14 Year Old with Prior Experience
Denise P., Ohio
I would like to get some thoughts on a situation that just occurred…. a parent called me today to inquire about lessons. Her daughter has had about 5 years of traditional lessons, but quit about a year ago. Her sight-reading skills are very weak. Her mother said that she would just listen to songs and learn how to play them without reading. She hated practicing, and she continually wanted to learn pieces that were outside of the curriculum.
So, the first thing this mother says to me is, “You may not want to teach my stubborn child….. she loves to play, but she hates to practice, and she wants the flexibility to play some of her own choices of music.” In fact, she wants me to start by teaching her “Moonlight Sonata”, even before she learns the Simply Music method.
I would like to take this student on, because I feel she would love the variety and flexibility that Simply Music offers. She has a good ear, and that would really develop well in learning arrangements and self-generating. However, I don’t want to stray from the Simply Music curriculum, especially Level 1. But I would also like to help her with Moonlight Sonata to appease her. She is a teenager, and I’d like to empower her, as these are tough years in emotional maturation.
Any thoughts or suggestions you have in approaching this situation is much appreciated!
Jenna W., Iowa
No, No, No and I will say it again No! You do not appease her. You are being hired to teach her simply music, not stubborn teenager music. Do not give her that kind of ground right off the bat because you are setting yourself up for major battles all along the way. You can sit down with her and make a plan about how she progresses will determine when you can teach her outside pieces and I would flat out say no, until she’s finished with the first three levels. She has been taught, it sounds, that she can get away with this kind of behavior. I am sorry, but you are going to have to take the stance from the beginning that she can’t do that and maintain it and neither she nor her mother will probably appreciate. Well, the mother might actually be relieved.
You have to set up the ground rules, guidelines and above all NEVER forget that it’s your territory; do not give it to her.
Victoria S., CA
I’m not sure if this would work for you, but perhaps agreeing to teach her something not part of the SM curricula from the start might be setting the stage for her claiming more territory later.
Maybe you could explain to her, as I do to my students and their parents, to remember one of the goals of SM is for students to be able to progress on their own without the assistance of a teacher every step of the way. That means learning the learning strategies as SM is really a program of learning how to learn. So, if she would just be patient from the start, she will be learning strategies that will help her learn Moonlight Sonata and anything else she desires much faster than any traditional approach would allow. And, since she has had prior musical experience, she will probably progress faster in the program anyway.
Sheri R., CA
I have found that this method mostly attracts the below 12 crowd and the over 30 crowd (more so over 40 actually). It seems that under 12 they don’t have definite opinions about what songs they want to play and over 30 they have settled into their life and also are more amenable to
understanding the idea of laying the groundwork before they get into the music that led them to want to learn piano in the first place.
When the teens come calling it is definitely more of a challenge for exactly the reasons that they want to play their music and can be impatient to get to the “real” thing. Dreams Come True can feel like musical kindergarten (which it is!) and they don’t always want to put up with that. Trusting the process is a harder sell to the teenagers. It is something I think one has to keep checking in with them about and assuring them that the more they follow your instructions, especially regular practice, in order to progress at a steady rate the sooner they will get to the point of playing their hearts’ desires. Giving them what they want too soon (just like all the things teens want before we think they are ready!) is NOT A GOOD PLAN! Deviating from Simply Music means they are not getting Simply Music!
However, I would show them what could be done with accompaniments and get them into that as soon as possible. The pop songs they hear on the radio can then be theirs in short order. Also, show them what could be done with improvising and composing from the very first lessons. Mainly I would keep reassuring them that they are on the right road to achieve their piano dreams at the same time as I might acknowledge how hard it might be to wait. An analogy you could give them might be the way they learn a foreign language– most of them will be familiar with that because of school. They can’t understand a foreign film or read a book in a foreign language or even converse freely with a person who doesn’t speak their language right from the get go even if they want to. Clearly, the groundwork of learning the vocabulary and grammar is what will allow that, just as in Simply Music.
