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Hi Piano Teachers,

I am the parent of a 6 year old who is currently at level 2-3, and practicing an hour a day. His previous teacher moved away, so we've found a new teacher. We are accustomed to playing 3-4 short pieces during the 30 minute piano lesson, and teacher pointing out 75% of the imperfections to be worked on the next week. The new teacher goes through scales and 1-2 pieces by rote, side by side, slowly, after he has practiced them at home, so that he does not play a single phrase by himself during lesson. Having taken piano lessons when I was young, I don't recall a single session where I did not play at least 2 pieces for my teacher. I watch my child's practice daily, we use the metronome, we start with scales, each piece is always practiced at least 5 times, and more if not fluid. What are we doing wrong that after so much practice each day, his new teacher still thinks he is very shabby? Prior to this teacher, we never got the impression he was so bad at it.

I am considering having my child quit. My child never complains about practicing, although I have to sit through the hour with him daily. It seems there ought to be better things to do with one's time if an hour a day for a 6 year old isn't enough to earn a "good effort" from a teacher. I am not an expert, so I can see that my saying "he sounds pretty good" probably isn't good enough. But playing note for note alongside the teacher for 30 minutes says "you can't do a single measure right", not "let's work on these few bars here".

Please don't be offended. I am just a very discouraged parent who has somehow been led to believe that if you really honestly practice, your efforts can be heard. I find not being allowed to play a single piece through during a 30 minute session to be very frustrating.

Please advise. Thank you.

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I am not a teacher. But the important thing about piano lesson and practice is not about quantity but about quality. To learn it slowly you will lose your patience but you will thank the teacher later on. Progress slow now means faster later on. I remembered my first piano teacher had me practice scales for straight two months and nothing else. At those times I hated too. But now, I understand the reason because I can play the scale running part in any sonatas very well. Most of the pieces are comprised of small elements such as scale and appregios. Only when you can play small things very well then you can play pieces well. If your son did not say anything, then do not quit. To me to learn a music instrument is about learning persistence, I am sure you don't want to teach your son that if you don't have patience at anything then just quit. To be successful at anything is to never give up.


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A lot about your post is about scales, so I almost missed this part:
Originally Posted by parent_helper
It seems there ought to be better things to do with one's time if an hour a day for a 6 year old isn't enough to earn a "good effort" from a teacher. I am not an expert, so I can see that my saying "he sounds pretty good" probably isn't good enough. But playing note for note alongside the teacher for 30 minutes says "you can't do a single measure right", not "let's work on these few bars here".

Are you saying that your impression is that the teacher's actions seem to convey a criticism of the child? (Rather than that she is literally saying "You can't do a single measure right")

Is the teaching strategy literally this: having your son play note for note alongside the teacher?

Has your son gotten any feedback from the teacher one way or the other? Have you? Have you been told how he should practice, how you should guide him, and toward what? Do you get any sign from your son how he feels about his lessons and practising?

@pianofan, when you were given only scales to practise for two whole months, were six years old like this child, or older?

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You could discuss your valid concerns with the teacher and see what his or her response is. But if it were me, I'd say don't bother: you need to find someone more nurturing for your son. They're not hard to find.

What you are describing is hardly music making, nor is it education. But you should also increase the lesson time to 45 minutes.

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To be 6 years old and play at level 2 or 3 is totally unrealistic. Maybe your son's previous teacher did a totally lousy job and pushed your son too far ahead without covering all the basics. What you describe sounds exactly like how I deal with transfer wrecks, except that I might be even more blunt and tell your son to start over from scratch.


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Hi keystring and pianofan, thanks for your comments. My son is willing to practice scales, he understands an hour a day is his job. I am driven by guilt to consider having him quit, since he never asked for piano lessons, and only practiced because of me and his former very wonderful piano teacher.

My concern is that all I ever hear outside this new teacher's studio is rote playing side by side, (for all of the teacher's pupils), I just thought I should be hearing more piano playing, more phrases, maybe a complete piece? I asked my son what the teacher said in class, and he said the teacher said nothing, just showed him how to play. This week, his assignment is to work on a bunch of scales, correct a rhythm mistake, and start a new piece. How could the teacher assign a new piece without hearing him play the previous piece through? If he is so shabby that he consistently needs to be shown measure by measure how to play, why isn't he being downgraded to a lower level book? The teacher says nothing to me after each class, and the one time I sat in, she told him to stop looking at me. I am concerned if I discuss my concerns, she will belittle my child behind my back.

