Not Following Instructions and Note Taking
Carol P., Michigan
My adult students are addicted to taking notes. Twice now I’ve given students the SHM and said “Don’t watch the video, and put the music aside for later” and they don’t hear it. Previously, I had written on the students notes for her first lesson to watch 1.1.1-1.1.7 on the video and, she “understood” that to mean watch the video and do the first seven songs. She came back in with her notes book covered in her hand written notes. Yesterday I had an 80 year old student start who said she hadn’t heard me say not to watch the video or put the music away. She had watched the entire video and looked through all the printed music. She came in with notes scrawled all over EVERYTHING, and I’m not talking about just little reminders. Every page was black and she had crossed out Neil’s original markings. Both of these students had previous piano experience.
I live is a small place where everyone is pretty much known so last nights student’s reputation had preceded her. She’s unique, willful and difficult. I told her she was not to take notes. She said “That’s just tough! I like taking notes and I’ve already watched the video so I know too much”. I was very firm with her and told her she would have to go back to the beginning, erase what she THOUGHT she knew and go through the program exactly as it was laid out. Boy, was she angry.
But by the end of the half hour she understood where I was coming from and I did start her on the first arrangement of “Dreams” to give her something to sink her teeth into. Then she said “Do you mean to tell me that’s all I get to practice this week?” I said “Yes, anytime you start something new you start simply.” She was cool by the time she left. Sheesh.
My first serious note taker also has a closed head injury which, frankly, I think she uses as an excuse for certain things. She can remember the songs and arrangements, and has ever since I just insisted she do it. Her progress in this way gets better by the week. I always tell my students to call me if they can’t remember something. Only one has. She is an adult student who was upset about the “no notes”, which I down graded to “minimal notes” policy, and she called me at 9am on Sunday morning. I’m thinking that was slightly passive/aggressive.
Am I wrong here? My thinking is that we’re training a new way of learning and depending on all that writing is bringing in the training from the past and isn’t going to help source information from the keyboard. My 80 year old stares at the ligature of the piano as if she’s reading music even if there’s nothing there!
Kim L., Australia
I’ve had some challenges with this myself, and still have to re-affirm (especially with adult students) that when I say, “OK, write down in your book exactly as I write on the board,” – I mean EXACTLY. Capitals, underlining, etc.
What I have found is that when I dig deeper with students, and keep asking why they did something, it exposes the beliefs that are causing them to act the way they do. So, say one of your adults comes back again, after you’ve clarified exactly what to do – and they’ve gone ahead again on the video and learned more songs. So – with no frustration, of course – you say, “So, why did you do that when I gave you specific instructions otherwise?” – and of course they respond with the typical… “I was bored” “Not enough to do” “I got frustrated”. All of these can lead into a discussion on purpose, and why they are here.
I like to ask, “OK, I can understand this is a new experience, especially since you’ve had some training before. However, that training didn’t get you where you wanted to go, did it? And I understood, when you signed up for SM and paid my fees, and we had our initial discussion, that you were willing to be coachable and trust me as your teacher.” The idea is that you’re reminding them that their previous knowledge, that they are attempting to use, did not get them to musical fluency. But reminding gently! It’s also you reinforcing your territory as an instructor.
This discussion usually then leads to, “Well, yes, I trust you, BUT….” and this is where, gently again, you lay down your rules for your studio. “This method has outstanding results in so little time – but you have to be willing and coachable even when you don’t understand why I’m asking you to so something… ESPECIALLY when you don’t understand. It will be clear in time. If you want to have more control over the way you learn and practice, that’s completely fine, and there are many fine piano teachers in the area who can help you.”
What I’ve found is that:
- If I’m lenient in the beginning, and let people claim territory, it gets harder and harder to take my territory back, and
- It IS possible to be firm, confront claiming territory issues, and do so without letting emotions run amok. (<– this is still my biggest challenge.) You are not being mean when you insist on adherence to the method – you are giving students the best chance of success.
Oh – and ANYONE that’s had previous experience (kids and adults) I take the music books away from them before I even give out the SHM’s. I write their name on the front and put it in my filing cabinet for when we get to it. 🙂 Problem solved!!
In the beginning, with students who have had previous experience, I make “games” out of the basics. For instance: can you say letter names while playing keys backwards (high to low?) 5 steps of sound can be done, hands together, walking up white keys. Or crossing hands in octaves. Or chords the same way. I also will give students like this composition assignments: write a song with chords and five steps of sound.
Sheri R., California
I have taken white-out and crossed out notes I’ve seen them write on their (Reference) Notes book pages or extra notes they’ve written on the back pages of weekly notes.
