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Tell me about your piano lessons for intermediate kids...


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I'm curious what your intermediate piano player's lessons look like. When she was a beginner, my DD's old piano teacher had her play a certain piano piece once to warm up, and then she had her play it again and they would critique it/make improvements. Now that she's at an intermediate level, her new teacher has her play a certain piece just once and then they critique it. My DD gets herself SO nervous at this one chance that she often makes a ton of mistakes--this frustrates the teacher tremendously, which of course makes my kid more nervous and she makes more mistakes. We've been with this teacher for 7 months, I thought my kiddo would adjust after a while, but the worry/nervousness isn't getting better.

 

Is one chance to play a piece without mistakes normal for an intermediate level lesson? I'm guessing it is, since they need to get ready for performing. But, I need to hear it from someone before I go looking for a teacher that makes her less nervous.

 

The weird thing is, performing doesn't make my kid nervous at all. She usually plays without many mistakes at all at a performance--it's the lessons that make her nervous. :(

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I've been sitting in on my dd and ds' violin and ensemble lessons since they started. They are at Royal Conservatory of Music level 6 and 7 now, and the ensemble group includes youth up to grades 10. They never play through a song just once, in private lessons or in the group. Even when they are playing their polished recital song with the accompanist, they play their song more than once. There are always things to improve; the child is going to lose little focus or forget some phrasing or dynamics or something. Even in a lesson, if the child plays the song "free from errors" there are still things to work on. 

 

Perhaps your dd is forgetting that every time she plays a song, there is room for growth and improvement. The role of the teacher is to bring the student further on their journey. That first time playing the song in a typical lesson is for the teacher to see where the child is at now, and what the focus of the lesson will be for the song. Certain techniques and learning how to play phrases and dynamics takes years and years of work. Different songs will allow the student to work on some aspect of their musical development. It is a process that takes time and patience. There really isn't "playing a song perfectly" for the student and teacher. For my dd and ds, they take months to prepare their recital songs, and even up to the last rehearsal, they are working on polishing and improving their focus and technique. It took them a while to get used to this when they got further along in their skill level.

 

ETA:  If my dc are playing their song with several errors, the teacher will often have them play it slower. Usually the child needs to practice the song slower at home until the entire song can be played comfortably, then gradually increase the tempo.  Also, difficult passages usually need more repetitions until they can be mastered.  

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That first time playing the song in a typical lesson is for the teacher to see where the child is at now, and what the focus of the lesson will be for the song.

This is the part that throws my DD. The teacher assumes she's at a very low level after once through because of the loads of mistakes, but most of the mistakes (not all, of course) are related to my DD's high level of worry about only getting one chance to show the teacher the level she's at. If she gets a chance to play it a 2nd time, 90% of the mistakes seem to go away. But, the teacher isn't comfortable with another chance because you don't get a 2nd chance in performances.

 

My DD is practicing 90 quality minutes/day, and yet she doesn't seem to progress from week to week because of the nervousness about that chance to show the level she's at. The lack of progress annoys the teacher, which makes DD even more nervous about that one chance to show her level. It's become a cycle I can't seem to get her out of.

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This is the part that throws my DD. The teacher assumes she's at a very low level after once through because of the loads of mistakes, but most of the mistakes (not all, of course) are related to my DD's high level of worry about only getting one chance to show the teacher the level she's at. If she gets a chance to play it a 2nd time, 90% of the mistakes seem to go away. But, the teacher isn't comfortable with another chance because you don't get a 2nd chance in performances.

 

My DD is practicing 90 quality minutes/day, and yet she doesn't seem to progress from week to week because of the nervousness about that chance to show the level she's at. The lack of progress annoys the teacher, which makes DD even more nervous about that one chance to show her level. It's become a cycle I can't seem to get her out of.

 

Sounds very stressful, if every single lesson feels like a performance with no second chance. My dc's teacher usually listens through a song once, plays through on a couple specific parts with my dc, then asks them to play the song again. This usually works really well on calming their nerves, and it's also gives the students an opportunity to make sure they are understanding the feedback and are track with making the changes. It does take time in a lesson to do this, but I think it's very well spent. If a student doesn't understand what the teacher is explaining to them, there is very little progress.  I find it helps to video tape their lesson sometimes so they can go back and re-play the teacher's instructions.

