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Originally Posted by John v.d.Brook
Now, compare this with a recent adult student, who stuck at it for a whopping 2 1/2 months, 2 months of which were excuses why she didn't have time to practice (this was a retired individual BTW). How frustrating do you think this is for a teacher?




[playing the Devil's Advocate here...]

I could say the same thing about several of my kid students. There just isn't very many "serious" piano students to go around, regardless of age. For every student who advances enough to play Beethoven sonatas, I get 20 who can't find their way out of method books.


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If pianogirl thinks her lessons might be boring her adult students, she may be on the right track to amending her teaching style. I can't give her pointers, except to urge her to try some other materials. She'll make her way, or else she may find out that adults simply are not her bag.

I have a far greater percentage of adult students in my studio than most piano teachers have. Indeed I consider it an area of my expertise. These students don't come and go; they stay for years and years. They love the piano, and they love music. It is a privilege to work with them, no matter what their skill levels; most are beginners or early intermediates.




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John, I am looking at it from a teacher's perspective, not a student's. Everything that I wrote in my long post analyzing the various potential obstacles and possible solutions was as a teacher. This was not done off the fly - several years of looking into this is behind it. I am also an entrepreneur like yourself, and am very aware of business aspects. Additionally I have taught one-on-one so I know about that part too.

I agree wholeheartedly that it's not worth your while to teach a student who doesn't practice and comes in with excuses, of any age. But you didn't say "lazy student".
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One of my local colleagues teaches out of a store front, and has dozens of adult students every year.

As long as your local colleague teaches seriously enough, solidly enough, and doesn't dole out the so-called "adult" fare, sure, why not? If I'm going to put in that amount of work then I want to be studying with someone reliable who takes it as seriously as I do. Fortunately, currently, I am.


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I am a serious adult learner. Not all adults are serious and not all kids are serious. I work on the required homework, have taken some grades. Now I am having a break from grades as they are time consuming and I want to learn in a more relaxed way. I will go back to grades but in the future. I want a break from having to worry about getting up to speed and memorising scales and so on, in time to sit an exam. Life is too short and learning at a less time consuming speed will mean I am still learning but with no testing involved. why do we do these grades? I think grades are only useful to use to get into full time music school or to use when applying for music jobs. Since I am not going to do either... grades are irrelevant. My teacher went up to Grade 7 and in order to get a job as a teacher she had to do Grade 7 to become employable. My school do not take teachers unless they have reached Grade 7. Also if you want to go on to take a degree I would imagine you would have to do up to Grade 8. But surely you could also prove you were up to that level by demonstrating you could play pieces at that level. My local church choir master and organist does not have a music qualification to his name, and yet he can play up to that level. It is just that he hates exams, refused to do them but still can play as well as any Grade 7 student with a Grade 7 certificate.

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If a student is bored at or with lessons, it could be the music, so changing music could help. Boredom could also come from the instruction--student may not be noticing improvement based on what teacher is providing. The remedy to this is trickier. Possibly establishing specific expectations--what to do/how to practice and what to expect (play these two measures slowly enough to be perfect 3x each day next week, then we will speed them up).

Skulking into a lesson seems to me like the student may be dismayed or ashamed at having worked hard and not accomplishing a desired result. If the teacher sets a realistic expectation and a strategy for achieving it then the student may be pleased with her work.


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Seems we adult learners keep barging into the piano teachers' forum! Hope you teachers don't mind.

I think this really is all about student/teacher compatibility. Teaching adults is bound to demand more flexibility of approach, and not every teacher is willing and/or suited to that. But luckily there are many who are.

I hope that people won't get discouraged from venturing into teaching adults. They might love it, and they'll be fostering a lot of joy in people's lives. I think the profession as a whole would be losing something important if everyone decided that music learning is only for kids!


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To the OP: Have you checked out this website? You might find some helpful ideas here:

Musical Fossils

I would also say that if one approach doesn't work, it might be worthwhile to try different ones.

