Adult student resistant to comp & improv
Stephen R., California
Any advice for an adult student who is extremely resistant to comp and improv? She hates improv every time I bring it up and stomps her feet. She does it reluctantly, though. She is also showing resistance to arrangements and is practically hitting a wall with the Fur Elise arrangement. She practices and logs her time all the time, but really digs in her heels to anything self-generative. She continually brings up the “age card” and writes lots of notes in the diagrams. I don’t know what to do. She is also a former teacher and I feel like I’m being tested.
Leeanne I., Australia
Most of my students are resistant to Comp & Improv! This has been my main struggle with students from the beginning of my teaching journey and I have spent quite a bit of time mulling over why. These are my thoughts:
1. Students still compare SM to a traditional piano method, i.e. when I finish Level 9, 12, or 18 I will be a great pianist and be able to play anything.
2. It’s hard or challenging for them. To the student’s ear, ‘their’ music doesn’t sound as good as the Foundation songs.
3. They don’t understand the long term goal of SM and them becoming self-generative.
I start Comp & Improv now before we even start Dreams Come True. I have told students that complain or won’t do it that it’s a requirement in my studio and if they won’t do it, they had better find another teacher. When the students say it’s hard or they don’t like the sound of their compositions, I tell them it takes practice! Like anything, the more they do it, the better they will become at it. Also, it’s important that they exercise both sides of their brain. The creative side needs exercise as well as the methodical side (parents like that one!).
As to becoming self-generative, a demonstration really helps students understand this. I have a student who is in Level 1, an older lady who reads a little bit of music. She really, really wanted to learn the melody of Mull of Kintyre so she could play a duet with her husband on guitar for family on Christmas day. I got her to bring in the sheet music for me. I could see that the melody was quite easy and she would be able to do it, so I agreed to teach her the intro and the chorus. I broke the RH melody down into sentences and taught those. Then she pointed to the LH on the sheet and said ‘what about that?’. I replied “we’re not going to play that, we’ll just make up our own”. She had started Tune Toolkit so I showed her how we are just going to play a LH note at the beginning of each sentence and at the end of each sentence (you can also cross-pollinate with Dreams). I told her this is the importance of learning to improvise and she got it! She agreed that it is so much easier than trying to follow the page.
I often tell students that the most important part of our lessons is improv & composition because even if they forget everything else, they can always make their own music.
Corinne S., Georgia
My personal experience is that even after finishing Level x, y, or z of traditional lessons, I couldn’t play anything. I can sight read and play almost anything, but until SM I was at a loss with jazz, improv, etc and have baby/beginner skills with accompaniment. It’s a big missing chunk in most traditional methods and a hopeful illusion for traditional students.
Heidi M., Canada
I also had 2 people especially resistant to comp/improvisation and so I did not “push” it with them. With one (an 8-year-old from a traditional lesson background) it was just a matter of time and now she loves it. With the other, she one day made a “mistake” in playing one of the Foundation 1 songs, but that “mistake” was so lovely and harmonious that I told her it would make a beautiful variation. Her eyes lit right up, ans now she is starting to open up to doing variations/improvisation.
I think often peoples’ creativity has been stifled or discouraged for so long that they maybe just plain and simply afraid to try because of fear of it being “wrong”. In my case I had the good fortune of seeing my father improvise on the piano all the time when I was a child, so even though he did not teach me piano, I am sure that helped me feel open and confident about comp/improv. But not everybody has had that kind of fortunate head start.
Stephen R., California
We’ve mostly inherited the “highly receptive” nature from school and how we’re raised. Something may have happened with this particular student in the past, which is why it has been so difficult. She also doesn’t like using the pedal and thinks it “creates too much sound”. All these signs tell me she is finding it difficult to free herself with the instrument.