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The teacher doesn't seem a good fit. An experienced teacher would usually sense a student's anxiety or fatigue and adjust her response accordingly.

 

Even at diploma level, teachers would ask someone who seems anxious to take a deep breathe and play again.

 

Could the teacher listen further away from her if she is sitting next to her? I used to get annoyed if my teacher was too close because I needed a bigger personal space.

 

You do need to have a talk. Some teachers might be oblivious.

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This sounds odd to me.  You would think that if she had any insight, the teacher would realize that if the child can play it much much better the second time without anything else changing, maybe that has some sort of meaning.

 

I think a lot of people tend to deal with an actual performance situation quite differently from a test or lesson, even if it seems like they should be the same.  So I don't really think this idea that only one chance will replicate the performance situation is going to be true for quite a few people.  There are people for whom an actual performance just makes things come together in a completely different way.

 

I think if the teacher can't adapt to her students personality and the way she works, you should think about finding someone else.  Good teachers of all kinds are sensitive to different students needs.

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I agree with the posters above. If the teaching style (regardless of how great the teacher is) is inducing anxiety, she may not be the right fit for your dd. It really does not sound like a problem that is going to go away. I would discuss this issue with the teacher, and if she's not able to adapt, maybe it's time to find someone else. Even the very best teachers are not going to fit the style of every student. BTW, this style of teaching is not uncommon, but it certainly can stop many great kids from learning. 

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Another vote that she seems like the wrong teacher for your child. I would have an explicit conversation with her sharing what you shared here. If she adjusts, great. If not, explain that it's just not a good fit. If the teacher is as frustrated as you say she'll either be glad for the insight as to what's going wrong in her teaching or she'll be glad to part with your dd as a student. Fit goes both ways, after all.

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BTW, this style of teaching is not uncommon, but it certainly can stop many great kids from learning.

That's definitely what I needed to hear. I have been wary of jumping ship with this teacher and then having to just deal with the same thing with another. I had no idea if it was common or not.

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Have you discussed the issue with the teacher?

Yes, multiple times. My DD has been in tears at 2 lessons because of the pressure, so it has come up. The teacher feels she has done all she can to reassure my DD, and the last time it happened it was clear that she's pretty fed up with DD.

 

I've been there for every lesson, and she does get quite frustrated with my DD when the nervous mistakes start to happen--but we've had several talks and the teacher absolutely doesn't see herself that way, so there's really nothing I can do but help my DD adapt to it or move on.

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You would think that if she had any insight, the teacher would realize that if the child can play it much much better the second time without anything else changing, maybe that has some sort of meaning.

The teacher did agree to hear one song again the other day, and she acknowledged that the difference was tremendous. She was still annoyed with the situation and said she's not comfortable with that approach, but I'm going to keep an eye on what happens this coming week. I'm still holding out hope that the teacher will come up with some kind of clever approach, but I kind of think she doesn't have the time and energy for all this.

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Aw. I feel sad for your dd. You're paying for this service! It's time to leave and I think you know it.

I know. And I pay too much too. I just kind of don't like modeling giving up on things with my DD. It's so easy to do with homeschooling--there's always some other teacher to try, some other program to go to. This is already the second teacher, so I wanted to really make sure whether this approach (the one chance thing--not the getting frustrated) was commonplace.

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You're not modeling giving up. You're modeling being a smart shopper. And you're showing her you're in her corner. If she keeps going this way, she's going to end up hating music, which is sort of the opposite of what you want!

 

I'll just add, as the parent of an anxious kid, I hope you're finding good ways to help her with her anxiety in general. If it's happening in this case with tears and everything, then I'm sure it's under the surface for some other things.

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I know. And I pay too much too. I just kind of don't like modeling giving up on things with my DD. It's so easy to do with homeschooling--there's always some other teacher to try, some other program to go to. This is already the second teacher, so I wanted to really make sure whether this approach (the one chance thing--not the getting frustrated) was commonplace.