However, I definitely understand your frustration. I have a friend who is in her late 50s, who has played folk music all her life as an amateur, and who always wanted to play the piano. She started lessons about 5 years ago, and her progress has been slow, largely because she doesn't want to do the basic things one has to do to learn an instrument.

She often comes to me for advice, or to get help with a piece. I am always amazed that even when the solutions to her issues are clear (e.g., pick easier pieces, practice small sections slowly, use a metronome, etc.), she refuses to do them and instead takes refuge in, "I'm just doing this for fun, I know I'm terrible at it." I was demonstrating to her once how I would practice a Bach Invention, and she said, "You mean you do that with everything you play?!"

I don't know how you break through that kind of resistance. Maybe you don't -- maybe you just have to take people as they come, and exercise lots of patience. If you can somehow get a student to learn a little bit at a time, maybe that's enough. After all, what is the goal?


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Thank you to everyone who posted their ideas. I have interviewed this student and she has expressed that she would like to play more popular tunes, however, we are just starting out. Have only had 3 lessons, so there isn't a lot of popular music that she could play as of now. She needs to get the basics down. And I think we have a good rapport and we chat a little during our lesson, however I think it is just her personality that I don't like very much. Seems to be a negative person, very unmotivated. I think she was just bored and decided. "hmm maybe I'll take some piano lessons." That is the feeling I get from her. She is my only studetn so far at the music studio I just started teaching at. So I honestly dread having to drive there just for her lesson. I try to make the lessons as fun as possible, but I find it harder to do that with adults cuz with kids, I find I talk to them differently and I feel like I am talking down to an adult if I treat them like little kids. I guess the experience is good for me. But also the environment of the studio is different than the coziness of my home studio, so that could be why it is differnt teaching there too. It feel very institutional. I will keep trying new things with this student, however I don't see her lasting more than 6 months. Thanks for all the input everybody!

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I started lessons in my 50s (though I'd been involved in voice and brass since maybe 9). And I've known a number of similar adults, few of whom achieved much of a skill level.

But they wanted to, and that's different from children.

By and large, children are there because their parents sent them, and their parents sent them for enrichment rather than to gain mastery.

None of the adults I've known were there for enrichment. They all wanted to gain some level of skill. They knew it would take some work (they didn't understand how much or how long, of course.)

Most of them did not succeed. Did their teachers fail them? In some cases clearly yes. There are no skill requirements for teaching, and if most of your students are children who will never gain mastery, you can never be detected. I've seen this with a friend of mine who's taken for several years without making progress. She actually practices, inefficiently and badly. She would be three times as accomplished if she'd had a decent teacher - 6 times, if the teaching were optimized for an adult.

We'll assume none of the teachers on the forum have any difficulty with competence! <g>

Possibly few though have given much thought to how an adult learner is different and how to customize instruction for one. Adults learn more slowly and with different mechanisms.

I think that should be emphasized. No matter how dedicated the student and skilled the teacher, adult progress will be slower. There are probably exceptions, I haven't seen any though. Both must expect this and not get frustrated.

Bertholy was the first golf instructor to use drills, and devised very specific ones for adults. He believed the best method for teaching the swing was goal oriented imitation, but found this method was not accessible to adults, so he invented something new.

A few years back I was on staff at a Big Ten university, and my wife babysat for the gymnastic coach. So I asked him to teach me some specific skill I'd always wanted to do, can't remember now what. He said no. It simply can't be done. That one had to be learned as a child, and he gave some specific reasons. Saved both of us some frustration on that one, I guess.


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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Originally Posted by John v.d.Brook
Now, compare this with a recent adult student, who stuck at it for a whopping 2 1/2 months, 2 months of which were excuses why she didn't have time to practice (this was a retired individual BTW). How frustrating do you think this is for a teacher?

[playing the Devil's Advocate here...]

I could say the same thing about several of my kid students.

