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#925807 - 03/06/08 08:42 AM What do I do?
chocolatefairy99 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/10/08
Posts: 48
Loc: Ireland
I have a student since last September who came from another teacher. This student is doing music in school and wants to play piano for his music exam next year.
For me, every single lesson is a struggle. He swears that he does practise but it really doesn't feel like it, even though his mother signs his journal to say that he did practise. I think he's too busy with the other million and one extra-curricular activities that he's doing to give any quality time at piano.
Before xmas we had a chat about him maybe taking a break because he doesn't have the time to practise that he needs, but his Dad wouldn't allow him to give up piano. Sometimes I think parents want too much for their kids. Since xmas, this student has told me that, yes, he does want to do piano. I'm not sure if I believe him. I have tried many different strategies to make piano interesting but nothing seems to work.
His mother thinks that he will be ready for an exam before xmas this year, but to me exams are a long way off. I have told her what I think, but some parents just think their children are gifted at every activity under the sun. This student is 14 and I don't really like to send students away, but this is really draining me, and it leaves me without energy for the following students. What should I do?

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#925808 - 03/06/08 09:17 AM Re: What do I do?
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 15119
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Wow, that's a tough one! I actually admire his parents for not letting him quit, because so often kids will jump from one activity to the next and not learn to stick with something. However, they're not being realistic either. If they are making him stay with lessons, then they need to make him practice. I would ask mom or dad to sit in on the lessons. Do this for a period of a month. Let them see he is not making any progress, and explain to them that practicing something once a week does not allow the brain to learn, nor does it allow the muscles to develop any sort of memory of a piece.

Discuss with them at his lesson what his schedule is during the week, and write it down. Be sure to include time he needs to do his homework. Then see if there is any time for practice, and you need to determine what is acceptable for practice time. I'm not sure what level of playing he's at, but let's say 45 minutes per day, for at least 5 days out of the week (I find anything less than 5 and there's not much progress). Set the minimum at whatever you feel is necessary, though. Then look at his calendar and see if he has time to practice. Don't rule out having him get up earlier in the morning to practice if need be. If there is not time, then tell him and his parents that he must quit something, and suggest what he could quit that would free up the time needed from his calendar. But give him a choice: "You can quit basketball or karate, which will it be?" It is important that his parents realize that he cannot do it all, and that you will insist on him doing what is necessary to give him the best chance to prepare, or that they can find another teacher.

Also tell them that talent can be wasted, but hard work cannot. If he doesn't put in the hard work with their help, you will drop him as a student. Give him a month to improve, and if he doesn't then drop him.
private piano/voice teacher FT

#925809 - 03/06/08 10:16 AM Re: What do I do?
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 14179
Loc: Canada
The million dollar question is whether this boy's extra-curricular activities are his own, or those of his parents. I tutored a young man who was suffering from burn-out, and he had no choice in the matter. He was also highly motivated in several areas, but needed guidance in efficient study, and we worked as much on that as on the subject itself - in fact, sometimes more. I stressed to his parents that the learning can come only from the student - not from teacher, tutor, or other external factors.

By contrast, one of my sons had an especially grueling year in his last year of high school. He was a late starter on his instrument and would have to compete in auditions with students having 3 to 4 times as many years, some with these $100/hour teachers that were discussed recently. He had to do night school in order to meet the requirements of his university/professor of choice, orchestra practice at high standards, full curriculum etc.

I learned a few things from my sons, including efficiency, prioritizing, and intelligent choices. The schedule was truly impossible, so prioritizing was important. One subject got more weight than another, and each activity was planned not only in when to do it, but how. He also had the choice, and made it without parental interference. My role was to provide the means as needed. By contrast, the young man I taught had no such choice, did not know how to organize or prioritize, and was clearly overwhelmed. Before applauding a parent for pressuring their child, one must look more deeply into the situation.