 

 

Giving up would be quitting piano.

This is "wow, this teaching style is not working well for me, I will seek out a way in which I can learn this subject better.  In this case, that means a different teacher."

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I'll just add, as the parent of an anxious kid, I hope you're finding good ways to help her with her anxiety in general. If it's happening in this case with tears and everything, then I'm sure it's under the surface for some other things.

This is what's made me most concerned. She's not the least bit anxious--she's been on big stages countless times in both professional shows and choirs, she was just in an opera in front of 3000 people every night, she's been on the radio, recorded over and over. And she has never shown a *single* ounce of anxiety or nerves. She's been as cool as a cucumber her entire life.

 

Until this teacher. And I guess that's what makes it more devastating to me that she's having to deal with this stuff and feel like this.

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Giving up would be quitting piano.

This is "wow, this teaching style is not working well for me, I will seek out a way in which I can learn this subject better. In this case, that means a different teacher."

I know you're right. I did use the example of college with my DD, where you might drop a class if the approach isn't a good fit, the material is either boring or too fast, etc. I do think she gets that we're not just flitting all over the place when things aren't perfect.

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It's actually a reasonably common issue for a student to spend a lot of time and effort getting a piece sounding great at home, only to have it fall apart when playing it in the lesson. One possible reason is inappropriate expectations from the teacher, which has already been mentioned. The other possibility is that it's a result of sub-optimal practice techniques. If your child is in the habit of sitting down at the piano and repeating the piece over and over until it sounds good, then she isn't practicing efficiently. In fact, she is practicing taking an hour or more to get a correct play through. If she goes all week not getting it right until the 2nd, 3rd, 10th, or whatever time at home, she can't expect to get it on the first try at lessons, where there is more pressure (even with the gentlest teacher). This might be something for you and your child to consider once you have gotten her settled in with a new teacher. 

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Wow. From someone who has dealt with some hefty performance anxiety myself, these lessons are not helping at all and will probably only make things worse. I agree with the poster who suggested examining what's going on in the practice sessions at home. But I absolutely don't think every single lesson should be feeling like a test or examination. Practicing performance skills is important, but I don't agree with that one time through rule at all. And I've never encountered it before, actually. Since you've discussed it with the teacher, and she's not willing to try a different approach I think you shouldn't waste any more time with this teacher hoping things will get better.

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It's actually a reasonably common issue for a student to spend a lot of time and effort getting a piece sounding great at home, only to have it fall apart when playing it in the lesson. One possible reason is inappropriate expectations from the teacher, which has already been mentioned. The other possibility is that it's a result of sub-optimal practice techniques. If your child is in the habit of sitting down at the piano and repeating the piece over and over until it sounds good, then she isn't practicing efficiently. In fact, she is practicing taking an hour or more to get a correct play through. If she goes all week not getting it right until the 2nd, 3rd, 10th, or whatever time at home, she can't expect to get it on the first try at lessons, where there is more pressure (even with the gentlest teacher). This might be something for you and your child to consider once you have gotten her settled in with a new teacher.

Yes, but she plays perfectly fine in recitals and these mini-recital practice sessions they have once/month. It's only at the lesson that she falls apart. She feels more pressure at a lesson than at a recital with 75 people, and I haven't been able to help her through it.

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My daughter's a beginner but all I can think is, if you're paying and she's not progressing, though she's practicing, what are you paying for?

 

The teacher should help her get over nervousness. It doesn't just disappear. A great teacher is a mentor. This teacher does not sound like the mentor your daughter needs. Good luck finding someone whom your daughter can work with!

 

(ETA, I take lessons and I make more mistakes in front of my teacher than I do all week. It's bizarre. But he doesn't test me. That's not his method. So it all works out.)

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A great teacher is a mentor. This teacher does not sound like the mentor your daughter needs.

Hmmm, that is a different way for me to look at it. The last teacher was sweet and kind but didn't really challenge her, and I was thrilled with this one because the challenge level was perfect for my DD. But, she's definitely not a mentor to my kiddo. More like a tough coach--piano kind of feels more like a sport than an art.

