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Slow Progress Among Beginners #2787371
12/03/18 01:32 PM
12/03/18 01:32 PM
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AZNpiano Offline OP
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Is there a general trend today that beginner pianists (age 5-8) are progressing slower than ever?

I've always taught beginners, and I have had kids who progressed slowly in the past. But now it seems like every single student is going slower and slower. Almost every student is on a one-year plan to finish the Primer book.

Some of these kids' slow progress I can attribute to having too many activities. But I also have slow students whose ONLY activity is piano.

Or maybe it's just bad luck that I get stuck with these kids? I do have a lot of beginners right now, but I sincerely doubt they will ever get out of method books, at the pace they are progressing.


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Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: AZNpiano] #2787404
12/03/18 03:06 PM
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I've had a variety of young beginning students over the years, and their progress has always been a mixed bag--some move along efficiently, some don't. These are some of the general trends I've noticed (though there are always a few exceptions in each category):

1. Students with insanely busy activity schedules (there are many more kids like that these days than 20 years ago) progress slower than those with a reasonable activity schedule.

2. All other things being equal, girls tend to progress faster than boys. (I hope that comment doesn't get me into trouble. It is simply an observation I have made, based on anecdotal evidence in my own studio. There have been exceptions, in both my studio and those of others', and most of the highest-achieving student players in my area are, in fact, boys. Which is a whole other discussion. But when it comes to beginners that I've had, the girls tend to progress more rapidly through beginning method books.)

3. The kids playing on 61-key keyboards progress more slowly than those with acoustic pianos at home. Are a lot of your beginning students practicing on keyboards instead of on acoustic pianos or at least good digitals with touch-sensitive keys and such?

Also, are your current beginners closer to the younger end of the range you mention, AZN (like 5 and 6)? For the most part, my 7- and 8-year-old beginners have historically progressed faster than my 5- and 6-year old beginners.

I wonder, too, how much current method series may contribute to slower progress? Many of the methods are slower-paced than those that were popular decades ago. Not that the "good old days" were always that great--there have been some much-needed improvements in newer methods--but perhaps the slower pace of the books themselves affects student enthusiasm and progress?

Yours is an interesting question to contemplate.

Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: Andamento] #2787441
12/03/18 05:00 PM
12/03/18 05:00 PM
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AZNpiano Offline OP
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Originally Posted by Andamento
Also, are your current beginners closer to the younger end of the range you mention, AZN (like 5 and 6)? For the most part, my 7- and 8-year-old beginners have historically progressed faster than my 5- and 6-year old beginners.

They are all spread out in age. And they are all horrible. There's just one beginner who is "normal," and even he is getting frustrated at the 2A level. I have two 6-year-old kids who literally forget everything they learned in the previous lesson, and every lesson is like the same thing, over and over again. This might be a problem with their general intelligence. Another one (9) switched to a different instrument that I teach, not having finished the 1B book after two years of lessons. I gave up on another pair of siblings (5 and 10) who are beyond hope.

I am down to one talented student in this age range, and he's almost 9. He's not as talented as the kids I've had before, yet he sounds like Mozart compared to these beginners. Studio Recitals are becoming a pity fest. And the two 10-year-old boys I have are so far ahead of this group, the difference is night and day.

Originally Posted by Andamento
I wonder, too, how much current method series may contribute to slower progress? Many of the methods are slower-paced than those that were popular decades ago. Not that the "good old days" were always that great--there have been some much-needed improvements in newer methods--but perhaps the slower pace of the books themselves affects student enthusiasm and progress?

Oh, no. I love the modern series, and I got extremely good results out of them just a few years ago, circa 2012. The group that grew up with Alfred Premier are now playing things super advanced.

Really, the phenomenon started maybe 5 years ago. I started to notice that kids are becoming more and more distracted. Can't focus. And very low verbal and spatial intelligence.


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Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: AZNpiano] #2787489
12/03/18 07:12 PM
12/03/18 07:12 PM
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In general, it's good for my beginners to go slowly. Everything you ask them to do should be quite manageable. Often, a new piece will only have one new challenge, for instance introducing a quarter rest or repeat signs.

