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#954229 - 02/15/08 08:07 AM How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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rocket88 Offline
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I have a relatively new student who appears to have zero ability to play the piano.

He (12 years old) has virtually no control of his fingers. For example, he can barely play a note with #2 finger, which should be the most controlled, (on his dominant hand, no less). His hand position falls apart, and the other fingers "fly".

He does not have even the slightest ear for music...after an entire lesson, he could not duplicate the first measure of "Mary had a little lamb".

He is an otherwise intelligent person, and I have had good success teaching children over the years.

When faced with such a situation, do you tell the parents that this is not the best avenue for the child? I do not want to have his lessons turn into a frustrating turn-off towards music for him.

In the past, I have had adults who were in this category; I continued with them until they voluntarily left.

Any suggestions?


Piano teacher and Blues and Boogie-Woogie pianist.
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#954230 - 02/15/08 08:46 AM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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Forgive me, but it sounds as though you are giving up on him after one lesson. Everyone learns at their own pace, and sometimes there is latent talent. Are you only in the business to teach the talented? Then let the parents know right away that this is not a good match and recommend another teacher for him.

I believe everyone can benefit from piano when the desire is there. If the child seems to want to learn, then why deny him lessons? Show him how to practice and what to work on. You may be surprised what he brings to you next week.


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#954231 - 02/15/08 09:09 AM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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I'm looking at: he's new, he cannot use the strongest finger correctly, he cannot duplicate an entire song in a single lesson ... well those last two things jump out right away: How can he play a whole song if he can't use one finger? ... and then the conclusion in the title that he has no talent (is talent necessary?), and no ability (he has just started - it's a broad categorization, "ability" cannot be addressed: specifics can.)

Have you broken this down into causes, solutions, different approaches since what you are trying isn't working?

Mary Had a Little Lamb can be played musically, and it can be approached wholistically as a familiar melody. It is also a mechanical sequence of ups and downs of only three notes. This boy has a mechanical, physical difficulty which is preventing him from achieving anything. Seen from that side, Mary starts as mirror image descent-ascent: 32123(repeat 3).

What if, instead of trying to learn to play "Mary", he were to learn to coordinate simply the act of 321 321 321 ... learn the act of 123 123 123 ... learn to bring those two together as two separate steps to begin with 321 (pause) 123 -- 321 (pause) 123 - eventually turning into 32123 maybe even 3212321232123 like an exercise.

Get him to go home and just become familiar with his fingers: play with combinations of those three fingers. Forming 3212321 etc. is like a video game skill that boys tht age like to master. In what you write, it seems that his first problem is the simple coordination of his fingers.

What if, in this way, Mary got shaped over a number of weeks: he masters the 321 123 coordination one week, and you build the rest of the song the same way. In a couple of weeks he has played the whole song in this mechanical way: now you link up to the fact that it is a song, music, join the two together.

Quote
In the past, I have had adults who were in this category; I continued with them until they voluntarily left.
This struck me: that boy is also half ways toward being an adult. When I began violin as an adult student, I was also given a beginner book that based itself on well known nursery songs. It happens that I do have talent, and so this approach did me a disservice in the same area as the problem of that boy - namely, I did not get into the mechanics of playing. I did not learn to use my hands in a new way. In my case I was able to wing it and produce the melodies quickly so that I was outwardly successful. I covered three RCM grades plus the beginner stage in a one-year period, and got a high mark in the grade one RCM exam after playing barely 6 months. However, I was missing very basic mechanical motions that had not formed, and they tripped me up. Several years later this is what I am chasing.

Essentially there is music, and there are the mechnics (technique) and we combine the two. We can get at the technique through the music. We can also be very mechanical about it deliberately and then join the music to it. The little kids have no experience in music, either, so the music is woken up in them through the kind of book I had. They are still working on coordinating their little fingers so it all falls into place. We older people already have formed habits, we are already coordinated or uncoordinated as the case may be, so the focus can be a little bit different.

I hope I haven't overstepped, since I'm a student, although I teach/tutor (academically) focusing in particular on learning difficulties that can't be addressed well in the classroom. My particular talent lies in turning things upside down and inside out so that there is a new perspective, and often this seems to work.

#954232 - 02/15/08 09:09 AM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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I'm wondering whether this young man might just have been nervous at his first lesson, to the extent that he was unable to concentrate, follow directions, or remember a tune. In my experience, anyone with normal intelligence and basic coordination can learn to play the piano well enough to enjoy it as a rewarding hobby.

