Just a Typical Teenager?
Francine V., Australia
I just finished a lesson. It was traumatic! While it’s soooo fresh in my mind:
I have a mum and her 2 daughters – 14 and 10.They all started as a group of 3 a year ago – the 14 year was leaving the others way behind so in term 2 went into a private lesson, just before the other 2 have their shared lesson. They are all in room together during each other’s lesson to wait for one another.
14-year-old girl still has not done the composition project I’ve asked her to do for the last 4 weeks in a row. She doesn’t want to. Today I told her don’t worry about it then. She sits and laughs at her little sisters composition and lyrics. The little sister just keeps playing and singing it but her face goes red and she plays it slower, stumbles and makes mistakes. The mum says nothing, and I feel really bad for the little sister (10). The mother doesn’t tell her off.
We do reading rhythm all together – last 5mins of one lesson and the 1st 5mins of next lesson. We play the rhythm doing round robin. The 14 year old doesn’t want to stand and watch and clap and say during round robin when it’s not her turn to play. If she makes a mistake she just drops her hands straight away onto her lap. She seems like she doesn’t want to join in.
I know it’s probably just teenage attitude stuff, but I don’t know what to do about it. Her mum doesn’t say anything. She seems to only want to learn what she wants to – if it doesn’t interest her she won’t do it. (They used to go to a Steiner school and now do homeschooling).
She picks songs up really quickly – she’ s really bright. I wonder if she’s used to being really great at it, and now it’s getting a bit harder, I’m asking her to do more comp and imp stuff which she doesn’t like doing, so she’s losing interest.
The little sister (10) and her mum have a shared lesson together. The little sister sits and piano with no shoes and puts her feet on the stool, touching her feet while talking.
I need to move mum onto level 4 – she’s waiting to start, but her daughter struggles to remember the level 3 songs. I’m trying to put mum on the keyboard and give her arrangements, while trying to refresh the little girl’s songs on the other piano – very hard to juggle, also very hard to hear with 2 pianos doing different things at same time.
Sometimes 14 year old goes walking around my house looking for my dogs to pat after she’s been to the toilet or gone to kitchen to get some tap water, while other lesson is on.
I really like this family – I think the little girl is really cute and sweet, and I like them both. I like the mum too. Also their nana comes for a lesson just before them, so if I lose the 14 year old, I’ll probably lose all 4 of them – there goes my daytime students which I want more of!
Does anyone have ideas on how to manage this?
Genevieve P., Utah
It sounds like you need to have a very frank conversation with this family and reset expectations for your studio. Make sure they understand you are a requirements based studio, and if they don’t hold up their side of the agreement they will not be able to continue as your students. I would let them know the requirements and then give then one month to show me they are serious. At the end of the month we would have another frank discussion and evaluation and see if we can continue or not.
One note about the homeschooler question… It doesn’t have anything to do with that. Regardless of how they are educated you get all kinds of families and personalities from every kind of schooling.
Patti P., Hawaii
This topic brought to mind one of the audio files (the title escapes me) in which Neil is talking to a teacher with a young child who doesn’t want to cooperate. This behavior can crop up at any age.
I agree with Genevieve that it’s time to have a conversation about your requirements. In addition to things like what their job is as a student (being willing to learn, which includes trying things that are difficult sometimes), I would include behavior when it is not your personal lesson time. I have many families who come together, and some of them have a teenager who takes a private lesson. I don’t allow wandering around my house, a point I generally make clear at the very first. They are expected to bring something quiet to do while they wait, and to remain seated in the studio area.
You gave up a lot of territory when you told the teen to forget about the project. If I have a student who hasn’t done a composition project, they still have to come to the piano and if nothing else, I help them get started with the first set of notes. I never let a student sit out composition time. Some students are much more resistant to it, but I just have to be very consistent and persistent. Eventually they realize this isn’t a negotiable thing!
I also don’t allow comments or making fun of another student in the studio. The sooner it’s addressed directly, the sooner it will stop, one way or another. The audio files on the website have some great examples on how to speak to students when you have to enforce a requirement.
I personally wouldn’t try to juggle two students doing two different things at two pianos simultaneously. If you’ve spent a few moments showing the mom a bit of a new arrangement, she could practice that on the keypad while the daughter is playing from her playlist. That would work better. But what you have then isn’t really a shared lesson, but two privates happening simultaneously (at least at that point).
I think it is beneficial for the younger one to watch you teach the arrangement to mom, even if she won’t be doing it for awhile. I’ve got some classes where one or two students are really quick learners. They are moving through arrangements faster, but everyone watches. I just tell them it will help them learn it when it’s their turn for that arrangement.
Do you check the playlist pieces frequently? Without that, students won’t really believe that they are actually responsible for keeping the playlist up. I’ve required students to keep a number of pieces up for a long time, pre SM, and learned the hard way that if you don’t hear them regularly, the students will not do it. If everyone’s focus is on the new piece, that’s where all their effort goes. In all my years of teaching (which is more decades than I want to believe!), I’ve only had one student who just struggled to keep more than 3 pieces in her head at once. She had some learning difficulties outside of piano as well. In contrast, I’ve had others with fairly severe learning difficulties that kept every piece alive and well. So I would suspect that forgetting the pieces has more to do with how often they are played than anything else.
This family might do better in three separate groups if that’s possible. They might not be able to manage that, but being with students who are at their level would offer a lot of advantages for them. The teen might not be as resistant to things in an environment where other teens are cooperating and enjoying the process.
As Genevieve said, homeschooling has nothing to do with it. I have a large number of homeschoolers in my studio and they are great families to have.
Ruth M., Washington
Neil’s talk about “Telling Children the Truth ” comes to mind.
The simple answer is to simply state that you do not allow bullying in your studio, and that it needs to stop immediately. If you say it quietly and firmly to her the minute she starts in, she won’t wonder what you mean.
You could also commend the little one for being brave enough to not only work on compositions, but to share something so wonderful with you and her classmates.
Finally, Kristin Fairfield, who is developing a composition workbook for us, talks about lowering the stakes in composition using projects that do not involve a lot of laying yourself on the line. Perhaps she can share with you how that frees up the process.
Here is an example of something That I did in class the other day with some reluctant composers:
I told the first student to put 5 fingers over 5 notes, and since I was experimenting we put thumb on C. I told them to just play a bit right there “nice and short, it doesn’t matter what”.
Then I jumped in with “Great!!!” as soon as they had played a short phrase and I asked them to repeat it. “ooo I like that, show us again”.
I asked the next “robin” to try to duplicate the short pattern, the first person would guide as necessary.” fantastic ! play it again (then i drew a triangle on the board) one more time (drew another triangle) Now can you add a little something different to that using the same 5 notes?”
“love it ( I also sing the melody they have created to show them how musical it really is, they are just randomly playing, and I don’t leave time for experimenting,, whatever the play is perfect). Then I ask them to play it again and I draw a star on the board and again and one more star. “Can you remember the triangle part? ”
From this point we piece the triangle fragments and the star fragments together. Perhaps AA BB AA the next person plays through the sequence and adds a C part or a “fine”. That whole sequence, when learned can be a short little melody or combined to make A section for a larger piece that can be pieced together of each patterned section. Or it can be an idea for inspiration,.” Write one more section that you think would fit after this at home”.
The results were lovely and there was no investment because I jumped on the very first thing that they played and ran with it.
I hope that made some kind of sense. This type of activity could get the older sister involved with collaborative composing in a no threat situation. Once she begins to lose her anxiety over composing, my guess is that she will not need to ridicule her more willing and daring younger sister, as she will not be a threat.