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Students that exhaust my energy #2725119
03/29/18 10:10 AM
03/29/18 10:10 AM
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chasingrainbows Offline OP
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I've had many students for 5 - 10 years, which is a fairly good statistic in our music store. With those students, I am noticing I am less tolerant of disregard for instructions.

Over the years, I continue to work with some students on technique-- pre-teen boys who still play with flat, dented or flying fingers, resulting in uneven, unclear notes, concepts learned at the start. Through example, I stress that curving the fingers and keeping them close to the keys will aid in speed, but clarity comes first.

In particular, one student still focuses mainly on how fast he can play. I continue to remind students that fast does not mean good playing. Student played a piece so fast that notes were missed, it was uneven, dynamics, staccato and legato were not followed. . These are concepts learned in the first 6 months of lessons.At this point, I should not have to tell him this at every lesson. This student, and most of my male students ignore fingering notations in the music, despite my highlighting-- I shouldn't have to do this any longer. I was so frustrated, I told him the piece was a mess. I've tried everything, sharing videos, recording him, at every lesson I stress musicality, not speed, but I feel like they just go home and do what they want.

No matter how much I explain, or provide tantalizing presentations on how technique, fingering, etc. all are there for very good reasons, week after week, I find myself facing the same issues. I take some responsibility as I've always focused on a positive atmosphere, and handled critiques gently. As a result, perhaps those critiques were often disregarded because I wasn't taken seriously. How often, or much do you remind students, or insist that these concepts are followed?


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Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: chasingrainbows] #2725132
03/29/18 10:44 AM
03/29/18 10:44 AM
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And I should mention that I finally emailed the parent and received this reply, "Thanks for the good information."


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Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: chasingrainbows] #2725134
03/29/18 10:52 AM
03/29/18 10:52 AM
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Annoy them every lesson and at every point their fingers misbehave, they miss a staccato, they miss a rest, they play too fast with stopping the playing and mentioning the error. If you're pleasantly, but totally, consistent and constantly break their playing flow to correct their bad habits, they are very likely going to try to obey just to get through to the end of the piece. Use the whole lesson on one messy part until it isn't messy any more, and they are likely to start listening to avoid the frustration of not moving on. And use every lesson to continue cleaning up the same messy part until they start realizing they have to do it at home too just so they can move on.

Last edited by pianopi; 03/29/18 10:53 AM.

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Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: chasingrainbows] #2725144
03/29/18 11:38 AM
03/29/18 11:38 AM
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Originally Posted by chasingrainbows

In particular, one student still focuses mainly on how fast he can play. I continue to remind students that fast does not mean good playing. Student played a piece so fast that notes were missed, it was uneven, dynamics, staccato and legato were not followed. . These are concepts learned in the first 6 months of lessons.At this point, I should not have to tell him this at every lesson. This student, and most of my male students ignore fingering notations in the music, despite my highlighting-- I shouldn't have to do this any longer. I was so frustrated, I told him the piece was a mess. I've tried everything, sharing videos, recording him, at every lesson I stress musicality, not speed, but I feel like they just go home and do what they want.



Teenage boys have high testosterone levels - which peak in the mid-teens - to contend with, and are more concerned with trying to impress than with musicality. ("I feel the need - the need for speed" - Top Gun grin). And they also want to assert themselves, to prove themselves worthy of being men. Thus, they are also prone to pushing their boundaries. (BTW, girls have testosterone levels ten times lower.)

When I was at that age, that was what I wanted to do too - play pieces as fast & loud as I could (even if I couldn't). But I also had ABRSM exams to do, and my pride wouldn't let me fail. So, I had to do what I needed to do to get the best marks I could (i.e. listen to my teacher), and therefore reserved my need for speed for the pieces I was learning for myself, which I never told my teacher about. Who cares how messy they are, when I'm just playing to please myself?

So, unless you put them up for exams or something similar, you might have to try some reverse psychological techniques to get them to do what you want. Or maybe show them how a 'real man' would play the music, if there are YT videos of the pieces.......


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: chasingrainbows] #2725188
03/29/18 04:27 PM
03/29/18 04:27 PM
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chasingrainbows Offline OP
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bennevis, I hold 2 recitals a year, and enter students in a local Festival as well. This boy has been playing way too fast since he for the last 6 years- since he was 7 years old. I shudder to think of the future lessons as he is entering his teens! eek


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Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: pianopi] #2725189
03/29/18 04:28 PM
03/29/18 04:28 PM
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chasingrainbows Offline OP
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Originally Posted by pianopi
Annoy them every lesson and at every point their fingers misbehave, they miss a staccato, they miss a rest, they play too fast with stopping the playing and mentioning the error. If you're pleasantly, but totally, consistent and constantly break their playing flow to correct their bad habits, they are very likely going to try to obey just to get through to the end of the piece. Use the whole lesson on one messy part until it isn't messy any more, and they are likely to start listening to avoid the frustration of not moving on. And use every lesson to continue cleaning up the same messy part until they start realizing they have to do it at home too just so they can move on.