I'd suggest finding his strength (can he keep a steady beat? is he detail-oriented? is there a particular style or piece that is motivating him to want to play the piano?), and spend most of the next lesson reinforcing that skill. Then "sneak in" the ear-training and finger dexterity exercises once you notice he's gained some confidence.

I've had several students who disappointed me at their first few lessons, but I've often been pleasantly surprised a few months later!

smile


Private piano & voice teacher for over 20 years; currently also working as a pipe organist for 3 area churches; sing in a Chicago-area acappella chamber choir
#954233 - 02/15/08 09:16 AM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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That boy is just like me when I was 11. For the first 3 months, I could barely play C D E F G.

#954234 - 02/15/08 09:22 AM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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Double his rate.

Don
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#954235 - 02/15/08 09:30 AM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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Quote
Double his rate.
... of practicing. The real work belongs to us students. If we don't work at it at home, that half hour to an hour per week in the studio won't do much.

#954236 - 02/15/08 12:34 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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I think it is not wise to judge a student by a couple little tests in one lesson. My sister worked with a student for years who just seemed to make no progress. Some of the problem was practice, but there seemed to be more. Recently, she was diagnosed with dyscalculia. A little reading on the subject suggested that multi-step methods were too overwhelming to a child like this. Also, concept of time (as a general thing--not rhythm) is non-existent. A change in her assignments and in the approach to certain tasks seems to be really turning things around.

All of that to say that each student is a puzzle. There is no such thing as "no ability." The question is "what ability does he have and how can it be adapted to piano."


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#954237 - 02/15/08 01:02 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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He might be playing stupid because the lessons aren't his idea. Pushey parents. Hand him a video game and see if he has dexterity.

#954238 - 02/15/08 01:59 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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Which hand is his dominant hand?

Does he know RH from LH?

Did you discuss finger numbers? Or, are you playing only by C D E.

Are you using music or working by ear and repetition? Does he have visual problems? Or, hearing loss? Have you checked his handwriting done in front of you - long sentence not just name or short words.

Perhaps he has digital confusion where the message is going to wrong fingers. It seems like he might need to learn how to access finger movement.

You sound accusatory of it being his "fault" - and maybe you don't have the ability to recognize some learning differences in him or others.

Some teachers look for this kind of teaching, diagnostic and remedial in work, identifying the capacity of the student and structuring the work load to the needs of the student for development purposes.

So, he's not a fast start. What are you going to do about it? Whatever is done, don't make him think he is a failure or that something is wrong with him. This is a great opportunity for you to get an education in reaching this child.

His age is full of growth and puberty, perhaps this is a factor. What other activities does he participate in? Does he have any disorders for which he is taking medicine?

I notice all the fun rhythms you teach - at this point it seems like he would not be a candidate for this as he is having trouble playing the key much less in rhythms.

When you have had 10 lessons with him you will be in a better place to know what is happening with him.

You won't be able to teach him without his interest and his permission, which is true of every teacher-student relationship.

It would be interesting to know your progress here on the forum.

Betty

#954239 - 02/15/08 02:23 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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You failed to mention the most important ingredient; Can he sing?


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#954240 - 02/15/08 02:33 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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At that age he may in the middle of a voice change. Don't young teen males feel awkward about singing because of that?

#954241 - 02/15/08 02:47 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
You failed to mention the most important ingredient: Can he sing?
Right!
There’s an old tale that may help.
A Sufi master was just to admit new disciples. The required test was recognizing a rose among many other flowers.
Eighty per cent of the aspirers chose the wrong option.
After the test a disciple asked the master: Isn’t that a frivol exam to be admitted into the way of knowledge? The Master said: If somebody can not distinguish a simple rose, how can he/she recognize the difficulties of the Way?

#954242 - 02/15/08 02:57 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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The master must also be able to distinguish roses.

#954243 - 02/15/08 03:01 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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I have never taught a child who wouldn't sing. I had an adult once who wouldn't. I couldn't get my head round it


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#954244 - 02/15/08 03:50 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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Sometimes I do this with kids who don't have dexterity-

The first week, they practice 121212...131313...141414....151515... each pattern over and over until they get comfortable....

