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Profile of a courageous adult piano student (with a video out-take)

I’m fortunate to be working with five adult students who love the piano and its repertoire. Their enthusiasm is at high volume–keeping the live wire connection between student and teacher bristling with energy. Regardless of busy work schedules, they still manage to connect with the piano often enough to make lessons worthwhile.

I met Michael, a middle-aged attorney at the Discovery Shop of the American Cancer Society when I was helping to sell donated pianos of all shapes and sizes. At 6’5″ he bent over to ask if I taught piano. (He had dropped out of lessons as an adolescent) In a matter of months, he was barely making it through my standard size front door without having to carefully watch his head as he entered.

After a year into his piano studies, in 2007, he agreed to perform the Clementi Sonatina in C, op.36 no. 1, at one of my home recitals in the company of a dozen children. It wasn’t exactly the perfect scenario for an adult who stood apart from my other senior league students who ran like the plague from this opportunity, but he was willing to give it a try.

I remember that awful day in infamy. As Michael rose from a folding chair when his name was called, he slammed his noggin into my chandelier. Ouch!!! Audience gasps met his head on collision, memorialized on videotape. It would have been an America’s Best Home video winner though a glaring setback in my student’s performance career. The bump threw him for a loop, and he barely finished his Clementi in one piece.

Michael recovered from the impact of that event, and was amenable to carry on and play for his peers at one of my evening soirees. As it happened, not one other adult student was willing to actually sit down at the piano. All opted out, and volunteered to bring a side dish instead or a centerpiece of cheese and crackers. Through a process of elimination, or musical chairs, I ended up programmed as featured soloist but I summarily declined, so it’s been years and I’m still waiting for the green light to plan one of these low keyed events.

Outside the performing environment, however, most of my adult students are not as stubborn or resistant.

Through almost six consecutive years of lessons, Michael, for example, has grown to love the classical repertoire with his special affinity for the works of Beethoven. Time and again, he’s set aside months to dig deeply into every sonata movement, parceling out voices, analyzing harmonic progressions, and getting a handle on how to physically connect into the keys to produce a singing tone and a varied palette of dynamics.

He likens the physical dimension of playing the piano to his experiences on the tennis court so we’ve been using this metaphor over and again.

I drew on my own years playing tennis when I was insane enough to awaken at 4 a.m. to join my partner up at the tip of Manhattan in Columbia University’s bubble enclosed clay court. There I learned how to chop shots at the net with an angled wrist; hit an overhead smash with a certain delay in the follow through, and slam balls to the baseline with a swooping forearm motion. I had to be relaxed in all these efforts, centered, and very focused–a model zen master as described in Tim Gallwey’s Inner Game of Tennis. (The book had been widely circulated among my students along with Just Being at the Piano by Mildred Portney Chase)

Michael picked up on the tennis lingo and tossed back a few zingers–like how he had to tune out crowds at a match when he was semi-pro though it was a mighty chore. It required being immersed in the moment, silencing any distraction, and letting his muscles loose. Relaxation mantras all over again, with no need to rush the ball even though it often appeared out of reach in the course of long, arduous volleys. I thought about Willie Mays at the Polo Grounds following a mile high baseball in center field, making an an over-the-shoulder running grab without a frenzied pursuit. The graceful player appeared to follow the orbital missile in the company of deep, natural, flowing breaths, being at one with it in flight. His most impossibly elusive catches were made like they were pieces of cake. How could I not learn from such great athletes, applying their smoothly executed efforts on the field to the piano.

Michael certainly identified with the sports terrain and its relationship to piano playing. Once we completed our athletic routines, romping over the keyboard with every permutation of a selected scale and arpeggio, we were ready for the repertoire portion of the lesson.

Fast forward the clock.

Now that Michael’s been weaned from Beethoven sonatas that were the mainstay of his lessons for years at a time, he’s opened himself up to learning Debussy’s “Arabesque,” no. 1 with its colorful, nuanced, impressionist palette.

Who knows, with that awful memory of his head bump evaporating with time, he might soon consider another opportunity to play for his peers, even if he’s the only one game to do it.


Post Script: Michael has come a long way since his shaky performance in 2007. He can navigate the complex landscape of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique, and the presto movement of the composer’s “Moonlight” Sonata. All in all his pianistic skills have improved and he relishes his musical journey in the company of a lovely Kawai GE-20 grand that I selected for him in Berkeley, California.

