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I have a student transfered to me, due to my colleague who was going overseas...she is to sit for her Grade 3 ABRSM this coming July...

Her history with music so far :
1. Registered for Grade 3 ABRSM exam in year 2007, but made a withdraw, under firm request of her ex-teacher, as she was not prepared...

2. Have been playing NOTHING except her 3 exam repertoires for 2 and half years...

Problem :
There is no expression whatsoever in her playing...she does not curve her fingers...and her hands are lazy (leaning on the piano, and dragging it)...

I have tried explaining expression to her...the difference of mp and mf...but even with her best efforts, it sounds the same...I tried to give her a picture...but it doesn't get through...she is just playing through the notes...

What is worst, the fact that she has played her pieces for so long, she is doing everything in auto-mode...which means, it is difficult for her to change...

I'm not sure what I must do...if I go back to the basics of getting her to curve her fingers so that her sound is clearer, she will lose time, which she already does not have...if I get her to work on expressions, the fact that she is playing with 'banana fingers' will become her disability...

and her exam being so near, just freaks me out!!...

Any advice would be appreciated...thanks a lot

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I'm a student, so I shouldn't be offering any advice, but for what its worth...

I find that a voice in my ear helps with dynamics. That voice, of course, is my teacher. As I am playing the music, he sometimes helps to prepare me for upcoming dynamics ("coming up, big finish," "get ready for stacatto passage," "more legato," "louder, louder, louder (crescendo)").

I suppose he could have sat their quietly, silently thinking "that piece was a dead fish," but can see he wants to "make sure" I see, assimilate, comprehend and execute the required dynamics.

I also find it helpful to "hear" the difference. Sometimes I believe I "have" executed the appropriate dynamics, only to find my teacher doesn't agree. Maybe I don't hear it. Maybe I don't listen carefully enough. Maybe I don't understand it. The reasons could be many.

On measures that I have not executed the proper dynamics, I always, "Play it for me.". He does. Then I say, "Now, play it how I played it." He does. I listen carefully to see if I can tell the difference. If I can't, we repeat the process until I do. Maybe your student isn't assertive enough to do this, so I guess its up to you to take the lead. I think it is through this process that the student can truly understand the nature of thier shortcomings.

To simply tell a student "more dynamics" is like pushing a beginning swimmer off the deep end and saying "just swim." I think the solution to the problem begins with a deep understanding of what it is. Do everything you can to accomplish that goal first, and I think you'll likely make some progress.

Hope this student perspective helps. smile

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I am not a teacher, but a parent. Perhaps consider this: Is there a song this student likes? Just for fun? What is her favorite pop song or folk song, or religious song, etc? Find music this student loves and try demonstrating the techniques with that. The student should hear and see how her method is unmusical if applied to a song she likes. Must the student take the exam this July? with such a lack of enthusiasm?

Edit added: Is the student being pressured by parents? Fearing failure? Not practicing enough? Not understanding importance of curved fingers or just doesn't care to try?

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Hi, Akira...thanks for your input...

I guess I was rushing through my post, I didn't put in all the details...I have done, as your teacher has...both 'voice' and 'hearing', for this student of mine...as this was what my piano teacher has done with me as well...

From instructing her, while she is playing the piece (and she tries, but the minute I don't say anything, she is back to square one)...to playing it for her...I'm not saying that there isn't any improvement...there is...the SLIGHTEST improvement, which then, I adviced her to go home and work at it...

She comes back the next lesson, not having practice piano the whole week...and play the same thing, with the same monotonous expression...as if we have never talked on expressions before...and I end up having to repeat myself...

I have an idea what to do...to tear the music apart, and guide her bar by bar...but time isn't on my side...in fact, now that I come to think of it, it is really the time factor, that is bothering me the most now...

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Dear guest1013,

yes, that could be a route I would take, if I had this student one year in advance, so that I have sufficient time to prepare her for the exams...

But at the moment, I'm not sure if I could afford that time...well, I can...if I forgo the rest of my students and concentrate solely on her...