Hands separately, in any place on the keyboard you choose (I use middle C for the 1). Or it can be practised on a tabletop, while watching TV, on an airplane, wherever- just so the hand position is correct.
The next combinations:

2323, 2424, 2525,
3434,3535,4545

When they are comfortable with those, we do three at a time-
1232, 1242,1252
2343, 2353,3454
1242, 1252, 1343, 1353,1454

Then four-
123432, 123532, 234543, 124542, 134543

Then five- 12345432...

This takes place over several weeks. By the time they get through all the exercises, they're pretty 'good to go'. And it helps them learn their finger numbers, concentration, and control (they have to think about what fingers to use, skip, etc.)

#954245 - 02/15/08 04:19 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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Quote
Originally posted by Morodiene:
Forgive me, but it sounds as though you are giving up on him after one lesson. Everyone learns at their own pace, and sometimes there is latent talent. Are you only in the business to teach the talented? Then let the parents know right away that this is not a good match and recommend another teacher for him.

I believe everyone can benefit from piano when the desire is there. If the child seems to want to learn, then why deny him lessons? Show him how to practice and what to work on. You may be surprised what he brings to you next week.
Actually he has had three lessons. And no, I am not "in business" to teach only the talented. confused

The reason I am asking for advice is because this boy is the absolute worst example I have ever seen...I have been teaching full time for 8 years with an average load of 22 to 25 students.

I do not plan on giving up on him...I just wanted some advice and feedback on what other teachers have done in this situation.

Betty...please explain more about handwriting and its connection here.
Thank you for your help. smile


Piano teacher and Blues and Boogie-Woogie pianist.
#954246 - 02/15/08 05:45 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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Does the kid have an iPod? What kind of music does he listen to?

Try to recommend some classical music, especially piano music.

Singing helps, too.

I know exactly how you feel. Those students exist, but you shouldn't give up on them, unless they give up on themselves first.


Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member
#954247 - 02/15/08 06:50 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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Quote
Originally posted by rocket88:
I have a relatively new student who appears to have zero ability to play the piano.

He (12 years old) has virtually no control of his fingers. For example, he can barely play a note with #2 finger, which should be the most controlled, (on his dominant hand, no less). His hand position falls apart, and the other fingers "fly".
Guide him more thoroughly.
Sometimes there are people who have a strong kinesthetic sense. This means that instead of choosing a bad coordination (when they can't figure out a good one) they don't move at all.

The fact that there are so many students who can on their first lesson play a note is not necessarily a positive thing. Most of them don't have enough kinesthetic sense to realize they're playing that single note with the worst coordination and body condition possible. Tension and miscordination already creep into one note and one can only image the result when you don't have to play just one note anymore but thousands of them.

In other words this kid is lacking a good foundation but his body is recognizing that preventing him from using a faulty one. Many people can easily play one note but they lack a good coordinative foundation and this lack stays with them for a long them or forever.

Hence this is a very good chance to focus on the most important aspect of piano technique: the coordinative foundation of playing just one note in the best way before adding more challenges.

When I say guide him I mean that you should show him how you play just one note slowly and tell him to focus on the motion of your arm, upper arm, hands and finger.

You should find the correct distance at the piano and height of the bench for him so that that he is in the best position to activate the playing mechanism easily and without effort.

You should check his posture making sure he is NOT raising the chest or the shoulder, hunching or louaching, arching the back or sitting on the thighs.

You should ask him to relax the arm completely and obverse the shape of the arm and hand and fingers when the arm is completely relaxed. Raise his dead arm yourself and bing his naturally arched hand to the keyboard and place the second finger over the key. This guy should feel all of this passively.
Touch the shoulders to remind to relax them and do it again. Between each note played bring back the arms to the legs so the his hands rest on the ties.

If the sitting position, posture, tension/relaxation level and natural arch of the hand is all corrects there no way his finger will collapse or worse yet his nail joint will.

Playing with the arch of the arm and hand (the top being the straight wrist and the pillars being the fingers and the elbow) is the best way to produce a sound at the piano in the most economical and efficient way and hence the best beginning foundation.

I would focus for some time on just this exercises where he keeps his playing apparatus completely relaxed and you just guide his arm and hand to the keyboard and let the finger play the note automatically.

Eventually you'll ask him to repeat the same thing but this time actively but maintaining the same sensations of when you did it for him.

