Friday, March 22, 2013

Adult Students Part 2

What Adults Bring to Piano Lessons-

My adult students begin lessons with me for a variety of reasons. Many took lessons as children but were permitted to quit when the going got tough. I hear this story all the time and it always ends the same way- "I'm so sorry I quit and can't wait to start up again".

I struggled to know how to best handle them and my studio polices concerning cancelled lessons, etc. because its not like handling school-aged students.

My adults simply can't always be held to the same policies as my kids. Many work for a living, they have children, responsibilities, and many other things on their mind. They can't swap lessons with others after school, and if they are retired and take lessons in the mornings,  my school-aged students can't swap lessons at 10am.

When they have to work late, or are asked to work on a day off, its difficult for me to charge them for the missed lesson when there was nothing they could do to prevent it (Unless of course it is a last-minute cancellation, and then they are still financially obligated for the missed lesson). When their children are sick, and the dog has to go to the vet, groceries need to be bought, and the car is in the shop, they don't always have time to practice.

And when everything is going as planned, and they are practicing and coming to lessons each week without fail, they enter my studio with far different goals than the children.

My elementary-aged students just show up for their lessons. That's it. They go to school, practice after school and come to the next lesson. They get their practice beads and are motivated by game week, student choice month and the One Minute Club. Time seems to have no meaning for them. After 6 months of lessons, they don't care if they still aren't playing a Mozart Sonata. They don't care if they haven't progressed through the majority of a lesson books....but many adults do.

Adults come to lessons with their own thoughts, ideas, goals, fears, inhibitions, egos, and musical backgrounds. Some even come with their own pre-planned curriculum. Piano teachers should know how to teach adults and what their priorities are before rushing into a studio policy that matches one for children.

When I begin a new adult student, I start with an interview. I ask them about their past history of piano and why they quit. What music they like and what is important to them. I ask what they want to get out of piano in 6 months, or 1 year. Are they committed? Or is this just something they thought up like going to the gym or dieting....only to quit after 3 weeks (which many of my 20-somethings have done).

Once I have an adult that is committed and ready to learn or re-learn piano, I make sure they are crystal clear that they should not cancel a lesson because they haven't practiced. Each adult has a theory workbook and frankly, I could talk about theory for weeks and never even touch the piano.

I also let them know that slow and steady wins the race. Getting through 3 books a month isn't teaching them good habits, hand position, or building technical skill. Many adults have their own secret agendas and feel that if they aren't completing 3 books a month that somehow they aren't cut out for this, or worse, its the teacher's fault.

Speaking of the teacher's fault, externalizing blame is something adult students do much more often than the kids. I hear these statements alot from adults..."Your piano isn't the same as mine, I played it better at home, I can't play it with the hand position you want me to use"....and so on. This reasoning will keep them beginners for the rest of their life. At some point they must take responsibility for their own progress or lack of it.  I've had adults refuse to play scales and etudes. Some refuse to play and count. Some have developed coping mechanisms of playing everything the same...Bach, Mozart, Gershwin....all the same- kind of sounding like elevator music. No controlled rhythm, no counting, no technique, one dynamic, and too much pedal.

Adult students can also have lots of performance anxiety- I'm careful not to push performance and instead hold Adult Rep Class for students only. This is a non-judgemental atmosphere, very light-hearted, and lots of fun. It takes the edge off performing and everyone knows its ok to make mistakes, because we ALL do it.

I think the more flexible I am with adults, the better. It doesn't matter if a particular assignment takes a month because they don't have time to practice- maybe that's not why they come to lessons- maybe they come to relax, let off steam and focus on something other than work for a change. It doesn't matter if they ask to play a show tune or rock song on piano instead of a Bach Minuet- I always encourage them to request music they can connect with. The desire to play a variety of particular pieces is what brought them to me in the first place.

My job is to deliver the ability to match their desire---it's what keeps them coming back to the piano.

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