adult piano instruction, adult piano pupils, adult piano students, Kinderszenen, piano blog, piano blogging, piano pedagogy, piano transcriptions, Robert Schumann, Scenes of Childhood, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Traumerei, wordpress, you tube

No dumbing down piano study for adult students

I’m ready for a shower of criticism on this one. After all, some adults want their favorite transcription of the Elvira Madigan theme song, (aka Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 in C, Andante) to encapsulate their musical journey—at least for part of the time. And that’s OK if the transcription route of top ten, poorly transformed (rotten tomato) versions of the Classics doesn’t squeeze out real deal pianoforte masterworks in unadulterated form.

On that pessimistic note, one of my students from the Central Valley, (aka agriculture’s West Coast heartland) had studied with me for 6 years before I escaped to pesticide-free Berkeley CA. Thinking she might be a carry-over on SKYPE, I’d already planned her next deep-layered musical exploration: Chopin’s B minor Waltz which would have been a logical follow-up to the less complex Waltz in A minor, No. 19, Op. Posthumous.

But no sooner than my pupil showed a lack of enthusiasm for ONLINE instruction, I had referred her out to a seasoned Valley mentor who’d graduated from one of the most distinguished European conservatories and made no bones about her “superior” training.

With such a self-ignited reputation, one would have expected a sequence of lessons on an exceedingly high level.

No such luck. The progression of selected works was tantamount to a poorly transposed, two-page FUR ELISE reduction, minus the meaty middle section and chromatic bridge to final theme.

It wasn’t the Beethoven Classic that was CUT to unrecognizable form, however, but a Chopin substitute that might have been as harmful as a banned artificial sweetener.

In short, the student was given an impossible remake of Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude in Db Major, transposed to the key of G, with more technical land mines than the original. Certainly, the overwhelmed pupil was not ready to tackle the URTEXT edition or a shoddy substitute.

The good news is that she grew so frustrated with the roster of fakes, that she headed over to SKYPE in sheer desperation. Now two years later, she’s back to basics and deep-layered learning…

Which brings me full circle to the solid journeys my adult pupils are taking minus God forsaken short-cuts.

Case in point:

One student embarked upon the Schumann “Traumerei,” No. 7 from Kinderszenen (Scenes of Childhood) and has realized how fingering choices and voicing are pivotal to the initial learning stage. If fingering is haphazard, then a seamless legato line is unattainable.

Schumann Kinderszenen Urtext

To assist her study, I prepared a video that draws on the URTEXT edition, with recommended finger-switching maneuvers that will aid smoothly connected lines.

But her first assigned goal this week is to thread through the treble melody without adding the balance of voices.

Such a study model is shown in the video below:

And here’s my play through:

In summary, it all hearkens back to the meaning of piano study and its serious ingredients. If a student wants to read through fun transcriptions in his/her own spare time, I have no objection, but when lessons roll around each week, it’s most valuable to pursue compositions that have been time-tested for their substance and beauty. And as a direct benefit, they seed technique and advance musical growth.


PS: There are finely composed Jazz pieces, contemporary literature, etc. that can be integrated into the curriculum. These should be assessed for relevance to a student’s level of advancement.

9 thoughts on “No dumbing down piano study for adult students”

  1. Wow this is great! I learned the first Kinderszene and started work on the second one. Traumerei is definitely out of my league for the time being, but your videos are always a treat even if the pieces are too advanced.


  2. Good to be back and reading your blogs…was away in Chile visiting kids. Great topic Shirley! On the note of ‘fake’ versions of pieces, not songs, I dislike Fur Elise being treated poorly as well and will not teach these fakers. However I have been known to teach Adults Operas transcribed for piano in their original keys and have discovered some gems that are quite difficult. Yet I would not teach them exclusively. However they have merit for teaching lyrical playing. Guess there is a time and place for these ‘versions’ of pieces as long as they do not lose their inherent beauty and style. Love your phrasing on the Kinderszene! Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comments, Fran and nice feedback on Traumerei. The way I look at transcriptions particularly for the intermediate range student is that I’d rather select pieces for various lyrical and related expression purposes from the authentic literature though, as mentioned I don’t impede students from reading through transcriptions of their choice. So many Albums for the Young by great composers meet particular pedagogical needs so I put a priority in teaching these. More often than not the method book pumped arrangements of the Classics are sub par in my humble opinion so I steer away from them.


      1. I agree Shirley. Yes, I also stay away from those terrible arrangements of the Classics! There is so much literature out there that fulfills all needs for all levels of students and it is gorgeous. Still inspired by your graceful playing on the clips of the Schumann. Its like the fragrance of a flower that lingers. Makes me want to teach these again.

        Liked by 1 person

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