Eventually ask him to exercise on balancing the hand on just one fingers starting with the third then second and fourth and fith and eventually thumb (the hardest)

Change gradually the playing fingers till he is able to do simple 5 fingers scale exercises still focusing on the same control and efficient coordination at each note.

Consider it a kind of The Karate Kid training.
Learning the coordination to fight by waxing the porch, cleansing the cars or painting the fence allows one to prevent the artistic/sportive focus to distract the beginning foundation construction of perfect coordination.

#954248 - 02/15/08 07:10 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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Clarification, Daniel:
Quote
You should check his posture making sure he is raising the chest or the shoulder, hunching or louaching, arching the back or sitting on the thighs.
Do you mean - make sure he is NOT raising (pushing up, maybe) the chest or shoulder etc.?

#954249 - 02/15/08 07:18 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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Quote
Originally posted by keystring:
Clarification, Daniel:
Quote
You should check his posture making sure he is raising the chest or the shoulder, hunching or louaching, arching the back or sitting on the thighs.
Do you mean - make sure he is NOT raising (pushing up, maybe) the chest or shoulder etc.?
Yeah, thaks for pointing out the mistake eek
I correct it

#954250 - 02/15/08 07:38 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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Quote
Originally posted by keystring:
At that age he may in the middle of a voice change. Don't young teen males feel awkward about singing because of that?
Allow me to be a bit off-topic.
I have been singing since I was 9 in a choir and found the same problem of suddenly having an awkward voice. But the truth is that my problem and my hatred for my voice coincided with my coordinative problems at the piano. In other words while I too believed it was just a matter of age and that my nice voice had become cold, harsh and dark I realized later that I was causing my own awkawardiness and it was affecting everything from my playing to my walking to my speaking and singing. I have studied Speech Level Singing and the Linklater method and found out that my voice didn't have to be liveless and so low. Yes growth made my chords thicker but it's not the tool that makes the difference but how you use it. I believe nowadays that the thickening of my vocal chords just triggered a dormant vocal miscordination that caused a stronger change than what really happened. My voice retains nowadays certain innate characteristics of my childhood voice which miscordination was destroying, in spite of the pitch. It has a certain pitch but it's not bear-like anymore.

I guess we're going to be punished for all the OTs keystring, but I love off-toping with you so at least when we're going to serve detention we won't get bored wink laugh

#954251 - 02/15/08 08:02 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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Oh, I'm a free spirit, so I don't serve detentions. If I did get one, I'd let my imagination fly.

I think what we really need is a new topic called (what?) I was going to write that it's all in the body regardless of the instrument, but it goes further than body: there's the way that body and mind are a unit and whatever it is that goes into producing music. You have the same postural principles in singing as elsewhere. Alexander, for an example, was an actor who lost his voice, and what he came up with has been used by every musical discipline. Though I have a weird hunch that we've gone the other way - first of all not catching that he talks about the natural use of the body before it deviates, rather than some new unnatural use that swings the other way. He was taught to be "grounded", and ground himself into the ground so thoroughly that he became heavy. But nowaday we try to stand so tall, we're so much up in the head and shoulders, that I think some of us have to get grounded again.

#954252 - 02/15/08 09:38 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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Quote
In the past, I have had adults who were in this category; I continued with them until they voluntarily left.
May I move this thread sideways a bit? As a 50 year old adult re-learner I have struggled with this thought - does my teacher just tolerate me? And here is the concern I have, validated in the quote. (Note* my teacher treats me wonderfully. I really like her.) It leads into my question -
teachers do you teach differently to adult beginners/re-learners? Maybe pass them through pieces more quickly for reasons such as a fear of a hit to their self esteem. Personally, I would love to know how you feel about us as students?? I am aware my question is driven by my own concern that I stumble over the same kinds of things week after week. I would hate to think my teacher is just patiently waiting for me to give up.


A Hero is one who hangs on one minute longer. Author: Unknown
#954253 - 02/15/08 11:52 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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duplicate post.


Piano teacher and Blues and Boogie-Woogie pianist.
#954254 - 02/15/08 11:54 PM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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#954255 - 02/16/08 12:24 AM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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Given the right teacher (who, to some, is obviously not me!) and the right approach, everyone can learn to play the piano reasonably well.
This is not how I have read the responses. There is a general pattern: the students who you see as having difficulties, some of whom (esp. the adults) have quit, are all having them in the area of physical coordination. All of the suggestions that have come in have moved from the musical to a very physical mechanical approach, and some of those suggestions went into quite some detail. They did not seem like a condemnation of your teaching, but alternatives in order to address a specific area that has left you stymied. Instead of saying "This person has no ability/is uncoordinate/can't play a simple song" - which cannot be solved - they were redefining the problem as "This person cannot put three fingers down in sequence - how will we get him to do that?" That becomes solvable. What nobody knows is if you have tried that already.