By the way, of course it is possible to teach someone a song who hasn’t laid the foundation, just like it would be possible to teach someone how to memorize a poem in a foreign language without ever having spoken it or even without understanding what they are saying. (A great example are the Torah portions in Hebrew that Jewish teens learn without necessarily understanding the vocabulary of what they are saying.) People are going to Youtube to learn songs who don’t have any piano experience. It’s possible, but it’s just not what we are all about. The context is everything!
It might just be that in general we have to resign ourselves to the demographic that falls outside of teenagedom. I am curious to know what percentage of your studios are teens. Mine has always been quite small. Mostly I just don’t even get calls from that age group, and when I do it’s hard to keep them interested for long. I am very curious to hear if some teachers are doing things differently than the standard curricula to help keep the teens interested. Perhaps there is a way to progress through the early levels and also balance that with their personal requests
Cheryl G., Pennsylvania
Just went and counted my teens. If I include the preteens, I have 12 which is approximately one fourth of my students. most of them i’ve had for awhile, but some came in as teens. i think teenagers would especially like Simply Music because most of them would be able to pick it up quickly and progress very quickly. but with teenagers you do kind of hold your breath wondering if they’ll stay interested, or whether their other activities or over-abundant homework will bring on the end of piano studies. last year I lost a pre-teen to swimming lessons! (he still takes violin lessons however). The age group i have had no success with is middle-aged men! Men in their 50’s and older have all come and gone very very quickly. they seem to be looking for magic, or else they think the songs are too childish, or else they’re really looking to play popular music or jazz by ear. on the other hand, i’ve been teaching a 4 year old for a few months, which i never
in my life thought i would or could do.
Joanne J., AU
I have taught the Pink Panther arrangement to a number of my students now because it is quirky & fun and is in a great book a lot of them have for extensive chord practice called The Kids Bumper Book. One 12-year-old boy who really tested the patience of his parents and me with lack of engagement in the process actually about-faced and did a brilliant job of it and now approaches all of the programme that way – hallelujah! It really was a turning point. He was in level 5 at the time but you could do it earlier as a ‘grab’ for a teen student who needs firing up. I think he suddenly ‘got’ what the tools are all about and realised it was worth the effort.
I found it distills down to the opening chords (5ths) zigzagging (using up and down arrows) BH and then the melody breaks down to series of 2’s using fingers 1 & 2 plus 3 sentences. BH uses 1 of 4 ways: LH with RH thumb on the series of 2’s, Unison LH introduces sentences
Treatment of the tailpiece (sentence 3) 1st note together and then LH after last RH note and into the 5ths
I would say that you need to know the process thoroughly to deliver it successfully just as we do with every piece in the programme but it is fun to have in our own playlist so it is no chore.
In regard to your student who wants to learn Moonlight Sonata. I have students with extensive prior experience who have first agreed to participate in the journey of Simply Music right from Level 1, and provided they are faithful with their application to that we also honor the level they have achieved already by adding in pieces that are appropriate and that I can deliver using the basic Simply Music tools. This usually means that while they are working up to level 7 the extra pieces we do will all be pattern based or can easily be distilled into chords. Moonlight Sonata is a bit ambitious as a first one I would think – while it naturally distills into chords there are an enormous number of them and could be more than a little daunting bearing in mind that we are deliberately opening the door to playing without music.
With a history of reading music in her traditional learning it would have a large impact on the length of time it might take her to make that transition if she is constantly referring to the music in Moonlight. I would suggest that Bach’s Prelude in C is a great one to do first as it brings enormous satisfaction being able to achieve it quite quickly and easily without reading the music. Then, if she is willing to move just 1 or 2 bars a week and is proving faithful in the foundation program you may consider Moonlight Sonata to be ‘do-able’ depending on her previous level of expertise. Remember that experiencing victory each week is paramount to students maintaining their enthusiasm and commitment. There is a great book of Burgmuller pieces (includes Ballade in our level 5) that are very pattern based and very satisfying to play that would be worth considering for this lass too. It is really important for her to be enjoying her playing for her to wish to continue but also paramount that you are ‘driving the bus’. The accompaniment process will also open up a tremendous amount of music to her I would imagine.
There can be a big plus for those in this situation as they can appreciate quite early in the process just what ‘the process’ is and therefore pay more attention to the tools and strategies.
Hope this is not too long winded and is of use, especially after being so delayed in replying.