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So first of all, I absolutely love my piano teacher. He’s patient, passionate, encouraging, motivating, strict but in a good way, and such a grand virtuoso too. And I love his repertoire as well. I’ve only started lessons a few months ago, but I’ve been wondering almost from the start if he was a good fit with me, an adult beginner.

So the first two lessons were exactly as I expected : we talked about my musical background (which is pretty much non-existent), about what kind of music I liked, why I wanted to start piano, my expectations, etc. When I contacted him, I also mentioned that I was a total beginner who needed to learn everything from the start, and who wanted to start on solid bases. So he showed me some exercices, my first scale, explained quite a lot of things, how to sight-read, and gave me my first very easy « piece/exercice ». And he was quite pleased that I’ve managed to achieve it by my own for the next lesson. We then discussed what kind of pieces I wanted to play next, and when I answered some that I thought were easy like Chopin’s Prelude 4 (back then I didn’t know yet that there was a lot more than just playing the right scores and keys), and he strongly disagreed, explaining that we should do easier things first and why. Which I completely agreed to, and I was very enthusiastic about what he gave me too.

And then after a few lessons (two months perhaps ?) something kinda changed. He suddenly started to give me more work, less exercices, no more scales (he suggested that I should learn them at home along the different pieces that I play), but mostly, he insisted that I should go pieces that a beginner definitely can’t play, like Chopin’s Waltz in A minor (wtf). And this change of attitude kinda confuses me, especially since he first disagreed to some easier/same level pieces (again, I never complained and showed a lot of enthusiasm for the first beginner pieces that we worked on). I still learn a lot during the lessons, we do theoretical points whenever there’s something that I need to learn about the piece I’m learning or when I ask a question, but now the lessons mostly focus on the pieces (decoding them, how to play them, how to place my fingers better, how to play it better, basically). And even though I really enjoy the lessons, in between them I always get scared that I’m burning steps, that we’re going too fast, that I won’t properly learn the basics and will stop progressing soon because of it (for example, I still struggle to sight-read a lot, or I’ve managed to play the Chopin’s waltz, but I play it very unwell as I lack of technique, like controlling the volume of my left hand, etc.)

Another thing that has been making me uneasy is that shortly after we started to take lessons, he got promoted as a teacher to the most prestigious conservatory of the country, raised his lesson fees and stopped taking beginner students. He never told me so, never asked to pay more than what we agreed on and never mentioned dropping me or whatever, but I can’t help feeling so out of place to be learning with such a top-level musician and performer, as if I was stealing somebody else’s place – an advanced player or professional’s place. And I can’t help thinking that maybe he started giving me pieces like that thinking that I’m not serious, or thinking that he’ll drop me soon anyway or that I’ll eventually give up, or because he’s just bored with beginners.

A friend told me that I’m overthinking, and that I should be flattered because the way the lessons shifted probably meant that he has good expectations from me. But I don’t know, I don’t think I play well, and I’m still afraid of going too fast, skipping the important stuff and being stuck as a beginner forever. And I’m also afraid of addressing him the matter as I don’t want him to think I’m questioning his teaching ways, when I feel so grateful.

So yea, how and after how much time do you know if your teacher is a good fit for you ?

Last edited by coffeestained; 11/18/21 02:56 PM.
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Let him read what you wrote down here and go from there.


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I don't think it's as bad as you think. My teacher also started giving me some stretch pieces in my first year (including that A minor waltz). I think he genuinely thinks you can do it. You can still learn a lot musically and technically from pieces that are hard and I think the baby steps approach is holding back a lot of people.

Here's what I think is happening. Progress is not linear and you have to review and revisit the things you learn several times before they become natural. It's not the case that you master one skill fully before moving to the next skill. What happens when you learn a new skill is that at first you can kind-of-sort-of do it with a lot of effort, you move on, then later you encounter the same skill again and this time you can do it a little better, then after a couple of repeats of this (with long intervals of time in between) you find it easy and natural. That's when you master that skill. But it would be a total waste of time to linger on that one little skill forever without working on any other skills. What I think happened is that your teacher started giving you more difficult skills to master while you are still internalizing all the basics. It doesn't mean you won't go back and revisit the basics; you probably will many times, although you might not even notice if those basics are part of a piece that teaches other skills too.

I don't think he is trying to drop you. He could have easily raised his rate if he wanted to do that.

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You have to discuss your concerns with him. I would not suggest having him read what you posted on this thread as it's too strongly worded. I don't think there's any way for anyone here to know whether he doesn't like teaching beginners or has little experience teaching beginners.

Exactly how long have you been taking lessons at this point? If it's only around four months as it appears from your post, some of the pieces you mentioned do seem very advanced for someone who has studies for such a short time. In addition, I think he should be giving you careful instruction over a long period on something like scales.