You could say that, but I'm willing to bet that the majority of them are HS aged. They probably get to their lessons every week; even if they haven't practiced well, they've at least touched the piano during the week. Their parents make sure your tuition check arrives on time. Even when their interest begins to wane, they respond well to positive motivation. When one of them offers up an excuse of "not having enough time to practice," you can offer to sit down with them and their parents and review their weekly and daily schedules to help them find practice time. Magically, the problem disappears, at least for several months.


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The OP asks two questions:

Originally Posted by pianogirl1978
Why do they sign up for piano lessons in the first place?

How do you all differ in your teaching with older students?


And asks for some advice:

Originally Posted by pianogirl1978
Okay, give me some pointers here on how you structure the lesson with adults.

In rereading through all the replies, only one or two peripherally address the OP's questions. Most put the onus on the teacher to solve the adult student's problem. IMO, this is backwards. If the student is unsure, they should be asking the questions. Such as, Ms. Teacher, I've always desired to play the piano. Could you take a few minutes and tell me what is necessary for a student, such as myself, to learn and become proficient at playing? Thanks. And if the student is uncomfortable raising the question, there are plenty of internet resources available spelling out the effort required.


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John, I think the issue may be that the students often don't know enough to be able to ask the question. The whole piano/music thing is a mystery to them. They know only that there's something about playing the piano that is appealing. They come to their lessons wanting to be taught, and they don't know exactly what that entails. The teacher needs to frame it in some way that makes sense.

Perhaps in this case, the OP's distate for this student is being communicated in some way and it's making her uncomfortable. (I know it would make me uncomfortable!) Maybe it is a personality clash that can't be bridged, but I think it's the teacher's job to at least try to solve these kinds of problems, and maybe have a little compassion or empathy for the student as a human being.


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Originally Posted by John v.d.Brook
I now use prescreening to discourage adults from taking lessons, unless they are dead serious and in the real world, few seem to be.

I like to bring students to mastery, from start to finish, or if they are transfer students, from where they are to mastery.



Hi, John,

I am curious to know what pre-screening things you do to identify adult students who are serious (or not serious) about learning the piano and what things you do to discourage adults.

How do you know for sure if you are passing up some adult who really is serous about learning but who might not articulate clearly to you what they see as their goals?

I alluded to what you are saying about bringing students to mastery of the piano in my previous post when I stated that my teacher wants to create independent musicians who can play well for a lifetime. And this can be done with adults just as much as with kids.

Even though the ratio of adults who want to go down this path vs. the fly-by-night types is small, how do we serious adults communicate to you serious teachers that we do want to start the long journey? It would be a shame for adults to be relegated to the not so good teachers with whom a serious adult would find frustrating.

What about adults who might start out kind of flaky and who take to things slowly at first but then blossom?

How many kids are just as flaky as the flaky adults? Kids with conflicting schedules where piano is last on their list?

These last questions aren't directed at John, just thrown out there for anyone to comment upon.

A R



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Originally Posted by John v.d.Brook


If the student is unsure, they should be asking the questions. Such as, Ms. Teacher, I've always desired to play the piano. Could you take a few minutes and tell me what is necessary for a student, such as myself, to learn and become proficient at playing? Thanks. And if the student is uncomfortable raising the question, there are plenty of internet resources available spelling out the effort required.


True beginners may not know the questions to ask at the beginning. Only after they have been in lessons do they see how much is involved in learning to play the piano.

I come from this as an college instructor of Introduction to Art History and the majority of my students had no background in art whatsoever. But they always wanted to learn about art. But for everyone to have the same starting point we all had to do the basics of learning the language of the visual arts etc. At first, only a few students are comfortable in answering questions as they are acquiring the knowledge of the visual means an artist uses to communicate visually. But after they get the basics (usually things click in around week 3) they understand basic concepts and can ask informed questions. My students have ranged from right out of high school freshmen to returning to college adults in their 30s - 40s.

At the beginning with my students I ask questions to draw the students out. Once they have the basics we can communicate back and forth on a higher level. Most students coming to art history are totally clueless as to how much they really have to work in an introductory course. They think it is an easy 5 credits. Some drop the class, some who now find that it isn't easy still stick with the class and have ended up be my top students. Some are gung ho and do well and others are in the middle but doing better than their own expectations.

