 1928-2016.

#2209376 - 01/06/14 01:15 PM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
Peter K. Mose Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/06/12
Posts: 1973
Loc: Toronto, Ontario
88, I'm not sure how to express it differently. "Genuine ease and rapport" really captures it. We're all still on our best behavior during lessons, trying to stifle our anxieties. It's constraining to learning.

#2209655 - 01/06/14 06:33 PM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
SoundThumb Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/28/10
Posts: 446
Loc: San Diego, CA
What an interesting post. As a complete (adult) beginner, I have always assumed the student-teacher relationship must be the same as it was back when I was a university student 40 years ago. Didn't think it was allowable to develop "genuine ease and rapport" with my teacher. You have opened my eyes. Maybe 2014 can be a great year if I approach my lessons with a new attitude.

Thanks, everyone.

#2209748 - 01/06/14 08:05 PM Re: Teacher/Student Comfort, or Adjustment Period [Re: Peter K. Mose]
Sweet06 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/22/13
Posts: 413
I like that I'm more of less learning from someone I'm super comfortable with.
"Doesn't practicing on the piano suck?!?!"
"The joy is in the practicing. It's like relationships. Yeah, orgasms are awesome, but you can't make love to someone who you have no relationship with!"


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