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Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
#2628164 03/29/17 08:38 PM
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So a little background here. I have this WONDERFUL kid in my studio, bright, polite, a model student. She is new to my studio this year, and I'm finding myself in the quite standard "fixing really bad prior teaching" stage. This kid can barely read music, but yet has been taking lessons for 7 years? This kind of thing boggles my mind.

She has told me that she wants to go to a conservatory and be a professional pianist, and she is currently 15. However, the level she is currently at is around the easiest Chopin Preludes, Fur Elise, a few easier Mozart sonatas, etc. Not an ideal level to be at if she wants to audition for conservatories in a couple years, ESPECIALLY considering the fact that she does not learn repertoire quickly (remember the comment about not being able to read well? Yeah)

When I first heard this, my thought was "Hmmm, maybe she doesn't know what a conservatory environment entails, what kind of repertoire and practicing expectations are in place, what the competition is like, etc etc" so we had a HUGE discussion about all of this and her eyes got very big, heh.

After all of this, she still comes into lessons with very little progress, and tells me that it has been a bad week for practicing. I dont know if she just doesn't get it still (even though she has all the information of what she has to do in order to reach a high level), or if she is just expecting things to magically fall into place.

Any advice on how to best serve this kid and this situation? At the moment I've been steering her towards a few state schools with good teachers that still offer wonderful instruction to sub-conservatory level students. I have no doubt that she will always love having the piano in her life, but shooting for conservatories and getting rejected seems like an unwise choice at this point.

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Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
luebella123 #2628170 03/29/17 08:50 PM
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Welcome to the forum!

This is a tough one. It has to do with maturity a bit because of the lack of practice. It could be a fear of failure/fear of success type of thing, where they give themselves excuses for failure before they even start because in the end they don't really believe they can do it.

All you can do is keep telling her what needs to be fixed and giving her appropriate repertoire for what she needs to improve. She's got 2-3 years to realize what it takes, and it may be that by that point she will prefer an environment that is more cultivating than cur-throat as many conservatories can be. Keep talking up the smaller schools and when she's at the point to look at where to audition, make sure she visits the campuses of both the conservatory and smaller schools. Sometimes they figure it out on their own from meeting the other students and faculty.

Also, don't get distracted by this stuff. She's new to you this year, so you have a tough job ahead of you getting a more solid foundation for her. Stick to that and don't try to get her ready for auditions. If she doesn't have any rep that meets the audition requirements for the conservatory, then it will work itself out in the end. But she should learn the basics she is lacking and learn to play whatever rep she can do at a high level.

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Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
luebella123 #2628182 03/29/17 09:52 PM
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Right, these worries are premature. You might tell her now and again that your preference would be for her to consider a college or university rather than a conservatory, if for no other reason than because no one earns a living as a professional pianist.

She should choose a college or university with an active music department, of course, and maybe she will blossom there, whether as a glockenspiel player, a band conductor, a bassoon repair technician, a pianist, or as some other stripe of music student.

But explain to her that a music conservatory is akin to an Olympic-level figure skating school, staffed by Russians.

Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
luebella123 #2628196 03/29/17 11:18 PM
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Great comments, thanks to you both.

I completely agree about the premature nature of all of this. I normally wouldn't be spending so college-focused energy with a student at such an early stage, however this student (an mother, especially) came to my studio with the express intent of preparing for college, hence all the talking about it. A tricky situation, for sure!

Originally Posted by Peter K. Mose


But explain to her that a music conservatory is akin to an Olympic-level figure skating school, staffed by Russians.


Ha! Love it!

Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
luebella123 #2628250 03/30/17 07:03 AM
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There's an interesting chapter on college choice in the Malcolm Gladwell book, David vs Goliath, that I just found at a thrift sale.

It compared the future success of students in top, middle, and bottom thirds of their college entrance scores. The top students did much better, graduating at a higher rate and finding good employment. This was true across colleges.

So the top students from MIT did well, as did the top third from lower prestige state schools, and the bottom third from both types of schools did poorly, with higher rates of not finishing at all or being underemployed.

