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Adult piano student stumbling blocks and overcoming them


I sometimes offer a bit of counseling to my brood of adults who often fall into a pit of pervasive self-punishment.

The beating up myself student, will often berate himself/herself for having played a scale or piece better before the lesson began.

The pupil reasons, if only the teacher disappeared or never showed up, he/she would be in playing heaven, coasting through an “error”-less piece, having no need for a lesson in the first place.

As part of this negative framing before the first note is played, the student will add a list of days he couldn’t practice, letting the teacher know that the PERFECTION showcase he had in mind, is a NO-go.


And while many high-striving students bring iPhones to lessons to record their teacher’s suggestions for reinforcement, they will more often re-play a self-generated psychic recording that drums in feelings of inadequacy.

These playbacks subsequently become injurious when students relentlessly compare progress at the piano to professional and occupational accomplishments.

From a retired lawyer into her second year of lessons:

“Why can’t I do this as well as I prosecuted criminals?”

She forgets that completing college, going to law school and practicing her trade, were time-honored, gradual learning processes not overnight achievements. (So why should she criminalize herself and her fledgling efforts at the piano?)

Apropos, I snatched the following paragraph from one of my previous postings:

“Most adults I’ve taught over decades, regardless of level, are too critical of themselves, and try to compare other fields of endeavor to piano. Meaning that what work they have methodically invested and accomplished in their chosen careers, should immediately transfer to a universe they have not inhabited nearly as long.

“But no one is born playing the piano, and if one uses the metaphor of birth, followed by stages of development such as the first smile, rolling over, pulling oneself up in the crib, crawling, and then walking, then comparable developmental landmarks apply to piano learning as well. And given that babies don’t weigh and measure each advance, or attach a value judgment but just experience a growth PROCESS as nature takes its course, the same self-acceptance is needed when studying piano.”



From a dentist after three years of lessons:

“I pull teeth every day, do root canals, reconstruct jawlines, but I can’t manage to play this piece the ‘”right way.”‘

He has so drilled into his head that he can’t make the grade (according to his standards) that his tireless self-invalidation minus a dose of humility will reach an irreversible crescendo level jeopardizing piano study.

From a social worker delving into the works of Bach:

“Why does C. (another adult student) play those Two-part Inventions so well, when they just crash on me?”

Such unreasonable and futile comparisons are tangential to a student’s unique growth and development. More importantly, the notion of competition is not a part of our learning environment, so there’s no need to measure one pupil against another.

Nonetheless, such a self-debasing tendency by students, can infect and adversely effect piano lessons to the point of quitting.

The good news is that those who survive their first-round, self-directed knock-out punches, will emerge with a healthier perspective about the music-learning process.

They will realize that piano lessons are an enrichment of their lives–a gift to themselves with ever blossoming rewards over time–That study cannot be commodified, or measured in concrete profit/loss columns. That lessons are about self-discovery, not self-punishment.

Given this awareness, they will also come to understand that while they might have survived parental pressures in childhood to take piano, practice, be note perfect, and perform on demand, their coming back to the piano in adulthood is their own decision, without parental prodding.


Recently, one of my Online pupils validated the positive influence of piano lessons on her day-to-day life. She mentioned discipline, focus, centering, concentration, inspiration, gratification, challenge, tenacity, and self-growth.

One can also add enriched immersion in the great masterworks, with ongoing awakenings and epiphanies in a deep-layered learning process.

In summary, Music is about enriching one’s life with beauty, and having a partner mentor who leads and follows in a harmonious pursuit of what is largely intangible but still a miracle of creation.

Are Adult piano students stigmatized?

Adult Piano Student Themes and Issues

Celebrating Adult Piano Students

arioso7, classical music, Classical music blog,, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano blog, piano blogging, piano forums, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano pedagogy, piano teacher, piano teaching, piano teaching forums, piano technique, Piano World, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, wordpress, you tube

Lesson supplement videos assist Transfer Students in their transition to a new teacher

Most transfer students that I’ve encountered over the years better brave the change from one teaching style to another, by watching recorded views of their lessons. Because there may be a tad of anxiety associated with approaching the piano in a different way than previously learned, watching instructional excerpts that focus on the piano as “singing instrument,” becomes a more familiar and friendly frame of reference with time and exposure.

With a stroke of good fortune, a new tonal landscape that’s wedded to supple wrist and fluid follow through motions gradually replaces pencil point-like key attacks that impede beautiful phrasing.

A dimension of learning that partners with the singing tone approach, is the identification of ORGANIZERS (symmetries, fingering patterns, sequences, harmonic progressions, etc) that are fleshed out in recorded segments and forwarded to the student.


My newest transfer, (New York-based), discovered a whole new way of relating to the piano through a Level 1, Classical era Minuet by James Hook. Minuet by HookThough she expressed doubt she could remember all that transpired in the lesson (Over Skype), my having the Call Record feature enabled instant capture of footage from an overhead cam view which I edited for easier consumption.

In a second video, I demonstrated a side view of my own slow practice rendering.

OVERHEAD PERSPECTIVE: (Lesson in Progress–edited for teacher comments)

Finally, as I mouse-tapped through my you tube video files, I found a tutorial that afforded additional learning reinforcement.

In summary, these recorded lesson supplements provide a clear example of how to practice within a singing tone, singing pulse framework, that assists transfer students in their transition to a new teacher.


Avoiding Pencil Point Playing


An adult piano student explores phrase shaping in Chopin’s A minor Waltz, Op. Posth.