I use Leila Fletcher Book One and one other book. In this book, I want them to really sound nice before progressing to the next piece. That usually takes four weeks. Of course, some pieces they are on their first week, second week, etc. so it's not dull. For a waltz like Autumn Snow Storm, I want to hear a lilt with a stronger beat one. For many pieces, I'm asking them to conduct or to tap the rhythm. For all pieces, I'm trying to get them to sing the song as well.

If you concentrate on making a nice diminuendo at the ends of phrases, lifting at the ends of phrases, having one note that is the "boss" in a phrase, etc., you will find you get more depth from the children, even though they pick up the notes a bit more slowly. The benefit is that they care about all the parameters of good music, rather than just buzzing along and adding notes.

It might be time to retire your beginner book, and try Boris Berlin's ABC or Leila Fletcher. Most of my beginners take a long time to get to introductory level, but they have nice tone and good hand posture, and they are not pushed to progress. Later, after a few years, you can really proceed more quickly. I manage to get some of them to finish intermediate level by age fifteen or so.

What exactly is your hurry?

Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: AZNpiano] #2787495
12/03/18 07:35 PM
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
I started to notice that kids are becoming more and more distracted. Can't focus.


I'd be willing to bet that the proliferation of tech in children's lives these days is contributing to their distractibility. The push for screens at earlier and earlier ages in the classroom, along with many parents' inability or unwillingness to limit their children's use of it in the home, is, from what I've read, having deleterious effects on attention spans, along with perhaps a whole host of other problems we don't fully understand yet.

You might find the answer to why beginning students are more distracted / less focused by asking parents how many total hours a day of screen time their kids are getting now (at home and school), and compare it to how many total hours of screen time your older students got each day when they were 5-8 years old. I'm guessing today's eight-and-under crowd are using screens more each day than today's teenagers were at that age.

Last edited by Andamento; 12/03/18 07:41 PM.
Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: AZNpiano] #2787533
12/03/18 09:05 PM
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I think you are just seeing the evidence first hand. ADD, ADHD all diagnosed in kids at epidemic levels. The drugging of very young children, sometimes with several substances. Sure, these children existed before. We can remember hyperactive kids when we were in school, but it is a lot more prevalent today. Technology absorption, faster and faster edits in media, diet?, toxic environments, perhaps even vaccinations. It is akin to climate change, I am afraid. I am not saying it is related, but the rise in autism and Asberger's Syndrome has skyrocketed. All part of our golden age. Inability to concentrate, inability to connect. Kids have it a lot tougher and unfortunately parents are inadequately prepared for the realities that are almost impossible to shield their children from. Sorry to sound like I know anything.


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Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: IosPlayer] #2787534
12/03/18 09:10 PM
12/03/18 09:10 PM
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Originally Posted by IosPlayer
I think you are just seeing the evidence first hand. ADD, ADHD all diagnosed in kids at epidemic levels. The drugging of very young children, sometimes with several substances. Sure, these children existed before. We can remember hyperactive kids when we were in school, but it is a lot more prevalent today. Technology absorption, faster and faster edits in media, diet?, toxic environments, perhaps even vaccinations. It is akin to climate change, I am afraid. I am not saying it is related, but the rise in autism and Asberger's Syndrome has skyrocketed. All part of our golden age. Inability to concentrate, inability to connect. Kids have it a lot tougher and unfortunately parents are inadequately prepared for the realities that are almost impossible to shield their children from. Sorry to sound like I know anything.

Correlation does not imply causation


across the stone, deathless piano performances
Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: AZNpiano] #2787536
12/03/18 09:16 PM
12/03/18 09:16 PM
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Do you think parents are less involved with your current students? I've had some good luck with beginners the last couple of years, but mainly with those whose parents have been sitting in (not involved in the lesson, but at least in the room). I think adults are also using phones etc. a lot more and maybe this has an effect on supervision of practice at home and the quality of attention that parents give their kids?
As to the question of what is the rush to progress, it's become clear to me that students have to achieve some level of fluency and ability to play satisfying music by a certain point or they will drop out. Other activities will become more interesting than plunking out beginner tunes, or school work will become more pressing by the time they get around to middle school age. It seems like there's a really small window of time where students need to feel competent and interested enough to continue.