The bottom third entrance scores from MIT were actually higher than the top third scores at the lower schools. That high score that would have been an advantage at one school was a disadvantage at another.


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Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
luebella123 #2628268 03/30/17 08:27 AM
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So, she has had 7 years of lessons,reads poorly and comes back not having practised.That sends up a red flag for me. Are you sure it's about 'bad prior teaching' and not about a kid who dreams about being a performer but doesn't make any effort to fulfill those dreams?
Lots of people (adults and children) 'like the idea' of doing or being all sorts of things, but not everyone is prepared to put in the work needed to make them real. I too have lovely, bright polite kids in my studio. They love their lessons (they say) and yet practice continually gets sidelined for all manner of reasons. Until they decide they really need to engage and make the necessary effort at home, progress will always be slow. I try to keep them going until maturity kicks in and things get put into perspective. 'Magically falling into place' seems about right for a 15 year old, I think.

Perhaps enrolling on an intensive Summer School with those who are genuinely working towards higher level study might be an eye opener for her.It might galvanize her into action.

Last edited by tillyfloss; 03/30/17 08:28 AM.
Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
tillyfloss #2628315 03/30/17 10:08 AM
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Originally Posted by tillyfloss

Perhaps enrolling on an intensive Summer School with those who are genuinely working towards higher level study might be an eye opener for her.It might galvanize her into action.


That's a fine idea! It also means summers are not wasted pianowise.

Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
luebella123 #2628325 03/30/17 10:36 AM
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How many 15 year-olds have realistic expectations for any career training in any field? Of course she doesn't know what study in a conservatory entails. She's 15!

She's equally unlikely to have any understanding of the actual job duties of real jobs.

By telling you that she is interested in conservatory, she may just be saying that she likes taking lessons from you, that she likes you and sees you as a role model. Be kind to her. Teach her to play the piano, and let her know how much you enjoy her.


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Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
luebella123 #2628412 03/30/17 02:50 PM
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Originally Posted by luebella123
Great comments, thanks to you both.

I completely agree about the premature nature of all of this. I normally wouldn't be spending so college-focused energy with a student at such an early stage, however this student (an mother, especially) came to my studio with the express intent of preparing for college, hence all the talking about it. A tricky situation, for sure!


Have a talk with the mother being very specific about the issues that she currently has, beginning with her lack of practice but also detailing the other problems and compare them with the requirements for conservatory-level playing.

While I don't think prescribing an amount of time on the bench will ensure effective practice habits, one must start somewhere. Tell her mother that if she wants to be ready for auditions, she should be practicing no less than 1 hour per day, ever day, and more on the weekends. She must also work on the things you assign her.

Also let her know what is expected of conservatory students: usually they are required to practice 6-8 hours per day, colleges usually 4 hours/day for performance majors. Hopefully this will give her a bit of perspective.


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Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
luebella123 #2628415 03/30/17 03:18 PM
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You don't need to go to conservatory to be a "pro piano player"...get ready for this...I used to work in a high-rise office building, and every morning a woman would play Disney songs and pop tunes on the piano in the lobby, and her playing was so bad that I could hardly tell what she was trying to play. She played for two hours each morning, then she played for one hour each afternoon at another building. (I sort of got to know her, so I know this.)

She played 3 hours a day, the same gooey crap over and over (her playing was crap, not the music per se), and you want to know how much she got paid? (I know because I was part of the department that paid her bill.) I won't tell you, but she was quite "comfortable", and she definitely didn't need any other side jobs to pay ALL her bills (and much more)! I don't know how she got the job in the first place, though, but there was actually a skilled pianist that had the job before her, and he got fired because his music selections were too "serious." He played Mozart sonatas with tremendous skill, just flawless every morning, every darn time, and HE got canned!!


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Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
SonatainfSharp #2628426 03/30/17 03:40 PM
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SonatainfSharp, why don't you take that job? You play better than her, don't you?

Is she pretty? Show business is a business I guess.


Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
SonatainfSharp #2628436 03/30/17 04:07 PM
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Originally Posted by SonatainfSharp
...I used to work in a high-rise office building, and every morning a woman would play Disney songs and pop tunes on the piano in the lobby, ... She played for two hours each morning, then she played for one hour each afternoon at another building.


Amazing -- I've never heard of an office building providing live music here in LA. Were they both for the same company? Anybody else heard of gigs like this?



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Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
luebella123 #2628540 03/30/17 11:44 PM
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Originally Posted by luebella123
At the moment I've been steering her towards a few state schools with good teachers that still offer wonderful instruction to sub-conservatory level students.

Or community colleges. There are some wonderful teachers in these little places.


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Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
luebella123 #2628844 03/31/17 04:13 PM
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The 15 year old seems to be a little bit like me, that age.
I am still angry that nobody took me serious, showed patient with me, and explained me step by step HOW I should practice, and HOW to organize practicing that it doesn't become boring, and how to MEASURE my advances, and to accept that progress is too slow but steady practicing is the thing to keep in mind. Nobody explained me how learning actually works. I learned it here from the forum, finally, decades later.

I especially got angry when feeling pushed to give up, because others are champions already at the age of 21, and I would have to compete with them, but would never be able to do so, because I was not any kind of prodigy.
Today I know that there are universities who accept new students up to the age of 27. I still would have had 12 years to prepare for this!

I would have gone parallel paths for a living, meanwhile, but at 27 I might have wanted to take my chance. I didn't take my chance. I did not know that I would have a chance and believed I would never be good enough. Because I was not good enough at the age of 15. And I was to stupid to understand HOW I would have to prepare that journey. As I simply did not follow the instructions of my teacher, I was a lost case. I today certainly know, that I needed better orientation, some more patient of my teacher to find access to me.

Yes, it was right to make me see, that for making a living I have to look out for a different profession. But I am still angry that I wasn't made aware about how to correctly prepare for an in-depth musical life. My hobby could have reached a level where preparing and playing a recital, or at least being part of a show, could be part of my private life now! Instead, I am adult beginner now. I enjoy that at least today I go for what I dreamed about as a child. And this time I know, although being slow and limited talented, that I am advancing, little by little. I take my chance to reach out for a dream! If things work out fine, then in some 12 years I can play my first little recital to some strangers in a local culture club and they will like it. If I wouldn't succeed, then I anyway would have had a wonderful in-depth musical journey up to that point, and am sure I would simply continue with it.

Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
luebella123 #2629928 04/03/17 09:53 PM
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I think you're probably right about being taught how to practice. But, it's possible that if you learn slowly, it would have been hard to catch up to the concert performers. I too wonder where I'd be with more encouragement, or better instruction, or some combination thereof. But realistically, I must not have memorized quickly enough, or paid enough attention to my mistakes. In short, I didn't have the work ethic needed, so it wasn't going to happen for me.

Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
luebella123 #2630817 04/06/17 07:21 PM
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Always apply to multiple different kinds of schools to keep the options open.


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Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
luebella123 #2631822 04/10/17 09:11 AM
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I was going to suggest summer piano camps, but saw that tillyfloss has done so.

My other suggestions are to sign her up for local competitions and festivals that are low-key, so that she can start assessing herself relative to other piano students. Also, encourage her to perform in or to listen to student recitals. I'm sure sooner or later she will realize where she is and what realistic options she has to keep learning piano. Talking to parents and making sure they have realistic expectations also helps.

And worst comes to worst, if she insists on applying to top conservatories, she has the right to. She will be disappointed, but to be honest, everyone in the world has major disappointments in life to deal with.

Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
luebella123 #2632308 04/11/17 09:13 PM
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Originally Posted by luebella123
a model student.
...
she still comes into lessons with very little progress, and tells me that it has been a bad week for practicing.

How in the world can both these things be true?

Tell her you have to practice anywhere from 6-10 hours a day in conservatory, and that someone who doesn't like the idea of doing that shouldn't enter a conservatory. If she doesn't want to practice, she really doesn't want to go to conservatory.


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Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
SonatainfSharp #2632522 04/12/17 04:29 PM
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Oh I would love to get paid to play ridiculous Disney pop songs all day laugh. Where do you find such jobs!