I read another posting on this site that suggests many piano teachers think very highly of rote teaching, and unfortunately after my recent experience, I am not sold on its merits. My question is, if I seek a new teacher, how common is the following teaching style:
1. new piece assigned.
2. next week rote teaching during lesson. sent home to practice some mistakes, plus start new piece
Notice that there's never a week where a piece is played through, or eventually graduated?

I would feel highly encouraged if a teacher wants to hear the finished product and plans to eventually graduate a piece, so that my son and I can have a sense of completion and confidence. Is this reasonable?

I welcome your insights, and thank you so much for your time.

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I'd like to isolate this one statement
Originally Posted by parent_helper
If he is so shabby that he consistently needs to be shown measure by measure how to play, why isn't he being downgraded to a lower level book?

This is the second time that you have assigned an attitude to an action. The first time you interpreted the way she teaches him by having him play side by side as being a statement "You can't do a single measure right." This is your interpretation of a value judgment. This time you are interpreting that her method has something to do with "shabbiness". I'd suggest that it is simpler than that. It is how she teaches. It's her methodology. There is no value judgment to this.
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I would feel highly encouraged if a teacher wants to hear the finished product and plans to eventually graduate a piece, so that my son and I can have a sense of completion and confidence. Is this reasonable?

You know, I've gone back to being a student, and what I like above all is to learn, work alongside my teacher, and do the exercises at home. Maybe your son is happy with this too. Is there really a "product"? If your son isn't bothered, should you be?

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Originally Posted by parent_helper

I am considering having my child quit. My child never complains about practicing, although I have to sit through the hour with him daily. It seems there ought to be better things to do with one's time if an hour a day for a 6 year old isn't enough to earn a "good effort" from a teacher. I am not an expert, so I can see that my saying "he sounds pretty good" probably isn't good enough. But playing note for note alongside the teacher for 30 minutes says "you can't do a single measure right", not "let's work on these few bars here".


You seem to be attributing things the teacher say which the teacher actually didn't. And you also expect regular praise from the teacher, regardless of how the student is actually playing.

I can't recall ever receiving any praise from my four teachers when I was a kid, having lessons for ten years. The closest I ever got was something like "that isn't too bad, but let's see if you can play it better". That never bothered me. After all, if my teacher told me that I was pretty good, I wouldn't have felt any need to practice the piece any more. I always knew that however well I played a piece, there was always room for improvement. And because I did annual piano exams, I could never afford to be complacent, and my teachers never let me.

If it bothers your child (especially to the extent that he wants to quit), you should think of getting another teacher who is more on your wavelength. If it bothers you but not your child, why not just let him continue? It sounds like his new teacher might be correcting a lot of stuff that his previous teacher allowed to pass through.

But remember that your child will pick up vibes from you too, about your opinion of his teacher, even if you don't verbalize it.


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Originally Posted by parent_helper
I would feel highly encouraged if a teacher wants to hear the finished product and plans to eventually graduate a piece, so that my son and I can have a sense of completion and confidence. Is this reasonable?

No.

You sound like someone who has a preconceived idea of what piano lessons should be, and you're having a conflict with the current teacher's teaching style. And your solution is to make your son quit piano????

mad

Illogical.


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Originally Posted by keystring
If your son isn't bothered, should you be?

Within the last couple of months, a pair of siblings just quit lessons from me. And, judging from their history, I believe they are probably on their way to their sixth piano teacher in four years.

Everybody from the family points to one person as the center of the problem: mom.

She is never satisfied with the kids' progress (they are really, really below-average kids). She signs them up for exams and thinks that passing a level means her kids are playing at that level. She absolutely refuses to let her kids work on easier materials. She insists that lessons should be "fun." She finds it soul-crushing to work on pieces longer than 2 months. She kept on telling me how much better I was than the previous teachers and is "shocked" to learn things that her kids haven't been taught before (they've been taught before--they just don't remember much).

I can just guess how she is bad-mouthing me now in front of their kids' sixth piano teacher in four years.

Sometimes transfer wrecks are wrecks because of bad teaching. Sometimes they are wrecks because they are awful students. But, most of the time, the problem is with the parents.


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Hi all,

Thanks for all of your candid input.