If I had a choice, I would take her off the exam...but she has already been taken off the exam twice...I would rather that she get on with it, and put it behind her...and start afresh...AFTER the exam...

*her exam wasn't of her choice but her parents...and because her parents are too busy to even step down of the car, for a short briefing...I never had the time to really share with them my concern...*

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If I had a choice, I would take her off the exam...but she has already been taken off the exam twice...I would rather that she get on with it, and put it behind her...and start afresh...AFTER the exam...
This was my thought as a student. I had a change of attitude and goals a few years ago and my playing has undergone a revamping after consulting with my teacher. If I play anything from "before", the tendency is for some of the old habits to be there too. They are engrained in the piece.

These pieces must be past stale and a dreadful bore by now. You also don't know how this student was prepare by the previous teacher and what practicing habits she acquired.

If I were in the shoes of this student, having the maturity of an adult, I would consider the exam a write-off. I would do my best to get through it but I would know that I can't do any real work until it is over with. I would also know that the circumstances of the exam will not allow me to achieve what I could achieve, and that how I'm playing doesn't reflect my true potential. Unfortunately a young student will not know that so the present impasse is discouraging and not very motivating.

What I don't like about exams is that you are preparing for the exam's requirements, and not for what you yourself need to strengthen.

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Quote
Originally posted by Lessajinomoto:
Problem :
There is no expression whatsoever in her playing...she does not curve her fingers...and her hands are lazy (leaning on the piano, and dragging it)...

I have tried explaining expression to her...the difference of mp and mf...but even with her best efforts, it sounds the same...I tried to give her a picture...but it doesn't get through...she is just playing through the notes...
Why don't you join us in the Lister-Sink thread?
I think it can help. One of the immediate improvement I have seen with the method is the precise control of piano and forte and the natural use of rounded fingers without holding the hand in place with tension.

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Lessajinomoto, If the student is not practicing, I don't know how your best efforts will get her to pass the exam. Can you offer her some small incentives to practice each week? Hold out promise of interesting music she can pick after the exam is completed? The student is cheating herself by not practicing and giving her best effort. You believe she can make music, somehow the student has to believe that she can if she just follows your teaching. It is a chance for a new beginning with you after the exam. Could you make audio or videotape of your instructions for her practice, for her to refer to at home?

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Dear KeyString,
Yes, that makes a lot more sense, starting anew again, once the exam is over...I guess I'm just slightly pressured by the fact that I really want her to do well...not just pass through the exam...I'll have to give my best shot, and keep moving forward...

Dear Danny,
Where is the Lister-Sink thread?...thanks for your suggestion...

Dear Guest1013,
"The student is cheating herself"...I just told her that today...she smiled...*sigh*...hmmm...well, I guess I could consider giving her incentives...

I have WRITTEN IN DETAIL, all my instructions...BAR BY BAR...on how to practice, and what...even to the point of writing out a schedule for her to follow...till now, this notebook still looks new and untouched...

Maybe a video would help...but that would take DOUBLE the effort from me!!...*groan*...

The sacrifices that one teacher has to go through...

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Guest1013, regarding your earlier post on this topic...if you ask me, it is more like 'she doesn't care to try' attitude...

which bugs me at times...

I guess it is the saying that goes...

'you can pull the thirsty donkey to a lake, but you can't make it drink the water'

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Certainly, learning is a two-part effort.

The teacher does everything they can to bring out the best in a student.

The student does their part to do the best they can.

If either fails, the collective effort will fail (to some degree).

The assessment I believe you're struggling with is, "Which part failing?" Is it you, or is it her?

I think if you've done everything within your power and tried as many things you can think of to bring out the best in your student, you've done your part.

I think you need to also consider that its a possibility that the student may, in fact, be trying her best, but simply doesn't have it within her. But I think before jumping to that conclusion, you need to be convinced she really is giving it her all.

Is she?

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I am not a teacher . I hope it is OK to add something though. Kids are incredibly crafty. It sounds like her past behavior "rewarded" her from having to go through with the exam. She's likely acting the same way thinking it'll yield the same results.