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Are you working to any sort of syllabus? It sounds like you are not sure if you are missing out important steps.

If not, you could get hold of the syllabus of one of the teaching academies like ABRSM. That will tell you what level of repertoire pieces and technical work (scales, arpeggios etc .) are apprpriate for each year of learning.

You could compare that with what you are actually doing with your teacher and then discuss with him if you see anything missing or if the pieces he’s assigned to you are too advanced for your level.


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Ask him why he's giving you harder pieces, and tell him that you are not able to play them well. He will likely respond by telling you what he expects from you learning the piece. The Chopin waltz, while difficult isn't inconceivably so.

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So you’ve been learning for 2 months, have no previous musical experience (did you play any instrument growing up?), and now your teacher wants you to learn scales and pieces on your own at home, and gave you a Chopin piece already?

😱

No, I’m sorry, this is wrong. Unless you played some other instrument at some point and can read music pretty well already, and dabbled a little in piano previously, this is not the way to teach an absolute beginner. How long are your lessons? This doesn’t make any sense.


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Originally Posted by ranjit
Ask him why he's giving you harder pieces, and tell him that you are not able to play them well. He will likely respond by telling you what he expects from you learning the piece. The Chopin waltz, while difficult isn't inconceivably so.
It is for someone with absolutely no previous musical experience, who only started learning a couple months ago.


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I misread that, any teacher that gives Chopin to practice after 3 month of lessons is just trying to stroke his/her own ego.

Maybe you are super talented or just a guinea pig.

I think the latter.


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OP --
Your teacher is a top level teacher and teaches at your country's best conservatory. He probably didn't get there by being a bad teacher, although it's a possibility. He is far more qualified than anyone on this thread (most of whom are students and have a very narrow view of learning the piano). Ask him to explain why he's teaching you more difficult pieces. You said you could play the Chopin waltz, but it was not good at all. It's possible that your teacher is getting you to try things out and trying to broaden your perspective or something.

I could imagine scenarios in which I would suggest a beginner to try out the Chopin waltz in A minor (which is basically Chopin's easiest waltz). Maybe I want to get someone out of a fixed hand position. Maybe I want to make someone more aware of chords and stride patterns in context. Maybe someone needs to attempt a hard piece to realize what they are lacking. Maybe there's a spark of potential, and I need to know the extent to which they can figure stuff out on their own.

People on this forum tend to be very conservative, and frown upon unorthodox approaches. However, good teachers use unorthodox approaches all the time, for various reasons. You need to figure out if there is a valid reason for your teacher giving you harder pieces to attempt, and he is the only one who can really answer that question.

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Just my train of thought, I am teaching you Chopin so I can demand a higher fee.

Raising tuition fees without communication is a big red flag to me.

Yes, Chopin Waltz is on of the easiest Chopin pieces, suggesting that someone can study that after 2-3 month of lessons is disingenuous at best.


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Still, it wouldn't hurt to directly ask, would it?

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FWIW John Thompson's Modern Course Grade 2 has a somewhat simplified version of the Chopin Prelude Op. 28/7 - but then again it's supposed to be for someone in 2nd year of instruction.

(The Grade 3 book even has the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2, simplified version that is 😅)


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I started off self-teaching for a few years. The first teacher at the conservatory is very good at sight reading. 1 day I brought in a book with advanced pieces. She opened a piece and started reading it through with few misses. Otherwise she can be very moody.

After taking a break, I got assigned a different teacher. She hardly ever show her bad temper except this week when some of her students wanted to connect through Zoom. The WiFi at the conservatory is incredibly slow with many students and teachers using it. Otherwise she is patient and don't push anybody to go any faster. If a student wants to continue with the same piece, she would work on it for another week.

My teacher understands adult learners like myself have a busy schedule so she try to introduce new materials at a reasonable pace. Someone in the family who is still in high school got into violin playing a few years ago and recently got a new teacher. He said the first teacher wasn't as tough but he enjoys playing the instrument. Instead of quitting, he is adjusting to the teaching style of the new teacher.

You're not going to find a teacher that is perfect in every way you expect. As long as the teacher listens to your concerns and tries to accommodate your needs. I only spend an hour with the teacher each week. Like most people who have 1h lesson per week I'd spend more time practicing on my own. Besides the assigned pieces that are not overly challenging, I download pieces on my own. In any given week I can juggle between 3-5 pieces at an intermediate level and occasionally playing an advanced piece. Unless I'm training for a competition and have coaching with the teacher at least 3x /week, I don't think she is having a huge impact on my progress than giving me the motivation to keep on practicing.