#925810 - 03/06/08 10:16 AM Re: What do I do?
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7639
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
chocolatefairy99 - My sympathies. Currently I have a 9th grade girl who is displaying similar symptoms. As a younger student, she really shined, preparation was excellent as were results. Now, it's barely discernable. Both she and her parents assure me she's practicing. She is talented and a quick learner, but each week's lesson is a major disappointment.

My conclusion is that her practice is undisciplined, unfocused, and not self-critical. Well, surprise, she's a young teen, attractive, and probably loaded with hormones. Finding the keyboard each day is probably a 1st class accomplishment.

I have written out detailed, two page, practice instructions. We go through it in the lesson every week.

At this point, I just hope she keeps at the piano until her mind & body get back into synch, when I'm sure she'll take off like a rocket.
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

#925811 - 03/06/08 12:17 PM Re: What do I do?
Karisofia Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/13/08
Posts: 201
Loc: Wisconsin
ChocolateFairy, have you discussed how to practice with this student? Maybe if you give him specific directions such as "be able to play this line with no pauses or mistakes 3 times in a row" he would accomplish more. I would suggest The Practice Revolution by Philip Johnston if you haven't read it. Also, his web site at practicespot.com.

That said, if you cannot help the student and it is draining you, it is your prerogative to suggest that he find a different teacher.
Private Teacher
Local Association President
The Achievement Program Center Representative

#925812 - 03/06/08 02:00 PM Re: What do I do?
Stanny Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/08/06
Posts: 1461
I can guarantee that I went through 2 years of that as a child between the ages of 11-13. My mother didn't allow me to quit lessons, and I'm sure my piano teacher was pulling her hair out at my unpreparedness.

Something "clicked" around age 14. It all suddenly made sense, I enjoyed playing, and my practice improved a lot. I think it may be something a lot of students go through, and I try to keep that in mind when I see it in my middle school aged students.

I guess if it is really draining you, another teacher may be the right solution. Or you can also just agree to think about this student in a different way and be patient with him.

Independent Music Teacher
Certified Piano Teacher, American College of Musicians

#925813 - 03/06/08 05:35 PM Re: What do I do?
chocolatefairy99 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/10/08
Posts: 48
Loc: Ireland
I have given this student a detailed practice schedule, trying to just sort out 4-bar sections at a time. I'm making it as simple and as clear as possible. I believe that quality practice comes before quantity.

I just don't want to send him away when I know he has his Junior Cert next year (big exam in Ireland). I feel that I'll be letting him down. But at the same time, I feel wrong being paid by his parents to teach him when he really isn't learning anything.

It's just so frustrating

#925814 - 03/06/08 06:53 PM Re: What do I do?
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
Your time and efforts need to be paid for whether or not there is any or much progress. It seems to be taking a while for him to get it, but, if you dislike working with kids who don't seem to have gotten it yet, you may decide you do not want to teach these students.

Some kids take a while to get it and it is such a joy when that break through comes. It requires lots of patience from you and many different ways to teach to his learning style and to address his problems.

Brains work differently, even having some undetected problem areas in the brain, it is not always their lacking of practice or lack of understanding. This may be his best effort.

It may not be the previous teacher, it may not be your teaching, it may be all about his abilities at logic, comparisons, spatial relationships, physical impulses. Who knows?

How do we work differently with these kinds of challenges? How do we make changes in our teaching to apply to others who need a different presentation?

You need to decide if the frustration is coming from him, or from yourself? What are you frustrated with exactly?


#925815 - 03/06/08 07:26 PM Re: What do I do?
Innominato Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/05/08
Posts: 802
Loc: London
Call my cynical or old fashioned if you wish but I would suggest, in this and all similar circumstances, a pretty dry approach.

I would speak to the parents and say very clearly that I expect the boy to deliver or he will be shown the door, period.
What activities he will have to renounce to - or whether any such renounce will be necessary - would not be my concern in the least: their child, their problem, their duty.