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Yes, but she plays perfectly fine in recitals and these mini-recital practice sessions they have once/month. It's only at the lesson that she falls apart. She feels more pressure at a lesson than at a recital with 75 people, and I haven't been able to help her through it.

 

If that is the case, I would only reiterate the advice others have given that this teacher isn't a good fit. Not only because her teaching style isn't helping your daughter, but also because she appears to be quite dismissive of your feedback. That statement that your daughter should get things right first time because you only get one chance in a performance was really unhelpful. Obviously the student should be working towards getting it right first time. But the lesson isn't a performance. The lesson is  - or should be - the teacher using her knowledge, skills and experience to support the student's musical development. If the main outcome of a lesson is a student who is stressed or in tears, it's not going to be helping her progress to her best ability or enjoy her playing. Also, I think a teacher can be demanding and kind at the same time. It's not an either/or situation where you have to choose between somebody who is sweet but your child doesn't make much progress or somebody who is scary but more rigorous.

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If the teacher is not willing to make the slight adjustments needed to improve her relationship with your dd when you have explicitly explained the issue then I am with the other posters who recommend moving on. The teacher should not be visibly frustrated with your dd during a lesson when you've already let her know about your dd's anxiety. That is only going to make your dd more anxious.

 

Not piano but my dd has two different teachers for violin (a classical and a fiddle) and dd has been with both for a very long time. I have had discussions with each teacher at different times when something wasn't going right. During the discussions I will let them know the issue as I saw it in a very neutral way and also suggest possible ways to address the situation because I know my dd best and hear things from her she'd never tell the teacher. They've always been willing to give my suggestions a try but if they weren't I would see it was time to move on. My dd has told me she is more nervous to play for her classical teacher. I think it is the intense focus they put on every note and phrase of a piece meaning she has so much more to think about while playing.

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This is what's made me most concerned. She's not the least bit anxious--she's been on big stages countless times in both professional shows and choirs, she was just in an opera in front of 3000 people every night, she's been on the radio, recorded over and over. And she has never shown a *single* ounce of anxiety or nerves. She's been as cool as a cucumber her entire life.

 

Until this teacher. And I guess that's what makes it more devastating to me that she's having to deal with this stuff and feel like this.

 

If that's the case, all the more reason to just find a new teacher. I will say though... my anxious ds is also my performer. He never hesitates on stage and has done a number of community theater roles and big parts in children's theater. He has no qualms about it ever. The anxiety is all behind the scenes for him about other stuff. And it's exactly like you're saying - it's the situations that should be more low pressure where he can often fall apart.

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I'm not quick to say this because I'm a teacher myself and hate to lose students, but it's time to move on. Give whatever notice you agreed to when you started with this teacher, and start looking for someone else. Interview potential teachers and be up-front about what hasn't worked in the past.

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If that's the case, all the more reason to just find a new teacher. I will say though... my anxious ds is also my performer. He never hesitates on stage and has done a number of community theater roles and big parts in children's theater. He has no qualms about it ever. The anxiety is all behind the scenes for him about other stuff. And it's exactly like you're saying - it's the situations that should be more low pressure where he can often fall apart.

I guess anything is possible, but it sure seems like I would have seen *some* sign by now given the amount of time I spend with her. I've never seen a single thing until this situation.

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The teacher should not be visibly frustrated with your dd during a lesson when you've already let her know about your dd's anxiety. That is only going to make your dd more anxious.

I truly don't think she can help it. I can see her trying hard not to get frustrated--that made me feel better to know that she's trying, so I gave it more time. But, it's still happening.

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You're paying for a service, and the service isn't right for you.  Find a new provider.

 

When I was a kid I was relatively serious about flute.  I had a very serious teacher - she was the principal of our city's symphony - and she made me so nervous that I literally got blisters on my fingers on the mornings I had flute lessons.  I finally got the courage to tell her I was going to find a new teacher when I was 15, and the difference in my playing within 3-4 months of switching was huge.  I was finally able to get actual teaching during lessons, instead of just criticism for problems/issues that never arose in my playing other than with her - there was no need for those corrections, as the mistakes literally only happened in that room.  When I got a teacher who was more relaxed, and focused very specifically on what I wanted to improve vs just playing through classical pieces I had no interest in, my playing in general got a lot better and I started making district/state bands.  