I too am also confused about the term "model student" and "not practicing" in the same paragraph. If she's not practicing adequately, she's hardly a model student no matter how much she claims to love the piano!

I'm not too sure Wuffski, if it is proper to be angry with your teachers for "not taking you seriously" especially if you were "not listening to them"...

There was a student in my teacher's studio who went on to conservatory. He was the only one that I knew of. He was of course, far more advanced than the group of older students which I was a part of at that time, but that wasn't really what was special about him. We knew he practiced HOURS a day, unprompted. No one made him do that. All of us other students thought he was a little strange because of his passion for piano and practicing. That kind of dedication is what it takes. The rest of us, while all mostly eventually advancing to complete CM, very much did not live and breathe music, and it was quite obvious. I don't know if you know any students who actually are on track to go to conservatory or are in a conservatory, but possibly if she could see or talk to those kinds of students, it would give her a better perspective of what is required to get there and who those people even are.
I thought I wanted to do a lot of different things in college. My first thought was to be an English major, cause I liked to write. Let me tell you, when I sat in on my first English class (at a top university where English is highly ranked), I realized I was not like these other students sitting around me. They LOVED English. It made my eyes roll the way they talked about books. And that was when I knew I wasn't going to be an English major, at least not at that school :P I promptly dropped the class.

I have one student who wants to perform home on the range, has learned maybe the first couple notes. She is 10 years old. This week, I asked her if she practiced. In the most serious and sincere tone, she tells me "Unfortunately no, I was too busy"......


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Re: Student wants to go to conservatory, but not ready
Wuffski #2632634 04/13/17 06:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Wuffski
The 15 year old seems to be a little bit like me, that age.
I am still angry that nobody took me serious, showed patient with me, and explained me step by step HOW I should practice, and HOW to organize practicing that it doesn't become boring, and how to MEASURE my advances, and to accept that progress is too slow but steady practicing is the thing to keep in mind. Nobody explained me how learning actually works. I learned it here from the forum, finally, decades later.

I especially got angry when feeling pushed to give up, because others are champions already at the age of 21, and I would have to compete with them, but would never be able to do so, because I was not any kind of prodigy.
Today I know that there are universities who accept new students up to the age of 27. I still would have had 12 years to prepare for this!

I would have gone parallel paths for a living, meanwhile, but at 27 I might have wanted to take my chance. I didn't take my chance. I did not know that I would have a chance and believed I would never be good enough. Because I was not good enough at the age of 15. And I was to stupid to understand HOW I would have to prepare that journey. As I simply did not follow the instructions of my teacher, I was a lost case. I today certainly know, that I needed better orientation, some more patient of my teacher to find access to me.

Yes, it was right to make me see, that for making a living I have to look out for a different profession. But I am still angry that I wasn't made aware about how to correctly prepare for an in-depth musical life. My hobby could have reached a level where preparing and playing a recital, or at least being part of a show, could be part of my private life now! Instead, I am adult beginner now. I enjoy that at least today I go for what I dreamed about as a child. And this time I know, although being slow and limited talented, that I am advancing, little by little. I take my chance to reach out for a dream! If things work out fine, then in some 12 years I can play my first little recital to some strangers in a local culture club and they will like it. If I wouldn't succeed, then I anyway would have had a wonderful in-depth musical journey up to that point, and am sure I would simply continue with it.
Actually, you're not an adult beginner. You took lessons at the age of 15 - how long had you taken piano by that point? Did you start before the age of 12?

Not to excuse your teachers, but I do know that with many of my teenage boy students, I can say the same thing over and over again in many different ways, and I know they do not hear me because they don't do what I tell them. There's often a disconnect. At some point, they wake up and listen, but it's a tough age for learning I think. You may have not been able to respond at that time, who knows?

But you know now what you must do. And I wonder who is this person that cares so much of how old the pianist is? Audiences just want to hear beautiful playing. Keep on your path of learning and being diligent with practicing in a smart way, and you will be able to perform. smile


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