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Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: Candywoman] #2787540
12/03/18 09:22 PM
12/03/18 09:22 PM
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AZNpiano Offline OP
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Originally Posted by Candywoman
What exactly is your hurry?

Just to put it in perspective: I used to be able to get any piano student (even those of average intelligence) to sonatinas by the end of the 3rd year of lessons. Some get there by the 2nd year. And they all played well. Several of them are now in high school and playing very advanced repertoire.

Now I have kids who are still floundering in method books for years on end.

I think I actually got better as a teacher the last 5 years, so something does not compute.


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Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: pianist_lady] #2787544
12/03/18 09:31 PM
12/03/18 09:31 PM
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AZNpiano Offline OP
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Originally Posted by pianist_lady
Do you think parents are less involved with your current students? I've had some good luck with beginners the last couple of years, but mainly with those whose parents have been sitting in (not involved in the lesson, but at least in the room). I think adults are also using phones etc. a lot more and maybe this has an effect on supervision of practice at home and the quality of attention that parents give their kids?

That's a mixed bag, too. Some of the worst students have next to no parental support at home. I also teach quite a few kids who have nannies, so parents are completely out of the lessons picture. Even those parents who are present during the lesson, the phone never leaves their hands.

Originally Posted by pianist_lady
As to the question of what is the rush to progress, it's become clear to me that students have to achieve some level of fluency and ability to play satisfying music by a certain point or they will drop out. Other activities will become more interesting than plunking out beginner tunes, or school work will become more pressing by the time they get around to middle school age. It seems like there's a really small window of time where students need to feel competent and interested enough to continue.

Well said.


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Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: Andamento] #2787567
12/03/18 11:13 PM
12/03/18 11:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Andamento
2. All other things being equal, girls tend to progress faster than boys. (I hope that comment doesn't get me into trouble. It is simply an observation I have made, based on anecdotal evidence in my own studio.

I encourage you to not waffle or be apologetic with this statement. Boys are different from girls and need to be treated differently to thrive. As a boy I went through several piano teachers before my mother found one who understood how to handle a high-energy boys like myself. If it wasn’t for him, I would never have learned to play the piano.

My other previous teachers did very well with all my female cousins, but it wasn’t until I found my teacher that I understood how differently I learned from them. And all my brothers and male cousins play the piano because of this specific teacher.


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Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: Groove On] #2787574
12/04/18 12:00 AM
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Originally Posted by Groove On
Originally Posted by Andamento
2. All other things being equal, girls tend to progress faster than boys. (I hope that comment doesn't get me into trouble. It is simply an observation I have made, based on anecdotal evidence in my own studio.

I encourage you to not waffle or be apologetic with this statement. Boys are different from girls and need to be treated differently to thrive. As a boy I went through several piano teachers before my mother found one who understood how to handle a high-energy boys like myself. If it wasn’t for him, I would never have learned to play the piano.

My other previous teachers did very well with all my female cousins, but it wasn’t until I found my teacher that I understood how differently I learned from them. And all my brothers and male cousins play the piano because of this specific teacher.


I appreciate your comment, Groove On. Thank you. And I'm glad you and your brothers and male cousins found the teacher you mention. That's a blessing.

Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: AZNpiano] #2787585
12/04/18 01:06 AM
12/04/18 01:06 AM
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano

Originally Posted by pianist_lady
As to the question of what is the rush to progress, it's become clear to me that students have to achieve some level of fluency and ability to play satisfying music by a certain point or they will drop out. Other activities will become more interesting than plunking out beginner tunes, or school work will become more pressing by the time they get around to middle school age. It seems like there's a really small window of time where students need to feel competent and interested enough to continue.

Well said.


