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Joined: Dec 2020
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I'm new here and curious...

What do you guys tend to do with parents who are always pushing for their kids to get more work when they don't even polish what is assigned? I've had one parent of one (admittedly hard-working) student ask for more, but she struggles with consistency in counting, attention to dynamics, keeping up with accidentals in new key signatures, etc. Less so am I inclined to add more music for students who don't even practice what I assign...

The arguments for most parents is age or how long they have been taking lessons (many of whom were with other teachers prior to me) - but that doesn't seem to make much sense to me if what I already give them is too challenging.

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Reiterate that I assigned [specific assignments] for [specific purposes]. If a particular item is imminently critical and is a direct prerequisite for something else and is not done, we will not be getting to the something else.

Relate it to some other sequenced type of skill such as math, reading, cooking, walking/running, driving, etc. You need the earlier building blocks of skill in order to be successful with more advanced skills.

Find out what is preventing understanding - they simply didn't try? the step you were trying to get them to do is too big? you assigned 5 things and they can only keep up with 2? they can do all 5 things just not at the same time?

Another trick is to assign work at the same level. I do this sparingly because as you noted, sometimes it doesn't actually get done, you end up with mediocre results on 5 things instead of excellence on 1, and it doesn't address the root issue, which is:

I don't ask for polish on *everything* but I consider something to be critical, I will ask for it and guide them through the learning process. I'm willing to lose a student if they don't want to put in the effort, would rather go to a teacher who has a "less strict" plan, etc. I'm the trainer and if you just want to do your own thing, you don't need to be with me...

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Just one question (from a non-teacher)
Is the parent sitting in on lessons? If not, maybe they need to dig in so they will understand what is missing


"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
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Grammar typo - *if* I consider something to be critical, then I will ask for it.

(Good point about the parent's presence - if they are trying to dictate from afar, that is different from if they are in the lesson and wanting to direct things.)

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I certainly don't give a lot of work - if anything I incline to give too little (e.g., one or two 8-measure pieces for a student who has been taking lessons for years). But the reason I give so little is because the little I give to some of my students is almost never polished - and by "polished" I mean the counting is consistent and there are not hesitations and restarts every other measure.

The challenge for me is getting my students to practice consistently and thoughtfully. I know that it is tedious practicing only 8 measures for a whole week, but when I give more work - whether that be supplemental exercises, scales, cadences - the same sloppiness of the pieces is translated into their exercises.

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As I age, Kyle, I learn that for many people, playing the piano is more important than playing it well. This student may one day care about improving, but for now I would give him/her many simple pieces that give the sense of achievement (of reading mainly). Playing notes is not the same as making music, as you and most teachers on this forum well know. But they do not know this and for the present, this concept will not sink in. Pile on easier pieces so at least the student feels more independent. The parent does not want to hear the same old thing rehearsed at home. And believe me, it is the same old thing because it doesn't seem like your student can make corrections at home, only repeat the things you've fixed at the lesson. This is common in the early years. Your own image of yourself may change because you become a facilitator and not the best teacher if you go with this plan. But what is your choice?

They will go to another teacher that happens to present them with a James Bond piece or something cool which improves his image in front of his friends.
Another choice is to try to get perfection from one piece and let the others come out as they may.

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As someone who first taught himself before taking lessons, I feel the importance of good technique and good habits in the beginning. So, I don't want to just give him pieces and let him rush through them. He has been taking lessons for some years with other teachers (he's 9 years old) and he just isn't close to where he could be given his intelligence. This is what bugs his mom - she took piano when she was younger and was farther along than he is at the same age. She wants him to have sight-reading and memory pieces and theory study and all these other things (which are good for a motivated child), but when I assign them they don't get done...

All that to say, I would rather give him up as a student than just throw songs at him, but I am working at a music school (not independently), so I must tread lightly.

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Can you recommend longer lessons? That sounds like he needs 1 hour per week, perhaps divided into two lessons of half-hour.

Also, you need to speak more to the mother. Explain that what a girl in the 1980's experienced in a piano lesson will not be what a boy in the 2020's will experience in a piano lesson. I'm revising my answer to say you need to communicate more with the mother.

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People are different, times are different, teaching approaches are different. Teaching also isn't about "assigning work" and hoping the student figures it out. (Well, it might work for some but definitely not for others.) As Candywoman said, you'd have to spend time building the sight-reading skill, memory, etc. If he has the knowledge and skill and doesn't apply it, that's another story.