I’m always warmed by lovely, contoured phrasing, especially when it’s produced by an adult student who’s reached a new level of aesthetic consciousness through especially attentive and consistent practicing.

This particular player has increased her sensitivity in shaping the Chopin A minor Waltz melody with curves, dips, loops, and tapering, while her left hand that lifts on every beat is not interrupting a pervasively horizontal note progression in the treble. (This is a challenge)

The patience she’s applied in her earliest efforts–parceling out the melody; fundamental bass; and after beat chords, before layering them in baby steps into an integrated mosaic, was no doubt the biggest factor in her leaps of progress.

As an example, she experiments and refines various measures through a spot practicing process. (behind tempo) that’s particularly valuable.

Recording these efforts and forwarding them along is always a practice-framing reminder.

A teacher and student can revisit earlier recorded renderings to appreciate gains a pupil has made.

Such a peek into the past can validate how far a student has come giving him/her affirmation while boosting self-confidence.

arioso7, piano instruction,

Piano Technique: Respiration NOT perspiration

My students remind me to breathe long, natural breaths when playing through scales and arpeggios from moderate to brisk tempos. Through a selective process of elimination, we’ve collectively come to the conclusion that SWEATING it out, or driving technique to the ground, gritting teeth, or otherwise fighting a noteworthy terrain is counter-productive. In the final analysis, PERSPIRATION is not an option, but RESPIRATION (the kind that settles into a karmic ebb and flow) is our CENTRAL focus.

Most scales and arpeggios are most vulnerable to tension at the start, and at the turnaround in highest octave and back. A student might breathe easily into the body of these figures, but have bouts of edginess along the route, especially when the going is good. Or they might manage to skid around the bend only to careen anxiously into the final 8 notes down, in a BREATH-TAKING marathon finish.

I’ve noticed that the TURNAROUND at the top is most vulnerable, often coming with a nerve pile-up that stops playing in its tracks.

Face it, students in this quagmire, are dealing with short breaths and anticipatory anxiety when playing in faster tempos so as remedy, BREATH CONTROL should be as central to practicing as absorbing fingering and scale/arpeggio organizers.

In this video, a student explores the cosmos of breathing through brisk legato and staccato passages.

arioso7, piano blogging, supple wrist motion,

Adult Piano Instruction: Exploring weight transfer and supple wrist motions for improved phrase shaping

A new adult student is working on Beethoven’s Sonatina in F, one of the composer’s less played works, but nevertheless quite a musical gem.



While the composition has a Mozartean flavor, the abrupt shift in dynamics in the opening theme, for example, offers a glimpse into Beethoven’s later development of his larger Sonata form, where emotional highs and lows become more conspicuous with polyphonic support. (more voices)

The F Major Sonatina’s first movement is scored for two voices, yet still demands an understanding of weight transfer to produce dynamic contrasts through singing tone passages, and an exploration of supple wrist motions to improve phrasing.

In this lesson-in-progress, the student makes gains as he integrates attentive listening with needed physical expression or choreography. (He worked on refining his staccato–i.e. having destination-oriented, or directed detached notes, and enlisted a flexible wrist to resolve harmonies and taper phrases)

The concept of contrasting themes in the Exposition, sequential relationships, and key changes (Development section), expanded his understanding of the composition and how to communicate content, form, and structure in the Classical style.

Naturally, a behind tempo approach was appropriate to the student’s early learning efforts.


Adult Piano Instruction: Sight-reading, Solfeggio, and Transposition

I reserve the last 10-15 minutes of my lessons with a few adult students for sight-reading, sight-singing with solfeggio, and transposition activity.

While I begin with short pieces in five-finger positions, the requirement to transpose these in a Circle of Fifth progression (playing Major and Relative minors) is a valuable ear-training experience.

In the following example, a student is prompted to sing the bass line as she plays the treble, and then in reverse.

She practiced a Major/Relative Minor sequence using a movable “DO.”

In the second demonstration, an adult beginner who started piano lessons just 5 months ago, had his FIRST experience with sight-reading and transposition. (Initially, he read an A minor phrase, treble line only, and subsequently transposed it into into the PARALLEL A MAJOR key. The tonalities, C Major and c minor followed)

Finally, the student returned to the A minor model, parceled out the bass line, and played the phrase with both hands.


(With both pupils, I used Fundamentals of Piano Theory by Keith Snell and Martha Ashleigh)

These activity supplements improve sight-reading skills, and help pupils internalize what’s on the page.

They advance ear-training and grow an awareness of intervals and key relationships.

Organizers that include repetitions and sequences aid reading and memorization.

As a student advances, he/she will transpose more complex pieces that do not adhere to five-finger positions.

arioso7,, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano addict

A Day in the Life of a Traveling Piano Teacher (Videos)

I take a once a week journey to Rockridge where I teach a private piano student. The 51B bus that I catch in Downtown Berkeley following my gym workout, travels along College Avenue, crossing into Oakland, California.

Destination: a lovely two-story home on a tree-lined block, with a sub-level add-on designed specifically for its chief occupant, a Yamaha upright.


A creek and shrubbery bordering the room is even more eye-catching, bridge over creek

but doesn’t upstage, “Nina,” a miniature pooch who makes a charming cameo appearance in my video.


Such a colorful backdrop was entree to a piano lesson that explored Chopin’s divine E minor Prelude, Op. 28, No. 4.

But first,
The bus trip, walk, and arrival

Our Lesson