In my return to piano as an adult I always ask questions when I don't understand things. Make notes to let my teacher know where I keep having a problem etc. And I look things up on the internet, too. But coming from my background this just seems natural to me.

One last thing regarding the questions John hopes a student to ask. Your explanation of what it takes may not be fully taken in by the student until they have started the real work themselves. It is still an abstract concept until they are actively engaged in the process. If they come to find out that the real work is much harder than their understanding of the explanation they will be frustrated anyway. You could then come back and say that you said it wouldn't be easy and have the student think about what they want to do next. With my art history students I gave them a choice - drop the class or I would be willing to help them IF they put in the work. The ones who took me up on putting in the work with some extra help came through on their end of the bargain and would ask questions when they got stuck. But they knew ahead of time that I was ready and able to help them get themselves redirected. Sometimes it meant just asking them questions so they could figure things out for themselves. Other times I would direct them to the sources where they could find the materials to find the answers for themselves.

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Originally Posted by A Rebours

Even though the ratio of adults who want to go down this path vs. the fly-by-night types is small, how do we serious adults communicate to you serious teachers that we do want to start the long journey? It would be a shame for adults to be relegated to the not so good teachers with whom a serious adult would find frustrating.


First, I don't think many adults know upfront that it will be a long journey.

Which perhaps is why adults typically say, "I just want to play a few songs for fun."

The adults I have that have stuck with it typically only wanted to just play a bit, and then they got the bug, and wanted to actually play well. So we had to basically go backwards and re-introduce the heavy lifting (Theory, Technique studies, more balanced repertoire, etc) that they at first rejected, and that I did not push too hard back then because that sort of work causes them to flee.

Bottom line is that communication is absolutely necessary...if the student cannot for whatever reason formulate the question "What does it take to play well," it is up to the teacher to give some information.

However, I say "some" information, because if most people knew how hard and long the slog will be to achieve the ability to play decently, I believe that many if not most leave.

As for demonstrating to the teacher that you are serious, your deeds speak much louder than words. Practice, work hard, show up on time for lessons, give advance notice when you can't come, don't reject much of the teacher's repertoire suggestions and instead constantly bring in pieces that typically are beyond you, or if pop music, virtually unplayable as written, etc, etc.


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Interesting... I'll agree that most adults are unrealistic and frustrating to teach - especially males in their 20's, and 30's.., BUT when you get a really good adult, (and I've been lucky to have quite a few since I teach at a store specializing in adults)...they can be fantastic. (Usually women in their 50's). Excuse the demographics....but it does seem to be what I've overwhelmingly picked up.

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I'd be happy just playing cocktail piano in a resturant/club or in a trio..I'm retired
so it'd be more a fun thing..

I knew of a local band that played for 30yrs up and down the east coast mostly in Atlatic City clubs/casinos, did they ever "make it"? answer..no! just as living..

maybe some of these adult students have fantasies of being on some tv show like
these talent shows we see of late?

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Originally Posted by Opus_Maximus
...they can be fantastic. (Usually women in their 50's).


smile

Seeing "fantastic" in the same line as "women in their 50s" is going to make me happy all day! Maybe all week!



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Originally Posted by Bob Newbie
I'd be happy just playing cocktail piano in a resturant/club or in a trio..I'm retired
so it'd be more a fun thing..


There is a huge amount of practice and skill required to "just" play cocktail piano or in a trio in a club.

In today's economy, all such gigs are scarce, and club owners are hiring you to do one thing and one thing only: sell booze and food.

It came as a shock to me, a music lover, that I was just a beer salesman!

And you have to be good enough for people to not only stay and listen, but actually want to come back when you play there again.

Translation: not amateur level playing for fun, at least not for the most part. It takes years to get there. I only have one adult who could possibly do it, and then only for about 15 minutes, certainly not 3 hours which is the typical gig length.