Some paths of discussion I use are:

- Parent says they want to do ABC, then I say first we need to do XYZ (it's not "no", it's there is a plan, putting the ball in their court).

- Parent wants more pieces played at lower quality than fewer pieces played at higher quality, then I explain that we have both pieces for polishing and pieces for exposure, we should spend time on both but spend a suitable proportion of time and effort on each. This is a matter of teaching style. Families whose educational views/values don't align with mine eventually leave. If you are in a situation where you are pressed to sell the product that the client wants instead of the product you want to sell, that's another story.

- Student does not understand things in the lesson, then I need to change my way of explaining or demonstrating OR because of pandemic distance learning, I need to explain to the parent and have the parent teach the student.

- Student understands in the lesson AND doesn't follow through in home practice (therefore it is forgotten next week and we spend time on it again) AND parent is having unreasonable expectations for the level of effort being put in, then I explain that the true learning takes place *between lessons* i.e. practice. The student will highly benefit from parent support in taking notes, scheduling practice, giving reminders, etc. This is appropriate at age 9; even in academic school they aren't expecting 3rd-5th graders to track their homework completely independently, but they are being guided through the process and gradually taught the skills to handle it themselves. I'll suggest ways to do these, including small ways of transferring ownership to the child, but ultimately, I can't practice for you! Ball is in their court.

Originally Posted by Kyle J. Smith
The challenge for me is getting my students to practice consistently and thoughtfully. I know that it is tedious practicing only 8 measures for a whole week

I imagine that most teachers would relate. Do you do (lead the student in doing) consistent and thoughtful practice during the lesson?

During distance learning, I actually write (type) practice assignment charts for all my students up to a certain level. It's tedious for me but it does help me keep track of who's doing what and there is no excuse for not knowing what to practice.

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Originally Posted by Kyle J. Smith
she struggles with consistency in counting, attention to dynamics, keeping up with accidentals in new key signatures, etc. Less so am I inclined to add more music for students who don't even practice what I assign...
Do you get your student to sight-read the piece - as slowly as required - in front of you during the lesson (counting aloud if necessary) before you 'assign' it? That way, you can instantly see what's going wrong and correct it there and then before it goes further. As well as constantly evaluating his sight-reading abilities. (BTW, never play it for him first - he does all the playing, and the reading.) Never just assign a piece without having your student try it out in front of you first, and then attempt to correct all the ingrained problems next week. A week is a long time for a kid......

Write down in a notebook exactly what you want your student to achieve by next week. As the mother is musical, she should know what you're asking of her child, and she can read it for herself and supervise what her child is doing when practicing. The notebook is also a diary of the progress that the child is making, week by week.

BTW, that's the way I was taught as a kid (and I've kept all the notebooks my teachers used), and that's the way I teach my students now.


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not a teacher, but in my own experience, get a piece done has very different criteria for different teachers/places, parents, especially for the kid.
maybe you are not aware, but some places in the world get a piece done means type all the notes with rhythm almost correctly, the musicality is not in consideration. Even for parents who studied piano in the past, they could ignore completely f,p, legato etc, but they do care which piece of Czerny their kid is studying with the teacher.


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Originally Posted by Kyle J. Smith
I'm new here and curious...

What do you guys tend to do with parents who are always pushing for their kids to get more work when they don't even polish what is assigned? .

I usually don't come across parents like that, they just want them to learn whatever their pace.
I did have a mother want their kids to move on with a piece after 2 weeks long ago. Of course, this is all about trusting the teacher, which she eventually did. I still teach her kids for years and yes, you want them to 'learn' the piece at some level and move on to next.

I think todays students compared to decades ago are easily distracted. But they can surprise you too. I wanted to drop a student who hardly ever practiced. But he now responds to learning chords and improvising. And now he pays more attention and back on track.

They're all different and it comes down to them realizing the effort needed to overcome the hard spots in each piece. We can show them efficient ways to learn, but they need to follow up. Not everyone responds like we'd like to. Sometimes they're not 'ready' so sometimes better to adjust to what they respond to.
"You can lead the horse to water..."

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Thanks all for the replies. I am going to take some more time to re-read your replies and see what can be implemented in my teaching.

In general, I do work with kids through the songs at first - I never assign a piece that I haven't heard them do at least in part with me, and I generally point out potential problem spots. As for practice methods, I am working on being more explicit with that for the students - I have realized that they often don't know what a good practice session looks like.