I think this the main point. I have the impression the compared to us (I am from the '70) kids are much more exposed to stimuli and grow at much faster pace. Technology is factor but just a variable of the equation. Most of the kids that would study piano (at least here in Europe) at an early stage of their life are likely to be involved in many other activities and have really no time to play and to develop the love for it.
As a parent, I think you need to help to be consistent with practice and high expectation right from the beginning, because playing an instruments give satisfaction on long time scales.
As you are saying you have a closing window and you should be ready to accept that perhaps piano is not for your kid, he might go back to it (or something else later)

I find also that peers are also a good source of inspiration, my daughter entered into the a public conservatory last summer. She joined the class of a piano teacher who has students from her age (7) to pre-university. The way it works is that when you are ready you have an exam to go to the next level, if you fail you are kindly asked to leave the school and to go for private tuition. My daughter, for example, will have her first exam no later than her 3rd year.
At the same time, this weekend, she had her first concert with this new class. The teachers picks the students who are well prepared so that not all of them are allowed to play. She played with all sort of students up to some really advanced teen and young adult playing impressive virtuosic pieces.
Back home, the evening, she was super motivated and jumped on the piano as soon as she could, something she generally does not do.
This was very different from last year when she was the only one in her peers who had to practice piano every single day, now, at this music school, she is surrounded by kids of her age doing that (she is expected to attend a class of solfege and music theory as well).

My points:
- It is important to make understand kids that music is fun but it is not a game
- It is not for everyone, but everyone who proceed had to learn some form of consistency in their practice
- Peers effect can play a role.

I am no piano teacher, but I am a teacher in other disciplines.

Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Originally Posted by IosPlayer
I think you are just seeing the evidence first hand. ADD, ADHD all diagnosed in kids at epidemic levels. The drugging of very young children, sometimes with several substances. Sure, these children existed before. We can remember hyperactive kids when we were in school, but it is a lot more prevalent today. Technology absorption, faster and faster edits in media, diet?, toxic environments, perhaps even vaccinations. It is akin to climate change, I am afraid. I am not saying it is related, but the rise in autism and Asberger's Syndrome has skyrocketed. All part of our golden age. Inability to concentrate, inability to connect. Kids have it a lot tougher and unfortunately parents are inadequately prepared for the realities that are almost impossible to shield their children from. Sorry to sound like I know anything.

Correlation does not imply causation



As for the claim of an epidemic rise of autism, this is most likely due to an increase of the diagnosis, an interesting article here:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-real-reasons-autism-rates-are-up-in-the-u-s/

My guess that a similar effect exist for ADHD.


Last edited by fofig; 12/04/18 01:09 AM.


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Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: AZNpiano] #2787670
12/04/18 09:10 AM
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Is there a general trend today that beginner pianists (age 5-8) are progressing slower than ever?

I've always taught beginners, and I have had kids who progressed slowly in the past. But now it seems like every single student is going slower and slower. Almost every student is on a one-year plan to finish the Primer book.

Some of these kids' slow progress I can attribute to having too many activities. But I also have slow students whose ONLY activity is piano.

Or maybe it's just bad luck that I get stuck with these kids? I do have a lot of beginners right now, but I sincerely doubt they will ever get out of method books, at the pace they are progressing.

It's your students. I have a kid about to turn next Feb. He is mildly autistic, and he's not a quick kid. So his patient mother and I have been working for about a year and a half, since May of 2017. I won't teach small fries without a parent in the lesson, and I teach the parents how to drill at home. This mom is great. She got the autism diagnosis last spring. He has other LDs.

She asked me about her 4 year-old, who just turned 5 in October. I said, "Probably too early, but bring him in." So she did, and he's just about caught up with his brother in about three lessons. The advantage is that because I've taught the mom how to work at home, she's now very good, probably better than about 99% of the idiots who claim to be teachers. This little guy already finds all lines and space in both clefs. He's using my chart, but he will be off it by the beginning of 2019. He's already playing both hands, playing a two octave scale, B major. You'd love to teach this kid.

I think you must have bad karma!

