Student without a life coach
I have a blind, autistic adult student who lives in a group home and goes home on weekends. She plays the piano every day and up until about a month ago, I assumed that someone was with her when she practiced, that there was someone who would watch the videos and reinforce what I was teaching her in our private lesson.
I met with her mother and the home supervisor about a month ago and got a full picture–no life coach and not going to happen. After some discussion, with her mother saying that playing piano is all that her daughter has and that she loves it, we decided to go to 2 lessons per week–money is no concern for mom–which would help her move ahead quicker than she had been. I have her in F2, ACC 1 and am doing composition with her. All is going well, but I am wondering if she will ever get Star Spangled Banner with all the frequent chord changes. She enjoys playing it, but can only play it if I am standing over her, guiding her hands to each chord. She is able to learn her other songs just fine, even if slow.
Any ideas of how I could help her really learn Star-Spangled Banner?
Mark M., New York
Obviously it’s not an ideal situation, but if you’re willing to keep teaching, and they’re all motivated to keep it going, especially with the extra weekly lesson, then you all may as well keep doing it as long as it’s able to work.
And if it’s been able to work up until now, I’m not sure you have any particular reason to believe that it will stop working anytime soon, and you have even less reason to assume that any one particular piece will be trouble. With or without a life coach, students are different. Different pieces will be easier or trickier for different students.
Now, maybe you have reason to believe, from past experience, that SSB in particular will be especially tricky for this student. If so, well, it is what it is, and what will happen will happen. You can go as slowly as you need. As you say, she’s able to learn songs fine even if slowly. If it turns out to be a problem, you can always go much more slowly, giving tinier doses than you may have imagined, letting that project run alongside continued progress in all areas. And if you continue to have problems and those problems somehow seem insurmountable, you can always decide to let that or certain other projects just slide, compromising the program if you’re willing to do so, on the grounds that you’d rather a student get whatever they can get out of the program rather than see them leave and get nothing out of it. And if you’re not willing to compromise the program, then at some point you’ll likely need to stop teaching this student, and at least they’ll have gotten all they could get out of the program up to that point.
But if you have no special reason for thinking SSB will be a problem for this particular student, if it’s your own assumptions about SSB being hard that are making you think this, then you’re probably best off recognizing that this is your own thinking, your own assumption, that it may not be true. In which case you should disregard your assumption, going into SSB and every other project with a positive attitude, knowing that you have no idea which students will have an easy or hard time with any particular project, and that you’ll just do your best working together. Some students will surprise you, especially if you take things slowly. And especially you incorporate Kerry Hanley’s “brick by brick” approach from her TWS audio program on Getting the Most Out of Accompaniment.
And all of this applies to any and all of your students if you want it to, independent of whether they’re autistic, and independent of whether they have a dedicated coach.
Sue C., Australia
What about leaving out the split chord for a fair while and later, add one split chord at a time. It is fantastic what she is doing and what you are helping her to play already. If students find it difficult to change chords on the third beat as in SSB, I would be happy for them to play each chord 3 times (if it cannot be corrected). Then later on this can be changed. Also you could go on with other songs to diffuse the tension.
In the meantime I suggest you introduce Songs for Everyone or Songs for Children as here there are many songs in CFG that she will probably have no problem with. Also you can play duet with her and it is lovely sitting beside someone and playing with them. Even if you can only do little parts of it as a duet, it is still a great experience. This may help you the teacher enjoy the lesson. With Songs for everyone, sometimes I play as the duet, just the melody line, and then later when I can see the student is confident with the song, I will play the duet score.
With SSB one game idea is the write each chord ie C/E or Am E, or G/F F, etc on a separate sheet of paper or card then pick a card and using a keypad ask her to put dots where the chord notes are, then play on piano. Don’t put the whole song together until you have played this for quite a while.
Terah W., Missouri
I don’t have much to add here–great input already–but I wanted to underscore that student for student, the more I have broken down SSB and taken it slower (and slower:), the better the results have been. It’s kind of a microcosm of “Small dosages” all in one song. It used to frustrate me and I felt the song too difficult for it’s placement, but then I realized I kept hearing “go slow to go fast” in my head (thank you, Mark!) and that it applied perfectly.
It is such a great opening into the Acc 1 program and to say, “here’s a sneak peek into what’s coming!!” and it truly is! So many things in it that will be taken quite slowly in Acc1 and here you have a chance to really give them a leg up in it by taking your sweet time…
I must admit that starting to teach the upper levels has made it easier for me to “go slow…” with SSB because it has started to produce so much prep for down the road. Now, all my students are mastering SSB whereas for awhile, I just thought it was impossible and my earliest students never did really get it down like I would have hoped.
Process, not an Event and all that.
Thank you Sue and Terah. I am finally getting my brain around small doses and heartily agree that I should have tried just “randomly” introducing chords of SSB to this student. She is highly resistant to anything new that one can’t sing words to. I experienced it today when I just told her we were going to learn a few chords for Danny Boy. She asked if I would sing while she played and I told her we were not going to play the whole song, just learn a few chords–I got a lot of protest, but we made it quick and short. I should not have told her it was Danny Boy.
I like the idea of trying Songs for Everyone and just keeping her in CFG longer. She has an excellent ear, and if she knows the tune, can sing it and accompany herself and just use her ear to determine the next chord.
This is my third year of teaching SM, and I think my newest “a-ha” is that you can introduce pieces of songs–listened to Kerry Hanley’s Foundation 4 training audio, and I thought, “Why can’t I do that with any song in other books?” I even processed a “difficult” two measures of an accompaniment for one of my voice students yesterday for myself by isolating separate 16th note (quads) groups. Amazing…I am loving learning how to play piano the Simply Music way, after playing piano for over 50 years!