As for polish, polish doesn't mean dynamics or expression at all (not for most of the younger students) - it means counting properly and playing the right notes without starting and stopping every two measures. I would love to require more than that, but my students tend not to practice. I am working on incentives for them - rewards, recognition, competition, etc.

For the male student, the main issue is that he doesn't listen well in lessons and he doesn't practice well out of lessons; the female student practices well, she just takes a little longer to learn than her mother would probably like. But the common denominator between both parents is that they expect growth to come after a certain number of years ("my child is x years old"), rather than after a certain amount of commitment to thoughtful, deliberate practice. (Btw, both students are meeting in person).

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Originally Posted by Kyle J. Smith
... I would love to require more than that, but my students tend not to practice. I am working on incentives for them - rewards, recognition, competition, etc.

....
I don't know what are your students' ages, but the first thing to understand is what they think about play piano, what they expect with piano study, which kind of music do they like....
And talk to parents and make sure they understand which kind of practice their children should have to achieve their expectations.


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Originally Posted by Kyle J. Smith
Thanks all for the replies. I am going to take some more time to re-read your replies and see what can be implemented in my teaching.

...

For the male student, the main issue is that he doesn't listen well in lessons and he doesn't practice well out of lessons; the female student practices well, she just takes a little longer to learn than her mother would probably like. But the common denominator between both parents is that they expect growth to come after a certain number of years ("my child is x years old"), rather than after a certain amount of commitment to thoughtful, deliberate practice. (Btw, both students are meeting in person).

I don’t believe you provided the info about whether a parent is attending the lessons. If so, I am surprised they would expect their children to forge ahead without being ready.


"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

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Work on horizontal learning over vertical. (reviewing same concepts in new ways, over gaining levels and new concepts)

I had to develop this when students only touched the piano at lesson time, but parent wanted to see new music assigned, instead of re-dating.

So, I found theory pages, music games, a good bit of "fun" music, some sight reading work, exercises, and I would also find new ways to add to the current music- I would assign different measures, focus on one hand, mention dynamics lots one week, etc...

I have at least seven different ways to teach sharps and flats, and packets of pages that many students do not need, yet others get doled out weekly.

I have had to explain to parents that PLAYING is not practicing.
"I told them to go practice and I heard noise for 20 minutes so they practiced." ARGHGH!

Have the parent observe a lesson, and ask them once a week to have their child perform for them, using the assignment page as a guide.

It's a bit like telling a child to go clean their room. The parent assumes they know what to do. They might also assume that more music means more learning. (Like buying storage containers means getting organized? Yet, the new containers sit empty and taking up more space?)

It's a hard part of teaching. We have to work on two generations.

Good luck!


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Originally Posted by missbelle
(Like buying storage containers means getting organized? Yet, the new containers sit empty and taking up more space?)

(Like how buying cleaning products means my house is getting cleaned!)

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Originally Posted by missbelle
It's a hard part of teaching. We have to work on two generations.

It's a hard part of learning too!


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Originally Posted by missbelle
(Like buying storage containers means getting organized? Yet, the new containers sit empty and taking up more space?)

Pretty sure buying a scale will mean I'll lose weight!


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I place emphasis on musicality. Once the student gets all the notes right (a point of congratulations), then it's "now make it sound like a song".
Parents seem to understand and approve that. This usually involves more attention to meter (play it more smoothly)

BTW- I always play it for them first so they get a feel for what it's supposed to sound / feel like. I find that helps. I do this both at tempo and slowed down.

If they are way out of meter, then I will use an example of singing a song with bad meter...and how that doesn't feel right.
Like "Happy Birthday" with big pauses between syllables and rushing between phrases...

I also stress "bite size pieces"...a couple measures or a phrase at a time. This has worked well for me...Students get a sense of accomplishment by not being overwhelmed by having to learn too much at once...as simple as it may be for the teacher, it's a lot of info for a novice to grasp.
Starting hands separate gets them used to the mechanics of each hand's part.
After the bite size pieces, I stress transitions between phrases...that is a typical "speed bump". I have them repeat these things at the lesson until I feel they "get it"

When a parent expresses concern over the student playing "that song again"...I relate the notion of "making it sound like a song" and how it's not going to do them any good to go on to another piece with additional complications that they are not prepared for.

Getting students to practice is far easier with families that have at least some musical experience. they can monitor the progress, whereas parents that are "musically clueless" are just that...and yes, that can be frustrating all around...
The bottom line is what the student is capable of and what they are motivated to do...That's a huge variable!


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