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Originally Posted by John v.d.Brook

In rereading through all the replies, only one or two peripherally address the OP's questions. Most put the onus on the teacher to solve the adult student's problem. IMO, this is backwards. If the student is unsure, they should be asking the questions. Such as, Ms. Teacher, I've always desired to play the piano. Could you take a few minutes and tell me what is necessary for a student, such as myself, to learn and become proficient at playing? Thanks. And if the student is uncomfortable raising the question, there are plenty of internet resources available spelling out the effort required.

John, I thought that I had addressed the questions, directly and in detail. Maybe it wasn't as clear as I thought. I see now that your focus is on the student's responsibility, with this highlighted question that would come at the start of lessons. In fact, that brings us to the same place, if you can bear with me. Again I want to explore various angles, because you'll have different scenarios since there are many teachers, students, and styles coming into the mix.

- When I started lessons the first time, I took for granted that the purpose was to learn how to play. My teacher would tell me what to do, and this gives "what is necessary for a student..." If I do what I'm told over a number of years all will fall into place. I think students come with assumptions, and this doesn't happen. There's one hiccup.

- We're also caught in a loop. Because of the wishes of some adults, there is a "teaching adults style": skim grades superficially, focus on beloved pieces, etc. This doesn't work for anyone of any age wanting to really learn to play. A student may not know this is happening, so when they follow what they're told they don't know why they get stuck at some point. That is the loop. Meanwhile any teacher writing in may be going along this path. If they are, then this has to be looked at.

- I have been stressing to students: a) tell a teacher that you want to learn how to play the piano, and will do what it takes b) follow through. I.e. an adult student cannot assume that if he signs up for lessons, that the focus will be on skills. That is because of the above loop. Hence the "tell a teacher".

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there are plenty of internet resources available spelling out the effort required.

I've seen the fundamental idea that it takes many years of lessons, uninterrupted attendance, and consistent practice. Beyond that, the information is insufficient for knowing how to work with a teacher, or how to define goals. Generally the sites advise students to tell teachers what kind of music they like to play - imho, that misses the point.

- Beginners of any age are ignorant as in "lacking knowledge". They need guidance. You expect this of a small child taking lessons. Do you expect it of an adult? Should this adult "know better"? Will the adult get the kind of guidance that the child gets in terms of what to do, how to practice? In fact, some of the things adults learned about being "good students" in school don't work for music. For example, your math paper should be handed in error-free. Practised pieces are not error-free; the student's skills are a work in progress, and if the teacher finds things to improve, this is GOOD and not bad. If your inexperienced student doesn't know that, he will become anxious at his "mistakes" with all kinds of fallout from that.The idea of a student needing guidance does not negate the responsibility of a student. If I am new to something, the fact is that I will be ignorant and have wrong ideas: ignorance is a fact of new students.
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Most put the onus on the teacher to solve the adult student's problem.

As a teacher, which I am, I expect my student to work with me, and to prepare my assignments at home. Mostly in recent years I have tutored students with problems. Often these students don't know how to work, how to plan, and in working with me they timidly try to guess what I want to hear. What else can I do as a teacher than guide them, to learn how to be effective students. This is teaching, is it not? How will a student learn how to learn, if he is not taught? I then EXPECT the student to follow through with what I have taught.

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....they should be asking the questions.

I don't know if you can put yourself in this place. We are in an unfamiliar world. We don't have the words. We don't know how to formulate the question. We don't know what the question is. I've been there, and it is a very helpless feeling. That is why when an adult comes and writes a rambling paragraph, I try to extract things, because I see the searching.

I remember when I was in that place; several times I either confused my teacher, or insulted him, while hunting. So most of the time I stayed silent, did my best, and tried to guess. We are adults with adult intellect in adult bodies, so you do not expect this of us.

I want to stress that the OP's question was what a teacher might do. So it seemed appropriate to look at what teachers might do and what they might work with. That's what I went after the first time around. This is why I am puzzled when you say that the OP's questions were only addressed peripherally.

Is ANYTHING in what I wrote possibly useful?

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