Many people posted videos online on learning on their own. When you're working with a teacher, you tend to play through a repertoire book 1 piece at a time in a systematic way. People who are on their own tend to pick interesting pieces and spend weeks perfecting few challenging ones and skipping a lot in between.

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Originally Posted by ebonyk
Originally Posted by ranjit
Ask him why he's giving you harder pieces, and tell him that you are not able to play them well. He will likely respond by telling you what he expects from you learning the piece. The Chopin waltz, while difficult isn't inconceivably so.
It is for someone with absolutely no previous musical experience, who only started learning a couple months ago.

I agree with ebonyk. I can't understand why, in the OP's words, "a total beginner" would be given a Chopin Waltz to work on after just two months of lessons.

With every thing else the OP writes - which should not be shown to the teacher, in my opinion - this does not seem like a good student-teacher match.

Regards,


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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
Here's what I think is happening. Progress is not linear and you have to review and revisit the things you learn several times before they become natural. It's not the case that you master one skill fully before moving to the next skill. What happens when you learn a new skill is that at first you can kind-of-sort-of do it with a lot of effort, you move on, then later you encounter the same skill again and this time you can do it a little better, then after a couple of repeats of this (with long intervals of time in between) you find it easy and natural. That's when you master that skill. But it would be a total waste of time to linger on that one little skill forever without working on any other skills. What I think happened is that your teacher started giving you more difficult skills to master while you are still internalizing all the basics. It doesn't mean you won't go back and revisit the basics; you probably will many times, although you might not even notice if those basics are part of a piece that teaches other skills too.

I think that's his idea as well. When I first expressed my doubts about getting so many pieces, he told me that you learn a lot of techniques and skills just by playing very different things and by playing lots of them. It makes sense, but I just wish we could also work on the baby steps as well at the same time. Were you worried about going too fast when given the Chopin Waltz ?


Originally Posted by scirocco
Are you working to any sort of syllabus? It sounds like you are not sure if you are missing out important steps.

If not, you could get hold of the syllabus of one of the teaching academies like ABRSM. That will tell you what level of repertoire pieces and technical work (scales, arpeggios etc .) are apprpriate for each year of learning.

You could compare that with what you are actually doing with your teacher and then discuss with him if you see anything missing or if the pieces he’s assigned to you are too advanced for your level.

Not really, we're mostly working on pieces, and slowly seeing whatever we encounter. It's by looking through some forums and through academic syllabus (like ABRSM) that I started feeling bit concerned. There are some things from level 1 that I think I can do well, but other (including playing a piece you've never encountered) that I couldn't do (my sight-reading is really terrible). But does not following such a strict syllabus makes you a bad pianist ?


Originally Posted by ranjit
OP --
Your teacher is a top level teacher and teaches at your country's best conservatory. He probably didn't get there by being a bad teacher, although it's a possibility. He is far more qualified than anyone on this thread (most of whom are students and have a very narrow view of learning the piano). Ask him to explain why he's teaching you more difficult pieces. You said you could play the Chopin waltz, but it was not good at all. It's possible that your teacher is getting you to try things out and trying to broaden your perspective or something.

I could imagine scenarios in which I would suggest a beginner to try out the Chopin waltz in A minor (which is basically Chopin's easiest waltz). Maybe I want to get someone out of a fixed hand position. Maybe I want to make someone more aware of chords and stride patterns in context. Maybe someone needs to attempt a hard piece to realize what they are lacking. Maybe there's a spark of potential, and I need to know the extent to which they can figure stuff out on their own.

People on this forum tend to be very conservative, and frown upon unorthodox approaches. However, good teachers use unorthodox approaches all the time, for various reasons. You need to figure out if there is a valid reason for your teacher giving you harder pieces to attempt, and he is the only one who can really answer that question.

I have no doubts about his qualifications. I know he has taught kids and beginners for many years, and also taught professionals and is giving Masterclasses across the country. That's why I don't really get what he's doing. I sure make progress, but when I read forums like here, I can't help thinking that I'm burning steps and what we're learning is wrong.


Originally Posted by Learux
I misread that, any teacher that gives Chopin to practice after 3 month of lessons is just trying to stroke his/her own ego.

Maybe you are super talented or just a guinea pig.

I think the latter.

I'm pretty much a total beginner (had some music classes when I was young and played a bit of guitar, but never seriously nor with a teacher). I think I do learn fast, but I'm definitely not super talented lol. Wouldn't see why giving a student pieces way above his levels would flatter your ego though. Wouldn't it make you feel bad to hear a student butcher a piece you like ?

However, just wanted to make clear that he NEVER raised his fees for me or never talked to me about his new post. I just saw it on his page. And I would never make him read this of course, if it wasn't obvious, even if I'm worried, I do respect my teacher a lot.