I joke about how we adults love to take notes and often feel insecure without them, and how the kids are amazing the way they haven’t been trained in thinking they need notes yet. And how I will be able to help them get back to that amazing and efficient way of learning. Also remind them of some of the many things they’ve learned in their lives without notes. And all the stuff around trusting the process and being coachable as others have expressed. I also frequently remind them, because I think it’s easy to forget, since they’re not there yet, of the benefits it will bring them as far as more ease with composing, reading, memorizing, etc.
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
I actually had an adult student get out her camera phone once when I was playing an arrangement – she thought she’d just video me playing it, for reference! Ha!
I had several adult students giving me grief about not taking notes, especially on arrangements, because they could just NOT remember them. When Neil was here in Omaha recently, I asked him if it was okay for adults to take minimal notes. It went something like this:
Me: “My adult students are having a really hard time remembering the arrangements. Is it all right for them to take some notes, because they seem to be getting very frustrated.”
Neil: “Sure. It’s fine for them to take notes.”
Me (incredulously): “It is? You don’t care if they take notes?”
Classic Neil Statement: “Not at all, it’s perfectly fine. You just can’t expect to get the same results.”
So that’s what I tell them. I try not to belabor the point too much, but I have talked about how we humans like to have a “blueprint” in front of us, telling us everything we need to know in order to accomplish something. For those who read music, the written music is that blueprint. We talk about learning to let go of the safety net and letting our brains get a better workout. I like to remind them that they are warding off Alzheimer’s in this way.
Neil also spent time talking about how our older generation has convinced themselves that they have memory problems. But, the fact that they know which side of the bed to get out of every morning, which way to walk to the restroom, which way to turn the doorknob, how to put toothpaste on their toothbrush, etc,. etc., proves that they do NOT in fact have a memory problem. He said if they really believe they have a memory problem, teach them only the FIRST NOTE of an arrangement, and that is their entire assignment for the week. To play one note. Then if they can remember that, they only get to learn the next note at the following lesson. They’ll soon get over the ‘memory problem’ issue, and he said you’ll never have them complaining about memory problems again. Gotta love Neil’s chutzpah.
If I see someone trying to take notes, I take the pen right out of their hands and tell them it’s against the law. I have erased/whited out notes. We spend time with the chord/sentence, whatever we are focusing on and talk about “what does that look like” or “how would you describe that shape” so they can start to rely on their brains instead of notes.
Karen T., Illinois
I have been known to require the adult student to buy a new book, and promise not to mark in it. I’m not angry with them for not hearing me say no notes, I just explain that it can’t be this way. And I explain again the right brain, left brain issue along with the fact that we are strengthening the right brain for the reading of music, which requires both sides of the brain to be equally strong. Why buy a new book instead of erasing? Because you can not remove completely the marks made with a pencil in these books, and a student that desperate will still be relying on their ‘shadow’ notes. This makes a fresh start, and they believe me this time.
Karen G., Tennessee
I find nearly all my adult students want to take notes. I tell them not to but I also tell them that if they still choose to, that’s fine, they just won’t get the same results and that they are just swapping one set of notation for another and just slowing down their progress in the long run. I let them know it is ‘normal’ to want to write notes as most adults have learned to rely on written notes about everything rather than their memory. So I assure them that pretty much all my adult students have to fight the urge to write notes… and that eventually, when the writers quit writing, they have better results. Many resist the urge to write after that conversation.
I tell them the kids don’t have this problem. The PARENTS might want to make detailed notes, but the kids just remember, they haven’t developed this ‘crutch’ yet. For those who continue to want to write notes, I continue to encourage them to trust their memories, and usually by the end of Level 1, if not sooner, I notice the notes are gone. It seems the older the student, the harder it is to let go of the ‘need’ to write more detailed notes.
Cindy B., Illinois
I’ve had very few adults go through with taking notes – what I’ve found is that if I spend time at the first lesson that actually has a written assignment talking about WHY it’s a really, really bad idea, and they understand the reason – they’re willing to start out not taking notes. To give it a try, so to speak. The very first time someone subsequently decides, in less than a month, that it’s not working and they try to take little notes, I get right on it and spend a good 1/3 of the lesson time talking about it again, and include more about how okay it is to forget something and need reminders (especially with the arrangements) – that that’s the norm and perfectly acceptable.
Skipping practice days is usually also a part of this discussion. By the 3rd attempt it’s time to spend a good deal of time reiterating the relationship conversation. How it FEELS to not take notes, and to forget AGAIN, and to trust the teacher. I also tell them how I feel when they forget again, or when they don’t do what I tell them. I don’t mind in the least and am actually very encouraged when they allow themselves to forget something rather than take notes, and am personally discouraged if they persist in not trusting what I’m telling them.