Neither my son nor I asked to play level 3 pieces; the new teacher asked me to provide level 3 books; my son was level 2 when he started with the new teacher, and because I time and log his practice, I thought he wasn't due to move up for another 40 practice hours. My son has never initiated moving onto a new book; each time it was initiated by the teacher. I would much rather he be competent (and yes, HAPPY, a 6 year old willing to practice an hour a day has earned the right to pat himself on the back right?) playing level 2 pieces than to be assigned level 3 and not hear him play during the entire session. One day, coming out of piano lesson, he ran along the side walk, just letting the sun's rays and the breeze hit his face, like he was breathing in his freedom, it was horrifying. My child tells me, this teacher teaches too fast, but doesn't know he has the option to quit. He has started crying at home and literally freaking out when he makes a mistake at home. If I as much breathe wrong when his not fluid, he jerks suddenly and loudly, cries out in a scared voice "please please please I promise I got it", and sobs. I don't understand where this need to be perfect is coming from!

Peter K. Mose, thank you for putting in words so eloquently what has been bothering me. Maybe nurturing is what has been missing. Thanks.

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Originally Posted by parent_helper
Hi all,

One day, coming out of piano lesson, he ran along the side walk, just letting the sun's rays and the breeze hit his face, like he was breathing in his freedom, it was horrifying. My child tells me, this teacher teaches too fast, but doesn't know he has the option to quit. He has started crying at home and literally freaking out when he makes a mistake at home. If I as much breathe wrong when his not fluid, he jerks suddenly and loudly, cries out in a scared voice "please please please I promise I got it", and sobs. I don't understand where this need to be perfect is coming from!



Interesting - you didn't mention any of that in your OP.

You are now giving a completely different impression of the situation......


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Originally Posted by bennevis

Interesting - you didn't mention any of that in your OP.

You are now giving a completely different impression of the situation......

This is not at all "interesting" in the sense of "odd" or "curious". It is very hard, when trying to deal with something in an unfamiliar field, to know what to present, how to present it etc. You start with a gut feeling and some impressions. As people who do know something about the field write in, this gives you new insights, which helps you draw on other things to present. You start seeing the significance of this or that observation.

I was in this situation some ten years ago - a relatively new student on another instrument, with things not going right. You don't know if your gut feeling is right. You don't know which things are pertinent, and you may actually leave out the most important thing because it seems "not to matter". You don't have the vocab. You have a feeling of deference for the teacher as well as the teachers and advanced musicians in the forum, and therefore self-doubt. Will you appear to be a bad student / pushy parent, in fact are you one of those. And the whole time you are hunting for words and facts.

It is a very uncomfortable position to be in. I am no longer in that place, but remember well when I was.

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Hi AZNpiano,

I am sorry to hear that you were not treated with respect by your former students' parents. If it help at all, I constantly remind my child it is a gift to have a teacher willing to share time with you, and that a student always always works hard at home to show that he appreciates the teacher's time. My son understands that the moment he disrespects a teacher, the other students follow suit, so respect is always mandatory. As a child, I begged for piano lessons, but had to discontinue after a couple of years, because my siblings had a real tough time, so we all had to take up another hobby. I gave my son a head start at an early age so that if he wanted to do good things with music, he has a chance; the truth is, if we stopped playing today, he'd never approach the piano again. While my old teacher used a knitting needle to correct flat knuckles, it was never used on me, and what seemed like harsh words to other students was funny and endearing to me. I never once needed a parent sit next to me for my practice, and I practiced a ton, because, it was always fun to try again, see if I can do better. My child is just trying to make me proud, he never asked for lessons, and he never refuses to learn anything I ask him to do. I was concerned during the very first lesson, the tone of it feeling rather harsh, and thought if I just left the studio, maybe they would start establishing rapport; there's been several sessions, and he's starting all this behavioral change. And if all I hear from the outside is the teacher playing the same notes you do, at the same time you do, louder than you do, for 30 minutes, I don't have much data to go on with, besides that it is overpowering, suffocating, and overwhelming.

I haven't said a single thing to my child to belittle his new piano teacher's skills or personality; what I told him was that he is lucky to have a teacher with great skills who wants to make his piano playing sound beautiful, so we must practice the way she asks. I have asked him if wants to quit piano, and he said maybe we can just do piano at home from now on and no more teachers. I know, children often will say anything they thinks you want to hear.

Thank you all for your time.

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Wouldn't you rather find something he wants to do? If you truly feel he would never touch the piano if it weren't for you, I would say try something else.

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. . . He has started crying at home and literally freaking out when he makes a mistake at home. If I as much breathe wrong when his not fluid, he jerks suddenly and loudly, cries out in a scared voice "please please please I promise I got it", and sobs. I don't understand where this need to be perfect is coming from!


My reaction is the same as bennevis:

. . . _This_ is significant.

"this need to be perfect" could have three sources:

. . . the parent;
. . . the child;
. . . the teacher.