Excellent suggestions and I plan to follow them!


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Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: chasingrainbows] #2725190
03/29/18 04:31 PM
03/29/18 04:31 PM
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Orange County, CA
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This is what I would do:

Give these students simple music full of patterns that make them sound more impressive than they really are. Here are some composers whose works are useful for this situation:

Kevin Olson
Melody Bober
Robert Vandall
Dennis Alexander

In particular, take a look at Vandall's Preludes or his Toccata in F Minor.


Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member
Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: chasingrainbows] #2725195
03/29/18 04:54 PM
03/29/18 04:54 PM
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Originally Posted by chasingrainbows
bennevis, I hold 2 recitals a year, and enter students in a local Festival as well.

Unfortunately, he'd just take recitals as opportunities to play fast & loud. People tend to be impressed by that sort of thing, especially those in his peer group. I remember a few kids who did that in my student days, and they got the most applause.

What he needs are (written) assessments of some sort by adjudicators that don't involve performing in public. By people he respects - a sort of second opinion, if you like. I also agree with giving him pieces with lots of patterns to play. After all, if he can play something 'impressively' (= at speed) and under control, he learns the satisfaction of playing something well.

BTW, I don't think that aggravating him in the manner pianopi suggested is going to help a 13-year-old boy who's been speeding for six years. He's likely going to be confrontational or do the precise opposite of what you want, just to annoy you back........


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: chasingrainbows] #2725205
03/29/18 06:08 PM
03/29/18 06:08 PM
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bennevis, my hopes that he would eventually "get it" and follow fingering, dynamics, articulation hasn't been realized by encouraging reminders. Perhaps if I'd been more the kind of teacher pianopi suggested from the start, these problems wouldn't still exist, We started out with simple pieces, moved to Bober's sharp and flat keys books, and he's played much simpler pieces for the Festival. It's always the same notations in his assignment book and on the music. How will the less difficult books AZN suggests change the student's mindset to ignore all of these important aspects of music?


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Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: chasingrainbows] #2725212
03/29/18 06:34 PM
03/29/18 06:34 PM
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Originally Posted by chasingrainbows
This boy has been playing way too fast since he for the last 6 years- since he was 7 years old. I shudder to think of the future lessons as he is entering his teens! eek


That reminds me of the story about two kids playing a duet. One of them got up and left, because he was the fastest, and finished his part first.... ;-)


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Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: chasingrainbows] #2725222
03/29/18 07:18 PM
03/29/18 07:18 PM
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Originally Posted by chasingrainbows
We started out with simple pieces, moved to Bober's sharp and flat keys books, and he's played much simpler pieces for the Festival. It's always the same notations in his assignment book and on the music. How will the less difficult books AZN suggests change the student's mindset to ignore all of these important aspects of music?

I don't know whether this will help, but the way I deal with 'recalcitrant' (for want of a better word) people (or 'clients') in my job is to put myself in their shoes. And I deal with many such people - adults as well as kids - on a daily basis.

I think you've been looking at this problem only from your own perspective. You are frustrated because he ignores what you ask of him, and he goes and does what he wants. You just want him to do as he's told. I don't know anything about him apart from what you've told us, but based on that, I can imagine that he is a kid who enjoys playing fast, probably impatient in nature, and perhaps sees music as more a means to impress his peers rather than for its musical worth. Continually nagging him with no real consequences (let's face it - there's not much you can do if he doesn't obey you) has proven to be counter-productive. 'Upping the ante' in the manner suggested earlier may turn an attitude of 'hey, I just like playing fast because I can, so what' to 'you're really pestering me and cramping my style, so I'll play even faster just to annoy you'.

So, you think 'laterally'. OK, he can't handle fast in the pieces you've given him, but he wants to play fast, and you want accuracy. So - why not give him stuff that sounds impressive but actually easier than what he can handle, if only he'd slow down. As you know, Rustle of Spring is actually quite easy to play - easier than the twists & turns of say, Schumann's Arabeske - but it sounds far more impressive. (Yes, I've played them both, one after the other in the same recital, and everyone in the audience thought the former must have taken a lot more hours of hard practicing, and applauded accordingly.... grin). So, you get something more like a win-win situation: he gets to play flashy-sounding stuff that he's capable of playing fast & accurately, while you get better playing because he's playing within his technical means. And you can then build on that step by step without making him feel you're continually finding fault with him. It may not fit your idea of how you want him to progress, but far better that than what's been happening, don't you think?