I have a teen girl who has been stuck on the easiest piece I teach with just three easy chords in the LH for probably 6 months. Every week she sucks the air out of my life. I count the seconds until she leaves.


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Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: AZNpiano] #2787677
12/04/18 09:26 AM
12/04/18 09:26 AM
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I'm noticing a lot more students (and parents) with significant levels of anxiety than earlier in my (non-piano teaching) career. A few days ago, several of us old timers were joking about needing new normative data for standardized anxiety measures, because 'everyone' is scoring in the significant range now while formerly it was normally distributed.


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Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: AZNpiano] #2787702
12/04/18 10:36 AM
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I play music with a group so the focus and concentration has to be there. Part of the problem may be the students' attention span. Many people including myself spend a significant amount of time online. And we learned to flip through half-dozen pages of materials in a short time.

Otherwise, there are already a lot of reference materials online. You find all sorts of student pieces performed by teachers & students. Many of us would have listened to at least 1 version of "Minuet in G" from the Anna M Notebook before learning to play it. We get a sense which notes are sharps & flats, tempo, dynamics and phrasing by watching a few online videos. Perfecting a piece has become easier.

A lot of parents enroll their kids in music lessons. In a lot of cases the child just doesn't have a lot of interest. It's just 1 of his/her extracurricular activities. I know 1 kid who went to a Yamaha music program for about 2 years and quit. His year-end recital last year was probably the last time he would touch a piano. The mother who accompanied him to his lessons thought she was practicing piano more than he did. He gets into cooking and experimenting with recipes. Maybe he is going to be a chef in the future but playing music is definitely off the list. The people who are into music like myself would spend time practicing everyday. Those who are enrolled by their parents without an interest will make excuses not to practice.

Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: malkin] #2787706
12/04/18 10:52 AM
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Originally Posted by malkin
A few days ago, several of us old timers were joking about needing new normative data for standardized anxiety measures, because 'everyone' is scoring in the significant range now while formerly it was normally distributed.

I started life in the "significant" range (well, almost by definition since I have OCD). They'd need to come up with an entirely different range for me by now!


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Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: malkin] #2787828
12/04/18 05:09 PM
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AZNpiano Offline OP
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Originally Posted by malkin
I'm noticing a lot more students (and parents) with significant levels of anxiety than earlier in my (non-piano teaching) career. A few days ago, several of us old timers were joking about needing new normative data for standardized anxiety measures, because 'everyone' is scoring in the significant range now while formerly it was normally distributed.

Is there a way to measure the lack of focus?


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Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: AZNpiano] #2787852
12/04/18 07:17 PM
12/04/18 07:17 PM
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I would ordinarily only attempt Clementi's Sonatina in C, opus 36, no. 1, and pieces like Arabesque by Burgmuller after four years of piano lessons. So, in their fifth year of piano.

Music is not a race to learn notes. I'd focus more on breadth of literature (horizontal learning) and less on vertical climbing.

Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: Candywoman] #2787926
12/05/18 01:13 AM
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Originally Posted by Candywoman
Music is not a race to learn notes. I'd focus more on breadth of literature (horizontal learning) and less on vertical climbing.

I agree music is not a race to learn notes, but you need to realize that--at some point--students will get bored. Arabesque is in Alfred Premier level 4 and the Clementi is in AP level 5. Most of my current beginners probably will quit piano by level 2B.


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Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: Candywoman] #2787937
12/05/18 01:58 AM
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Originally Posted by Candywoman
Music is not a race to learn notes. I'd focus more on breadth of literature (horizontal learning) and less on vertical climbing.

This is a nice way to express it. I think for us students just being made aware that there is a difference - can make a big difference.


We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams.
Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: AZNpiano] #2787993
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Originally Posted by malkin
I'm noticing a lot more students (and parents) with significant levels of anxiety than earlier in my (non-piano teaching) career. A few days ago, several of us old timers were joking about needing new normative data for standardized anxiety measures, because 'everyone' is scoring in the significant range now while formerly it was normally distributed.

Is there a way to measure the lack of focus?


There are assessments for everything, because there is money to be made in to be made in publication and administration.

https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-assessments-and-tests/


I've been trying to change my signature quote for weeks.

Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2787994
12/05/18 08:29 AM
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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Originally Posted by malkin
A few days ago, several of us old timers were joking about needing new normative data for standardized anxiety measures, because 'everyone' is scoring in the significant range now while formerly it was normally distributed.

I started life in the "significant" range (well, almost by definition since I have OCD). They'd need to come up with an entirely different range for me by now!


Nah--once you're out in that skinny little part at either end of the curve you might as well just get comfortable and plan to stay there.


I've been trying to change my signature quote for weeks.

Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: AZNpiano] #2788263
12/05/18 11:30 PM
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I agree with pianist lady that a certain fluidity must come. But not having that fluidity doesn't seem to stop many of my students. The biggest push for learning piano has to be between the ages of seven and twelve. In fact, I'd recommend twice weekly lessons to capitalize on those golden years. But the parents wouldn't sacrifice for that.

As for AZN, I don't know the mixed bag of students you've gotten. There are some really slow kids out there though. They lack curiosity and they don't practice, and it's plugging for the teacher. All you can do is love them. Perhaps that's all that counts anyhow. So few of them go on to anything.

Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: Candywoman] #2788272
12/06/18 12:19 AM
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Originally Posted by Candywoman
Perhaps that's all that counts anyhow.


I hope it does, I think it does.

I would say that I had teaches that kept an ember burning, even if from their standpoint they were just marking time and just being positive.


Whizbang [Linked Image]
amateur ragtime pianist
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Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: Whizbang] #2788326
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Originally Posted by Whizbang
Originally Posted by Candywoman
Perhaps that's all that counts anyhow.


I hope it does, I think it does.


I agree that it is necessary, but in most cases, not sufficient.


I've been trying to change my signature quote for weeks.

Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: Candywoman] #2788444
12/06/18 03:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Candywoman
As for AZN, I don't know the mixed bag of students you've gotten. There are some really slow kids out there though. They lack curiosity and they don't practice, and it's plugging for the teacher.

Let's see...have you ever taught a student who needs three months to "find" middle C? And then he can't find treble G and bass F if his life depended on it? Things that take normal kids one minute to understand would take this boy about six weeks, with frequent lapses of memory. On top of that, he can't maintain a steady beat of quarter notes. He just likes piano because it makes sounds. Fortunately, his parents are highly educated and they appreciate how I teach their son.

Originally Posted by Candywoman
All you can do is love them. Perhaps that's all that counts anyhow. So few of them go on to anything.

I prefer not to see things this way.


Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member
Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: AZNpiano] #2788596
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Perhaps the child has FAS.

As for the end result of all of our efforts: I've taught about twenty-two years. Not one student who has gone on to "make anything of it." Some still play some piano years later. One adult student who began from scratch and played about three years went on to play at her church.


Last edited by Candywoman; 12/07/18 03:23 AM.
Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: Candywoman] #2788685
12/07/18 10:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Candywoman


As for the end result of all of our efforts: I've taught about twenty-two years. Not one student who has gone on to "make anything of it." Some still play some piano years later. One adult student who began from scratch and played about three years went on to play at her church.



Certainly, many of them have gone on to become decent human beings, and I believe that their music teachers had a part in that.


I've been trying to change my signature quote for weeks.

Re: Slow Progress Among Beginners [Re: AZNpiano] #2788703
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AZN, I have several students like that - one took lessons for 6 months before coming to me. He's been with me a year now (with a break all summer) and still cannot understand that Middle C in the bass clef is still Middle C! Cannot read bass C, if there is finger #5 attached to the note. Plays G instead. Even if he just played the "real" G in the short song before that. Where is the memory in these youngsters? I still believe it's lack of practice, rather than lack of intelligence in most cases. As well as the age factor. Most of the kids I've taught who start at age 6, in my experience, are slow learners.

Another youngster can play 8th notes correctly in one measure, yet mess them up in the next. I've written in counting, we've clapped, sang, counted for years. Still doesn't get it. At some point, I feel it's my inability to find the right solution.


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