Here are riveting quotes from two adult students:
The Italics are my emphasis.
1) “I feel like I’m in the adult student ghetto, where much latitude is given and few results are expected. We’re all supposed to be doing it ‘for fun.’ In a way, of course, that’s right. But in another way, if we wanted pure fun we’d spend our free time riding roller coasters.” http://www.mymusiclifeblog.blogspot.com/
2) “Here’s what I believe teachers often find among adult students:
“Wanting to be able to play favorite music without taking much time and without getting into depth that would create musicianship. That is the experience, and therefore the expectation with adult students.
“Result: Either adult students are rejected by good teachers (leaving us with those who have to take anyone), or the teaching is geared to that mindset. This is the general picture out there.”
“…. Supposing that the adult has never studied music, and so does not know what is involved. The teacher keeps it superficial on a level the student can easily relate to; how the piece goes, a bit of reading, just enough theory to get by, if that. The pieces get harder, but it stays like that. This adult student will not know that anything is missing. No other dimensions open, no tasks or studies to stretch the mind and physical being. Even though this student has a teacher, he does not have access to the teaching, and also doesn’t know it! He is shut out. If a teacher never tries to present these other things, how can these doors ever open? How can we seek what we don’t know exists? How can we change our mindset?”
Both powerful statements evoke periods in history when oppressed peoples gathered in public places to have their voices heard.
Sadly, for adult students, who are not as yet part of a mass movement, their private feelings of rejection and expressions of dismay are localized to blog sites and niche driven Internet forums: Piano World, Piano Street, Piano Addict, Piano Society, Piano World Wide, you name it.
Not everyone who should, gets to hear them.
The tendency to characterize a whole population of adult students with a catchy one-liner is the REAL PROBLEM and music teachers, (and let’s zero in on piano instructors) are often guilty of applying stereotypes to them.
I’ve heard the full blown prejudice unmasked at music teacher meetings; at festivals with down time in the break room; and just walking past a group of chatty teachers in the lounge following a university-hosted recital. The environment can be so hostile that if a teacher dares to disagree with the prevailing sentiment, he or she is alienated from the “club.” Are we back to adolescence, peer pressure, and social ostracism?
Any teacher who thinks all adult students are goofing-off, time- wasting, billable units, needs a wake up call, or a serious form of psychotherapy.
In a previous blog that was meant to be humorous, I had insisted that adult students sometimes said the “darndest things.” I was not referring to the greater population of 20 plus to perhaps 75, but just those pupils who had occupied a significant amount of weekly time in my studio over years.
One pupil, an attorney by profession, in his 50s, took his piano studies so seriously, that to come to a lesson without sufficient preparation (in his mind) had required a “pardon” of sorts. He wanted me to know that the session would be a “practice,” only. In jest, I ran with that, and suggested he feared the dire consequences of not meeting his own expectations. It was a bit of an extreme image, involving a public flogging, but it illuminated the intensity of this student’s musical study.
Another student, age 70, posted at the Fresno Beehive that her GROUP lessons were unsatisfying and wasteful. She admitted that private lessons afforded an in-depth journey on multiple levels: Theoretical, musical, historical, which ironically related back to the second quote at the opener of this writing.
To be completely honest, this pupil, whom I’ve know up front and personal for years, can’t always devote the kind of time she needs to progress as quickly as she wants, but it’s not quantity that’s relevant to her studies, but rather, quality.
Still another adult I’ve worked with comes from the other side of the spectrum. She has a list of repertoire of such an advanced nature that to keep up with her is a daunting task. Certainly, she does not fit into a boxed category for her demographic, and could not be easily dismissed by piano teachers as barely treading water from lesson to lesson. Yet, she has periods where her work and travel interfere with a forward-moving curve of progress, but this is real life with accommodations that have to be made to keep a sensible perspective.
If we step back and examine why teachers insist on harping about adult students winging it from week to week, having no commitment to practicing and wanting only superficial musical exposures, then we might just figure out that these instructors are WINGING it themselves and not INDIVIDUALIZING their teaching to meet the needs of each and every student regardless of age.
Students from 7 to 70 cannot be easily categorized. If they are, then we as teachers, should reconsider our career choices.
An eight-year old student with a very pushy mother, might practice daily under a form of coercion. (A Tiger mom, perhaps?) Another could have a parent who views the lessons quite casually, not supporting the framework introduced by a very committed and conscientious teacher. Such a pupil, even if motivated by a competent instructor, might find lessons to be culture-alien. Culture encompasses a lot more than an ethnic association. In the main I’m referring to baseball, football, soccer, and basketball that unswervingly compete with piano. These sports-related activities often absorb a lion’s share of a child’s life, leaving piano practice on the sidelines.
Adult students come to lessons as free agents….
Adult pupils, in my experience, are not forced by anyone to sign up for lessons or to practice. To date, I’ve never had to deal with interfering soccer practices, or high school tennis matches. There are no hovering, pushy moms or dads to get in our studio space.
Most adults want to learn as best they can given complicated work schedules, and family obligations. That’s a fact!
Ruling them out as prospective students because of rampant innuendo is an injustice to the group as a whole and to each and every one who has a unique past, present and future.
Getting down to individuals and their needs is the bottom line best way to proceed.
Just as some younger students don’t make the best use of their time, or fail to practice assignments with any degree of regularity, there may be adults who do the same. I’m sounding like a broken record!
Piano teachers and adult students need a lesson or two in how to communicate.
The first interview should enlighten, and encompass the following:
1) What does the student set as goals for his/her piano study?
2) How much time can be realistically devoted to practice from week to week?
3) What music genre is of special interest to the student?
The Teacher should spell out the program or curriculum in detail as well as the requirements for optimum advantage to the student and his progress. It should include the materials recommended that will lay a substantial foundation for the study of a wide variety of repertoire. (Include incremental doses of theory, music history, and keyboard harmony)
If there’s a meeting of the minds about the goals and how to reach them, the path to a harmonious two-way relationship between adult student and teacher can begin to be paved. (Incidentally, cancellation and make up policies should be explored in detail from the outset, barring future misunderstandings)
Along the way, any bumps in the road should be addressed without a long time delay that could cause a deteriorating relationship and a resentment build-up on both sides.
A reasonable perspective embraced by the teacher, stripped of perpetual myths about adult students would get the ball rolling in the right direction.
P.S. If you’re an adult piano student, please feel free to share your experiences.