I can relate something from my own childhood to illustrate something similar. My mother used to keep nagging me to eat vegetables. The problem started because at the age of one or two, I was given, and ate some bitter-tasting greens which I instantly spat out, and from then on, refused anything of that color. Until age seven or so, when I had school lunches with other kids, and I didn't want to appear 'different', so I tried them - and I discovered that most greens were actually OK. But I couldn't, and wouldn't, 'lose face' in front of my mother, so I still kept refusing them at home. If she stopped nagging me at every mealtime and just ignored what I put on my plate and in my mouth, I'd probably start eating them a little at a time at home, but she didn't, so I didn't. In fact, she probably still thinks I don't eat greens to this day........ grin


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: bennevis] #2725254
03/29/18 10:15 PM
03/29/18 10:15 PM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
BTW, I don't think that aggravating him in the manner pianopi suggested is going to help a 13-year-old boy who's been speeding for six years. He's likely going to be confrontational or do the precise opposite of what you want, just to annoy you back........

He's already annoying her. Now the ball's firmly in chasingrainbow's court.


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Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: chasingrainbows] #2725271
03/30/18 01:22 AM
03/30/18 01:22 AM
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Originally Posted by chasingrainbows
How will the less difficult books AZN suggests change the student's mindset to ignore all of these important aspects of music?

First: You need to realize that some kids will never play halfway decent. Just live with it. It's OKAY that they don't understand all important aspects of music.


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Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: AZNpiano] #2725318
03/30/18 08:42 AM
03/30/18 08:42 AM
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Originally Posted by chasingrainbows
How will the less difficult books AZN suggests change the student's mindset to ignore all of these important aspects of music?

First: You need to realize that some kids will never play halfway decent. Just live with it. It's OKAY that they don't understand all important aspects of music.


Yep. I have a few students like this. They like piano well enough, but don't really care about the details. No amount of nagging or reasoned explanation is going to make them care about playing with a refined technique etc. In these cases I aim for a middle ground-- a result that approaches a standard of playing that I can live with, while taking into account what the student finds interesting/satisfying. This could mean taking a piece in a style that the student likes, and focusing on only one element (articulation, or fingering or dynamics), while letting other details go... and being satisfied with the effort the student will put in. To the OP, do your best and remain positive, but direct your energy and enthusiasm where it will make a difference-- pouring it into these students is exhausting!


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Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: JohnSprung] #2725321
03/30/18 08:49 AM
03/30/18 08:49 AM
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Originally Posted by JohnSprung
Originally Posted by chasingrainbows
This boy has been playing way too fast since he for the last 6 years- since he was 7 years old. I shudder to think of the future lessons as he is entering his teens! eek


That reminds me of the story about two kids playing a duet. One of them got up and left, because he was the fastest, and finished his part first.... ;-)



No doubt, he shouted "I win!!" on his way off stage.


Enough is as good as a feast.

Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: chasingrainbows] #2725345
03/30/18 10:34 AM
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I wonder if you teach using one or two pianos? Having two pianos could help in that you could play along with the student and ensure that an appropriate tempo is used (assuming that he’s listening to you and able to slow it down). Or could hands separate work - you play one hand and he play the other and then switch?
You could say “we’ll need a slower tempo so that we can play together more easily”.

It might also be fun to play some pieces for your student that are WAY too fast - maybe the national anthem, or something famous like Amazing Grace, etc. Say “I’m going to be the student, you’re the teacher.” Then rush through the piece at a ridiculous tempo. Then ask “How did you like it? What would you suggest I change?” When I do this, sometimes students are hilariously picky or focus on something else entirely - it’s really interesting to hear what stands out to them.

I have had teenage boy students who are only impressed by loud/fast music and only want to play loud/fast music, so I feel your pain! Require him to play at various more appropriate speeds at the lesson, and give him metronome numbers to practice at home. There are times when I’ve said - “Do NOT go faster than ___ on your metronome.” And don’t let him come to the lesson and play it ridiculously fast - work on the parts that need work, hands separately or together, find the appropriate speed, and then require him to play at that speed at the lesson. If he starts it too quickly, stop him and ask him to start again at the appropriate speed.

Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: chasingrainbows] #2725359
03/30/18 11:18 AM
03/30/18 11:18 AM
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Would playing a four hand piece with him force him to pay attention to tempo?


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
" I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho
Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: dogperson] #2725423
03/30/18 03:47 PM
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Originally Posted by dogperson
Would playing a four hand piece with him force him to pay attention to tempo?


We used to do duets. I think the source of my frustration is that we work on these concepts during each lesson, and yet, the following week, they return in full force. I truly feel it's time for "tough love." I've found that has worked with some of my biggest offenders. I could assign him a piece for 4 hands--good suggestion.


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Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: chasingrainbows] #2725424
03/30/18 03:48 PM
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dogperson, the Chopin quote in your signature is beautiful!


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Re: Students that exhaust my energy [Re: chasingrainbows] #2725427
03/30/18 03:52 PM
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pianist lady and AZN, I am giving him one more opportunity to heed my suggestions and critiques over the last 7 years. Then I just throw in the towel. I've often told my male students, "Someday you will look back and remember when Miss ___ told you that ______ really works!"


Piano teacher, BA Music, MTNA member
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