You can also hint that if the boy really practices than it is better to let the piano be altogether, as it is obvious that he is far less gifted than they suppose. If (as you imply) the boy does not practice and the family does not care, this will be a mighty wake up call.

I think you have a much better chance this way, as you speak clearly with the family and point out what their responsibilities are but do not try to do their job.

This way no one can accuse you of meddling in the parent's responsibilities but the parents know exactly what is expected from them and the boy and must make some choices....

Just my two cents....
"The man that hath no music in himself / Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds / Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils." (W.Shakespeare)

Kemble Conservatoire 335025 Walnut Satin

#925816 - 03/07/08 12:40 AM Re: What do I do?
Candywoman Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/14/03
Posts: 1034
I think the main stress you might be feeling is the pressure to prepare this student for an exam. There are two ways to deal with this. You could tell the parents you are not willing to even consider an exam at this point. You might explain that you never do exams shortly after receiving a new student. You need time to inculcate your special method into the lad.

The other approach is to go for the exam and see if the boy lives up to the challenge. Then if he does poorly, it's no skin off your nose. You already warned the parents what would happen.

As adults, we often forget that kids want to live through many experiences that we foresee they will fail at. You'd think that all we'd have to do is train kids to do the smart things we tell them to do. But it doesn't work like that.

#925817 - 03/07/08 07:01 AM Re: What do I do?
chocolatefairy99 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/10/08
Posts: 48
Loc: Ireland
Originally posted by Betty Patnude:

You need to decide if the frustration is coming from him, or from yourself? What are you frustrated with exactly?

Betty [/b]
I think what I'm frustrated with is that I know he doesn't want to do piano, and I'm expected to work miracles with someone that doesn't want to be there in the first place. I'm also frustrated because I have a waiting list of students that are willing to learn and they could take the place of this student.

As for the exam. It's a state exam, he's taken music, he has to do the exam, and he has to do well in it. I just don't think he should have chosen music in the first place, but he has, so we just have to stick with it. If he didn't have the exam next year, I would already be after giving his place to a new student, but I know how important these exams are, and I'm trying to do my best for him.

I think a lot of the problem is the parents. His dad WON'T let him give up piano. I had suggested maybe playing another instrument, such as recorder, just to get him through the exams. They are learning recorder in school. Some choose to play recorder in groups for the exam. This would probably be a better option, because I don't think his piano playing is going to be up to standard on time.
Now his mother is trying to change his lesson time, becuase he's rushing to piano after football. What she can't seem to understand is that I put a lot of thought into my scheduling in September, she was lucky to even get a space in my schedule for the young lad, and now she expects me to change to suit her. She asked specifically for Tuesday or Thursday night- those nights I don't work late because I have choir and band. I don't have too many students leave, so usually their time stays the same from one year to the next because I know it suits them. I'm not going to put myself out or put anybody else out to suit one busy little child.

Am I getting bitter and twisted?

#925818 - 03/07/08 07:09 AM Re: What do I do?
Innominato Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/05/08
Posts: 802
Loc: London
"Am I getting bitter and twisted?"


Just tell the parents what you have said to us, in my eyes your arguments are perfectly fair and if the boy's parents do not see reason they never will.
"The man that hath no music in himself / Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds / Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils." (W.Shakespeare)

Kemble Conservatoire 335025 Walnut Satin

#925819 - 03/07/08 09:21 AM Re: What do I do?
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 15119
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
I agree with Innominato. Honestly, I would tell the parents that he is not progressing in such a way that will bode well for exams. Since this is a reflection on you as a teacher as well as on the student, you will not recommend him for exams in piano. It sounds as though these parents just expect the child to be good if he shows up every week. I think it's time you be blunt (pleasantly, however) about the situation. Tell them you will recommend other piano teachers should they insist on him continuing, but that you will not continue to teach him.
private piano/voice teacher FT


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