 

Interestingly, I only switched when my parents told me I had $x dollars/month for flute lessons and it was up to me what I did with them.  I couldn't see paying my old flute teacher (a wonderful woman, btw, just not a great teacher for me personally) for lessons that weren't helping me get better.

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It's actually a reasonably common issue for a student to spend a lot of time and effort getting a piece sounding great at home, only to have it fall apart when playing it in the lesson. One possible reason is inappropriate expectations from the teacher, which has already been mentioned. The other possibility is that it's a result of sub-optimal practice techniques. If your child is in the habit of sitting down at the piano and repeating the piece over and over until it sounds good, then she isn't practicing efficiently. In fact, she is practicing taking an hour or more to get a correct play through. If she goes all week not getting it right until the 2nd, 3rd, 10th, or whatever time at home, she can't expect to get it on the first try at lessons, where there is more pressure (even with the gentlest teacher). This might be something for you and your child to consider once you have gotten her settled in with a new teacher. 

 

Your daughter's level of anxiety is concerning, and this teacher relationship sounds like it's not working, but at this level it is also very common to run into problems related to inefficient practice (ask me how I know :-}). This is a great resource on efficient practice, and all the things I wished I had known long ago. 

 

http://www.bulletproofmusician.com

 

He's got a practice/performing course (which I haven't done and my kids are too young for), but the blog covers many things about efficient and mindful practice. 

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Your daughter's level of anxiety is concerning, and this teacher relationship sounds like it's not working, but at this level it is also very common to run into problems related to inefficient practice (ask me how I know :-}). This is a great resource on efficient practice, and all the things I wished I had known long ago.

 

http://www.bulletproofmusician.com

 

He's got a practice/performing course (which I haven't done and my kids are too young for), but the blog covers many things about efficient and mindful practice.

Thanks! I read some of his blog posts with my kiddo months ago (they were a big help), but I didn't know about the course!

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You're paying for a service, and the service isn't right for you. Find a new provider.

 

When I was a kid I was relatively serious about flute. I had a very serious teacher - she was the principal of our city's symphony - and she made me so nervous that I literally got blisters on my fingers on the mornings I had flute lessons. I finally got the courage to tell her I was going to find a new teacher when I was 15, and the difference in my playing within 3-4 months of switching was huge. I was finally able to get actual teaching during lessons, instead of just criticism for problems/issues that never arose in my playing other than with her - there was no need for those corrections, as the mistakes literally only happened in that room. When I got a teacher who was more relaxed, and focused very specifically on what I wanted to improve vs just playing through classical pieces I had no interest in, my playing in general got a lot better and I started making district/state bands.

 

Interestingly, I only switched when my parents told me I had $x dollars/month for flute lessons and it was up to me what I did with them. I couldn't see paying my old flute teacher (a wonderful woman, btw, just not a great teacher for me personally) for lessons that weren't helping me get better.

Yeah, you pretty much described our situation exactly.

 

It really has been an incredible waste of $ to spend hours correcting mistakes that only happen when she gets near this teacher. She's considered one of the two best teachers in our city, so I know it's not her--I probably really should look at her as a great teacher, just not a great teacher for my kiddo personally.

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Some great responses on here!

 

Last week we switched my oldest (11yo) to a different violin teacher. Like you, I had been hesitant to change teachers just because he was struggling. But oh, the difference in his happiness! In our case, he's moved to a teacher who demands a lot more, but also makes him feels better about his playing. The right fit in a teacher has made such a difference. I think one thing that really helped is that we had a trial lesson with the new teacher before quitting with the old one. The discussion with my son after that trial lesson was more revealing than his complaints about the old teacher. "She teaches me stuff that's more useful." Yeah, he didn't even hesitate to switch when he heard that the new teacher expects twice the practice time.

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