Everybody has areas of strength, areas of less strength, and sometimes simply a different angle is needed. When I taught I had a 7 year old student who could not spell. A specialist came in and discovered he had difficulty sequencing. I had already chosen a phonetic speller for him. However, this specialist came upon an idea I never would have thought of: Get muscle memory going, and slow him down so that his mind can catch up, using an old fashioned typewriter. When spelling time came around, this little boy went to his typewriter, and laboriously hammered away at his letters. He started to progress, which made his self-esteem go up. I considered myself a good teacher, did not see the typewriter idea as interference - not in a million years would I have considered a manual typewriter as a solution to a spelling problem. "This boy cannot spell the most obvious words, like cat, hat, rat and fat." was my initial baffled observation. I see the suggestions here in the same light.

I, too, noted the comment about adult students, but it was because the boy in question was 12 and so no longer a small child, and because you must have had a reason for mentioning it. I'm an adult learner, also in my 50's. My teacher expects his adults to progress faster, and he expects more of them. I did my exam at 6 months, and the little boy ahead of me was at the same level after 2 years. I was truly astonished when I first came on the Net and discovered all the things we were not supposed to be able to do. That said, I don't think that we don't learn as fast - I think that a) we already have established habits which interfere, while small children are in the process of forming their physical habits b) we can bring intellectual analysis into what is being taught and again interfere. I think there is a whole area to explore. It might be pertinent if such a thing is also true for an older child who needs to train his fingers, and if this is also true for an adult in the same manner. You have grouped the two together in your post: the 12 year old and the adults - maybe there's a link that can be used.

#954256 - 02/16/08 12:35 AM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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rocket88 Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by keystring:
Quote
Given the right teacher (who, to some, is obviously not me!) and the right approach, everyone can learn to play the piano reasonably well.
This is not how I have read the responses. There is a general pattern: the students who you see as having difficulties, some of whom (esp. the adults) have quit, are all having them in the area of physical coordination.
No, it is much more than that! It is a lack of musical ability in general...here is the quote from my last post:

I am talking about a very tiny percentage of students who simply cannot grasp the fundamentals of playing the piano, cannot control their hands so they can reliably press one key at a time, have no sense of rhythm, and no ear for music.

The physical co-ordination is typically a component of the problem, NOT the only part.

Furthermore, many of the responses suggested doing things such as those that you advocate that I already do, or do in a very similar manner when my students have problems.

I could write a book about my attempts to teach that man...I did not write that book in my posts, so forgive me for being incomplete.

My point is that some people simply do not have the talent/ability to learn how to play, and a different method will not grant them talent, any more than a new "method" will change my body and reflexes into a athlete. I have seen a few as students.

However, your point is well taken...I do not give up on people, and do try many approaches. For example, I have worked with students who learn quickly by ear, but have difficultly with reading music. So we study things by ear, and then I show them a simple version of the notation, often writing it out, and they learn that way.

Regarding wherether or not I am the right teacher, here is one response:

Are you only in the business to teach the talented? Then let the parents know right away that this is not a good match and recommend another teacher for him.

I do not think that is a helpful answer.


Piano teacher and Blues and Boogie-Woogie pianist.
#954257 - 02/16/08 12:54 AM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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keystring Offline
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#954258 - 02/16/08 01:02 AM Re: How do you handle students who have zero talent and ability?  
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keystring Offline
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Quote

Furthermore, many of the responses suggested doing things such as those that you advocate that I already do, or do in a very similar manner when my students have problems.

I could write a book about my attempts to teach that man...I did not write that book in my posts, so forgive me for being incomplete.

The people making the suggestions could not know what you have already tried. We saw that you percieved him as not having ability and talent, that he could not coordinate his finger, that he was a beginner, and that you had tried to get him to play a song. So the suggestions came in about addressing just those three fingers because one could not know what you tried. Saying what you have tried may help those who are trying to help get more on track in doing so.

I wish you the best of luck with this student regardless of the outcome.

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