I think the bigger and more important lesson this child needs to learn is that apathy does not go rewarded. We struggle with this with my son almost daily.
You may not think it, but I'd almost bet that more of what you're saying to her is sinking in than you realize. Keep your chin up but don't give up!

Best of luck.

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Lessajinomoto, I don't mean to suggest more work for you, just tape a portion of your lesson was my thought. It sounds like the parents don't make sure the student is taking steps for success on a daily or weekly basis. Somehow the student needs to set small weekly goals and you and she celebrate when she achieves it. Maybe just pick the curved fingers, and the rest will follow as Danny says.

Has there been so much negative nagging and criticism from the parents and the last teacher? Somehow there must be a way for student to apply herself to make music. Then she can hold her head up, this is the best she can do for now but also see progress and be praised for effective practicing.

Good luck! What an opportunity for a breakthrough with this student, I am sure this attitude is affecting her life and relationship with the parents.

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Keystring--you are lucky indeed!

My son is not a bad kid..he's just figuring out ( at 6) what certain behaviors will get for him. It's a basic psychological tenet-- "I do this, I get this".

I think what I wrote has some merit. I am obviviously not a teacher but I do have a degree in psychology. Rebellion is quite commom in most children.

It bothers me too that the parents of this child aren't more involved. Sounds like Lessajinomoto is on the front line of this with no real help. My heart goes out to her.

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As liszt's pinky brings up, I would think that the indifference, apathy, and no or little response is a learned behavior, or acquired to avoid demands made on her/him - this is a way of maintaining control in my mind.

If you could turn her on to the beauty of music, watching videos of other students (children and young adults)striving, seeking and finding success, she might step up to the challenge.

If you could get smiles and good humor from her, she would be in better frame of mind to collaborate with your smiling face and good humor.

If you could verbalize that pianists are always making progress - it's their job - maybe she could feel that in the future she will have the opportunity to use the time to become better and better. Not to rest on what she knows to date.

It sounds like self sabotage on her part. However, things could change, i think, if she could discover what she is missing.

Rebellion - passive aggressiveness - is a nasty number - because it works for them so well.

I would not enter her in any exams, contests until it was completely her idea to do so, and she was willing to do the work until she excelled.

In my mind she is not a candidate for that route.

Try talking her to about "Time" and "Effort" and "Pursuit" and "Attitude and Characterists of a Successful Piano Student". Make up your own list of what you want her to learn about "change" and "attitude" that will encourage her to make changes.

How old this person is makes a difference in how you would address the problem. I would not let her sit on the bench and do the same things over and over. You have yourself a stand off. I would confront it away from the piano too, not only on the bench.

Betty

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I appreciate what lizstspinky and Betty have written about rebellion, it reminds me that I was once young and rebellious and part of it involved not practicing the piano. It is a shame that she has learned to get what she wants from not practicing. I found that I had to comply with expectations to practice, to give a fair effort, or else I could not pursue other hobbies or interests until I had put my practice time in... But I was also blessed with a grandmother who loved to play the piano and her joy was infectious and also instrumental in breaking down my rebellion. Expectations, consequences, enjoyment all tied in.

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I invite those who are blaming this child for rebelliousness, and see apathy, which is a form of deep and profound discouragement and helplesness, to read the first post carefully. Look at the background. Look what this girl has been made to do for 2 1/2 years. Extrapolate and imagine. See the fact that a parent is insisting on an action that the teacher considers unnecessary and maybe harmful - yet who is the expert in pedagogy, the parent? And how long has this been going on with the previous teacher, and what has been going on?

There are a lot of things I am not saying.

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Well I also see keystring's point. This student is asked to practice the same songs for more than two years? Is that cruel? With little improvement in the required pieces? Yes, I can imagine the student feeling upset and bored and not listened to by the teacher or parents.... there is a lot more to this situation.

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Even though my playing and technique are now in decent form on my main instrument, if I go back to music from my time of struggling, I lose ground and play closer to when I did then. It's embedded in the music itself. Also, if you have struggled for that long (in case she has) this becomes the what you think the musical experience is. You have no other experience - the context is still the same .....

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