Advanced Students and SHM
Beth S., Tennessee
I love very advanced students and seem to be acquiring more of them as I go along. They are fun because of the pace we move and how many extra projects can be explored and accomplished. This type of student, however, will typically fly through the foundation pieces in very few lessons. I remind them frequently that the foundation pieces are a starting point for us to work from to move on to bigger projects, arranging, composing, etc., and they are usually okay with that concept. The question that always emerges to me in this situation, though, is how do I justify to them the expense of the foundation materials when those pieces are just our launching point and we spend hardly any time there?
Mark M., New York
Three responses from three different angles.
1) Ideally, you’d be doing plenty of comp/improv and variations/arrangements right from the very beginning anyway, not waiting for them to come after some period of Foundation-songs-as-a-starting-point. And if students are that capable, you can always introduce Accompaniment 1 right at the very beginning instead of waiting. Either way, multiple streams going at once means going more slowly through Foundation and providing a richer experience at the same time, not to mention an experience that’s more typical of what life is like in SM lessons through the long-term.
2) Whether you’re a fast reader or a slow reader, it costs the same amount to buy the first Harry Potter book. They don’t charge less when a fast reader buys it. Whether you learn your Foundation 1 songs quickly or slowly, you end up with the same result — 10 specific songs memorized. They’re paying for the result, not the amount of time it takes to get the result.
3) You said here “the question that always emerges to me.” Does this question emerge only to you, in your mind, and not actually get asked by students? If they’re not even asking you the question, then you have a very different situation on your hands than one in which students were actually regularly asking this question of you. Either way, the two notions above point to the answers, and you’d benefit from the answer for yourself aside from whether anyone else asks you. But it is worth being clear about when an issue is yours vs. theirs.
Kerry V., Australia
If you could remember the materials, or songs, we are teaching are not the outcome but the building blocks to the next. Too often we look at the individual song rather than what the piece is actually teaching us.
I have many experienced students, and all of them start at the beginning and we go through as any new student. And not all of them fly through either as they are challenged by the new/different way to learning.
Are all your ‘advanced’ students able to break down the events, play the songs slowly as well as medium to fast pace? Are they able to start anywhere in a song when asked, eg, start at sentence 2 in DCT? It is one thing to ‘fly’ through and another to really know what is happening.
Check for any cracks that may be occurring.
Do not underestimate the materials you are using for ANY background student.
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
Like Neil says, they are not learning the songs just to learn the songs. They are learning a way of learning, and the songs are the portal used to teach this way of learning. The great thing about learning ‘easy’ songs is that it frees up the more advanced student to do more with it in terms of creating their own arrangements or style. Of course, that is in addition to the arrangements we teach them.
Kerry H., Australia
I am very big on the importance of ‘Set-Up Conversations’ in my teaching. There have been so many times when I have found time and again, that issues which have arisen with students and/or parents, in many, many areas of the Simply Music program, have very often been the result of either an inadequate Set-Up Conversation, or inadvertently omitting it altogether.
Teaching an advanced student is another one of those situations in which I have found a thorough ‘Set-up Conversation’ to be critical in reducing the possibility of these kinds of issues emerging. Whether the student has voiced these concerns or not, they will in many cases be thinking these and similar thoughts…unless you have the Set-Up Conversation. They may also be asking themselves why they need to spend money on lessons that are much more simple than what they were doing prior to starting Simply Music lessons. By addressing these issues before they arise, it helps to build trust with the student and they will be much more willing to go where you know they need to go.
I always prepare a more advanced student by telling them that all students need to start the Simply Music program from the beginning. I use Neil’s analogy about learning a new language. In other words, you ask them to think of this as learning a new language and ask them to imagine that if they already know how to speak English and Italian and then decided to learn Japanese, they can’t just say, ‘look, I already know a lot about learning languages, so I’d like to just skip Japanese 101 and go straight to 201.’ They would have to start at the beginning with Japanese. They may pick it up more quickly than someone who has never learned a second language, but they still have to go from the beginning.
Let them know that you are not asking them to forget what they have learned already in piano – because we can’t forget something we know anyway – but they can put it aside temporarily. What they already know, will be useful in the future, but for now they just have to put it aside.
The other important distinction to make to students, is that in Simply Music we are teaching students a way of learning by using learning strategies. It is these strategies that will enable them to be able to play such a large number of really quite advanced pieces, covering a wide variety of musical styles, so quickly and without the music! However, in order to be able to achieve that, they must learn the learning strategies and our way of learning. And I tell them, it is very important that they don’t under-estimate the power of the simple pieces in this process.
I explain to them that Simply Music is very cleverly designed to unfold step-by-step, so that each step builds on a previous step and that everything is building something for the future. As the student, they may not always be able to see where we are heading, they have to be willing to trust us that we are always setting up something. As someone with prior experience, they may be able to move more quickly through the program, but we can’t skip steps. If the foundations are not there, the building will come crashing down in the future. I explain that in reality, their willingness to put aside what they have done in the past and their willingness to view this as something new and just do what I am asking, will play a large part in how quickly they are able to move forward.
Additionally, when an advanced student can play a simple song easily, that is not the same as having the song be thoughtless, and they will need to be able to play it thoughtlessly. Often this is a new experience for students who have had traditional lessons and adds a whole other level to what they are doing. With students with prior experience, if they do have the song down thoughtlessly, can they describe the learning strategy they used to learn it?
Another thing that can be useful for advanced students is to explain to them that they will be learning some more advanced versions or arrangements of the simple songs – and I usually demonstrate Dreams and Arrangements 2 & 3 and Night Storm and Arrangement 1, as some examples. I explain that by learning the simple songs first, they will be learning about the structure of music and seeing how we can take a simple song and turn it into something more beautiful, more complex and more advanced. But they have to learn the simple songs first.
I find that once students have a strong ‘why’ we are asking them to do something, they will mostly trust us and be willing to do the simple things that we know are important for them to do. And over time, we as teachers, get better at having these conversations with students and thereby prevent the issues from arising in the first place.
For me personally, I know that when I have these Set-Up Conversations, the issues don’t seem to arise. Conversely, I see what happens when for some reason I omitted to have the Set-Up Conversation and the issues present themselves and it reminds me to deal with it early on. Of course, it’s never too late to have a ‘Set-Up Conversation’, it is just easier and quicker to have them align with you from Day 1.
Joy V., Texas
From what I know about you, I believe you’re setting up these conversations and trusting the process — and all the other appropriate phrases that come to mind about Simply Music. What I hear is that you may be questioning your own justification (in your own mind) as to having students spend this much money at the start, especially if they’ve already invested a lot of money in traditional lessons, only to get basic songs that take five minutes to learn.
I look at it this way: In order for them to get Family Dreams, Dreams Arrangement, and Broken Dreams, they have to pay for Dreams Come True. In order to get Night Storm Accompaniment, Night Storm Arrangement, and Broken Night Storm, they have to pay for Night Storm. And the list goes on and on.
If I were not thinking of it in terms of quickly giving them the arrangements to supplement these basic songs, I would have a problem as well. But that’s how I justify it in my own mind. Yes, we must start from the beginning and yes, it is costly at the start for advanced students, but look how wide and deep I can take you with the materials that you bought for Foundation 1 alone — 25 songs if you count Chester Samba as an extra song. (more if you mention the variations). I’d say that’s a pretty good deal for 48 bucks.