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The “absolutely love” and beautiful description of the fine qualities of your teacher in the opening of your post makes me want to encourage you to explore your concerns directly with him.

I see other teachers also give this piece to “late beginners” to introduce foundations of musical concepts:
E.g. Josh Wright: “ If a student loves Chopin but is still in the stages of late beginner/early intermediate repertoire, I will generally start them with this piece, as most of the pieces Chopin wrote were of a much more advanced nature. However, this little gem is a perfect starting point for students to not only learn about the style of a waltz, but also be introduced to voicing, nuance, and rubato”

Perhaps he is trying to open a conversation about those concepts, rather then expecting perfect execution?



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Originally Posted by coffeestained
Were you worried about going too fast when given the Chopin Waltz ?
Yes, I was worried about going too fast all the time. In fact, I have written about it before. I still think this method of throwing you in the deep end has great benefits though. As long as you stay under that teacher's supervision you will eventually figure out the basics. With this approach you get to develop your musicality to a much greater degree early on. The disadvantage is that your reading skills will probably lag behind what you can play and you will have to work hard to make up for that. I think your teacher expects you to read a lot of music on your own to develop those reading skills.

Originally Posted by ranjit
Your teacher is a top level teacher and teaches at your country's best conservatory. He probably didn't get there by being a bad teacher, although it's a possibility. He is far more qualified than anyone on this thread (most of whom are students and have a very narrow view of learning the piano). Ask him to explain why he's teaching you more difficult pieces. You said you could play the Chopin waltz, but it was not good at all. It's possible that your teacher is getting you to try things out and trying to broaden your perspective or something.

I could imagine scenarios in which I would suggest a beginner to try out the Chopin waltz in A minor (which is basically Chopin's easiest waltz). Maybe I want to get someone out of a fixed hand position. Maybe I want to make someone more aware of chords and stride patterns in context. Maybe someone needs to attempt a hard piece to realize what they are lacking. Maybe there's a spark of potential, and I need to know the extent to which they can figure stuff out on their own.

People on this forum tend to be very conservative, and frown upon unorthodox approaches. However, good teachers use unorthodox approaches all the time, for various reasons. You need to figure out if there is a valid reason for your teacher giving you harder pieces to attempt, and he is the only one who can really answer that question.
I agree fully. Perspectives on this forum are very narrow and limited. I often found my teacher's methods unorthodox (compared to what I found here) but I trusted him and in the end I did quite well (I think).

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I agree entirely with Qazsedcft and ranjit on this topic. Keep in mind that you might be still very much unaware of what you can do well and how well you do it. This is something that in my experience we as adult beginners tend to be overcritical about, but your teacher's perspective might be very different. From what you comment, I am more inclined to think that he has noticed some very good qualities in your learning curve over the past months to decide to push you a bit more. I had very similar thoughts to what you describe at the very beginning with my teacher as well, and believe me, I am glad I never decided to change teachers. Almost every time my teacher has suggested a piece I am thinking this is insane, now way I am getting this one right. And at the end, with his good guidance and to my surprise, things start to work and come into place. And that feeling is very encouraging and motivating. It pushes you to keep learning. I would talk to him anyways for you to have a very clear idea of what the purpose of every task is. It seems he is a very competent and experienced teacher, so trust him and let him guide you.

Originally Posted by coffeestained
[quote=Qazsedcft]
Not really, we're mostly working on pieces, and slowly seeing whatever we encounter. It's by looking through some forums and through academic syllabus (like ABRSM) that I started feeling bit concerned. There are some things from level 1 that I think I can do well, but other (including playing a piece you've never encountered) that I couldn't do (my sight-reading is really terrible). But does not following such a strict syllabus makes you a bad pianist ?
This is the bad side of all the info you find online. There is very useful and interesting information on the different syllabi (like repertoire suggestions) but there is no reason why every piano student in the world should fit the standards defined by them. I am very much against standardized teaching/learnign in a lot of fields anyways, and piano is no exception. Not following a syllabus will not make you a bad pianist by any means. Your teacher might have not even followed one when he was learning. There are many factors and things you have been exposed/have learned throughout your life that might determine the way you learn piano, and this goes beyond prior musical training. I would advise you to not overthink on this, and trust your teacher. I mean, he seems like a very competent person, why would he follow a syllabus if his experience has showed him there are perhaps better methods or that each learning curve is different and teaching tools should be tailored to every student?

My last advice, do not forget to enjoy the process! laugh feel proud and happy for every milestone.


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Your teacher may be probing you in order to detect your optimal learning pace, it's common. If he is a good teacher and he sees that you can't cope with that pace he will cut back. But it's important that you tell him about every deficiency that you notice in your skills and your understanding.

That said, I'm a proponent of a carefully built foundation in everything.

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