What is under-emphasized in discussions about satisfying piano study, is the role of a student’s attitude toward lessons, practicing, and progress.
Particularly within the realm of adult music learning, an individual’s decision to return to a structured instructional environment after a weighty absence from childhood lessons will often attach a set of negative associations:
1) Previous piano-learning experiences were colored by authoritarian parents who enforced excessively strict practicing routines while they embraced unattainable standards of “perfection.”
2) A former teacher might have been emotionally abusive leaving a student with feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. (“Mistakes” were fleshed out as “failures.” Creative interpretations, improvising, and any inclination to express opinions about playing a piece were received with a crushing blow of harsh criticism.)
For retired adult pupils who had inhabited a tense work environment, an unconscious “competitive” carry-over into lessons can adversely affect preparation and performance. (The corporate world, in particular, is known for its focus on SUCCESS measured by PROFIT and promotional advancement. Its built-in deadlines, time capsules, and dollar-driven goals are in glaring opposition to a creative, non-judgmental music-learning process)
Among employed adult piano students, some will face pressures managing work and family obligations that limit their practice time and intrude upon lesson scheduling. These impediments increase frustration and self-reproach to the point that some piano learners quit before they’ve become fully immersed in their studies.
Above and beyond issues enumerated that interfere with a fulfilling course of study, the most formidable barrier to a gratifying musical experience relates to ATTITUDE.
In my view, a crushing wall of SELF-JUDGMENT and PROJECTION are the biggest inhibitors of progress and attendant satisfaction in the piano-learning environment.
Pupil to Teacher:
“I don’t know how many times you’ve told me about voice parceling in the J.S. Bach Allemande, and I still can’t seem to get it right.”
The student is COUNTING how many times the mentor has suggested changes that will flesh out the beauty of the work. The TEACHER is NOT counting reminders and is not grading the student who is governed by absolutes of RIGHT AND WRONG. (It’s a case of distortion with embedded projection of what the student believes is going on in the teacher’s head.)
In fact, the mentor is determined to work with the score, the composer’s intention, and what can improve musical expression given the period of composition. She emphasizes this approach, assuring her pupil that repeated reminders are not tallied on a scorecard. (In truth, the student, alone, is acting as a self-appointed scorekeeper and referee, issuing self-imposed penalties that create a cyclical set of last ditch efforts.)
A resonating chant:
“I keep hitting the wrong keys so let me try again.”
The student resists relaxing as the teacher suggests numerous strategies that encompass breathing techniques, mental images and cues, with demonstrations of supple wrist, weight transfer, and unimpeded flow of energy down the arms. (“Hitting” notes, even if not to be taken literally, is discouraged.)
The pupil tries again, makes another mistake, tenses up in response, lunges repetitively at the keys and finally gives up.
The teacher assesses the situation, framing her suggestions in an objective way. These are dispensed without a hint of invective or biting criticism. Nevertheless, the pupil has decided she just can’t seem to “get it RIGHT,” and ends the lesson on a note of pessimism.
Students who have self-defeating attitudes for whatever reason, are difficult to work with because they lack trust in themselves and the teacher.
Finally, for a musical journey to be satisfying for the adult pupil and mentor, both must embrace an attitude of love for the learning PROCESS without the attachment of deadlines or tallied measurements of success. Each partner must individually work on advancing a relationship to the piano that integrates patience, self-nurturance and acceptance on behalf of musical growth and development.