It doesn't sound like it's from the parent (though we can't know how the child _perceives_ the parent). It might be coming from the teacher, but there's no direct evidence of that, yet:

Question:

. . . When the child makes a mistake (that is, doesn't play exactly what the teacher plays), how does the teacher react?

Or it's possible that the child, himself, has developed a mind-set in which anything less than "perfect" is unacceptable. That''s going to spill over into real life, and some serious trouble can result.

I have no letters after my name, and I don't teach. So consider these suggestions FWIW:

a) Rather than ceasing lessons, see if you can find another teacher with a more "interactive" style. I couldn't stand the lessons, as you've presented them. I think most teachers (as mine does) say:

. . . "OK, let's see what you've done . . . "

and listen for a while, and then make some suggestions, and say:

. . . "Try playing like that, see how it sounds . .. ".

It should be possible to find one of those. You cannot learn piano by watching your teacher's fingers move.

See if a new teacher helps. Piano should be fun (if you're lucky) or a chore (if you're not), but not frightening.

b) If the child continues to show signs of distress -- and they _are_ signs of distress -- you could stop lessons, and see if things go better. But I have a suggestion to go with that:

. . . Don't stop spending time with him!

Substitute something for piano practice -- go out and play ball for an hour a day, or walk, or read. It doesn't matter much what you do, as long as it's actively together. You don't want him to interpret "let's stop piano lessons" as meaning "I don't want to spend practice time with you."

I hope things improve -- it would be nice to know what happens.


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Originally Posted by parent_helper
He has started crying at home and literally freaking out when he makes a mistake at home. If I as much breathe wrong when his not fluid, he jerks suddenly and loudly, cries out in a scared voice "please please please I promise I got it", and sobs. I don't understand where this need to be perfect is coming from!


Lifetime-student, not a teacher.

While I don't know what your goals are with your child, if you want him to be musical throughout his life, I would recommend a different teacher.

He sounds like a diligent practicer--wow, in retrospect, I sure wish I'd been that. So I'd be really sensitive to anything that might make him want to AVOID piano. It sounds like he is scared of training with this teacher.

When you play for your teacher, you are really at your most emotionally vulnerable--really, almost more than any other activity I can think of. I think I was pretty lucky in that most of the teachers I had when I was studying as a child were pretty indulgent. I won't say I thrived, but at least I didn't swear off music.

I definitely agree with Charles in that it can be hard to untangle whether he's scared of imperfection due to his own nature or due to fear of his teacher. Or both. Yet a teach-to-student connection is important and, while I dunno if 6-years-old maturity (keystring?) is a great age to be able to gauge any of that in a larger sense, if there is an aversion, I don't see how it can possibly be beneficial.


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If you want to do something more musical for your son, put him in a group endeavor: Orff classes, perhaps, or Music for Young Children piano classes, or Yamaha piano classes. If you go looking for a new piano teacher, you might consult with the initial piano teacher (who moved away) for some names. Or talk to a local church organist or youth choir director. Or talk to someone who teaches piano pedagogy in your area (i.e., at a college music department).

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Originally Posted by parent_helper
... because I time and log his practice, I thought he wasn't due to move up for another 40 practice hours.

Learning is not something to be measured by time used, so this sounds a bit odd to me.
It's also not something measured by age alone. I did not notice you saying how long your son had lessons with the previous teacher. I also did not see exactly how many lessons you have had with the present one. Maybe I missed the information?

It could be that the new teacher focuses on the physical side of playing and good tone production instead of just being able to read and play the notes in the pieces correctly. If the previous teacher did not focus on this part of playing, the new teacher may see a lot to do on that area in the beginning. The only way to know what is going on is to ask the teacher about her methods and talk about your concerns that your child is stressed by something in the lessons and that you are not sure what is going on. People here on the forum can speculate, but opinions on the right way to teach differ among teachers.

I can tell from my own experience how frustrating it can be in the beginning when a teacher starts to work on how you play instead of just what you play. It suddenly makes playing into something much more complicated than one thought it is and it takes time to absorb things. If the child is used to being corrected and then immediately fixing it (as it often is with wrong notes or rhythms), he might think there is something wrong with him for being corrected on the same thing repeatedly. But that is quite normal when working on how to play.

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Originally Posted by Peter K. Mose
If you want to do something more musical for your son, put him in a group endeavor: Orff classes, perhaps, or Music for Young Children piano classes, or Yamaha piano classes. .


Sounds like a very good idea!


. Charles
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