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Individualizing Piano Study: How to avoid Method Book dependency

Over decades of teaching, I’ve come to the conclusion that each student needs a custom designed long-term lesson plan. Method books only go so far.

Often they stratify the learning process, keeping students in an interminably drawn out, regressive C Major universe. For the most part, flats and sharps with Letter Name identifications are regarded as aliens, not welcomed into the musical cosmos until a student is so addicted to white notes that he can’t be easily detoxed. I was a such a victim, being fed John Thompson’s Primer series with pixies and parades. As a consequence, my fears of black notes linger. Do I need music therapy?

One of my African American students poked fun at the preponderance of white notes on a keyboard as evidence of hard core discrimination. We both chuckled, but at that the same time he didn’t realize that his observation had relevance to Method Books and their built in color line:

“Black notes are not welcomed here, right now.”

I don’t mean to knock Bastien, Faber, and any other Lesson, Performance, Theory, Technique and Artistry package, but the only way I can co-exist with these materials is to modify them as I go along. And the adjustments I choose will be different for each pupil, because mass produced, standardized education doesn’t work for me.

In a previous blog, Music Theory doesn’t have to be drudgery, I inserted p. 24 of Faber’s Piano Adventures that contained the “C-D-E-F-G March” as a perfect opportunity to introduce the Parallel Major/minor tonality by lowering the E to Eb. (Did I commit a sin advancing the clock on the FLAT?) If so, let the black notes go to hell.

For the vast majority of pupils who’ve entered the sanctuary of piano learning as beginners, they jump at any chance to create a different mood by a simple alteration. Knowing Left from Right is the only requirement. Flats descend to the LEFT by a HALF STEP. If a pupil doesn’t understand the quantity of a “half,” just rely on the tiniest distance on the piano and there you go. Kids love analogies, imaginary references to things. They can make up their own name for the smallest distance from one note to another. Could be “elf-like.” If Grieg liked elves, why not borrow the metaphor.

Some students might follow up, creating a rote piece in a new tonal center–like playing the “C-D-E-F-G March” in C minor and then in G minor. Wait a minute, TRANSPOSING for beginners isn’t part of the program when we get to p. 24 of the Lesson Book? Or if a creative activity is suggested, BLACK NOTES are once again barred, jailed, imprisoned, waiting to be paroled.

Who cares what method books do or don’t do? For lots of kids, improvising in the company of sharps and flats, makes piano study more interesting. And as a fringe benefit, students who are tonal adventurers, will find that their explorations become second nature.

Composing is a joyful activity. Ask the student to shuffle around the five notes that have been drilled into him as “C POSITION” in the METHOD BOOK and relocate the tonal center to G or D, (oops, another alien SHARP is introduced on the planet) Hang loose, and let the student name it. He won’t decompensate in the process.

The pupil can even vary the order of the notes, up and down, which means he might choose to skip, and NOT step. (Wait a minute, the METHOD book doesn’t introduce SKIPS at this point) Just a second. It’s the student’s piece–his creation and copyright. Such creative expression is not owned or controlled by the Method Book publishers.

Uh, oh, Should I dare to show up at this summer’s MTAC Convention without my Groucho Marx disguise? I think I’ll be otherwise, persona non grata.

All I’m saying is that short of designing individual materials for each student that we take what we are given and MODIFY, EXPAND to meet individual needs.

And while this discussion applies in the main to beginning pupils, it equally pertains to those who are at Intermediate and Advanced levels.

First off, I beat it out of the Method Book track as soon as I can see the forest from the trees. By and large, after Book One of Faber Piano Adventures (with my modifications) I’m off to Classical Repertoire. If a student would like popular pieces, those are added into the mix as long as the musical diet is balanced and enriched with scales, arpeggios, minuets, sonatinas and the rest.

I like Faber’s the “Developing Artist Series,” Book 2. Favorite selections: Johann Christian Bach’s Prelude in A minor and Andante; Rameau’s Menuet en Rondeau.
and the Sonatina series starting with Book one:

Even at the Faber Lesson Book One level, I supplement with Gillock, a composer with amazing gifts. I love “Little Flower Girl of Paris,” “Argentina,” “Splashing in the Brook,” and most pieces contained in Accent on Solos, Level TWO.

Some pieces in this collection work for students in Level One, Faber. And perhaps more apply to students who’ve had modifications in their method books as they’ve moved along.

With such adjustments, NO child will be LEFT BEHIND.

Gillock’s “Flamenco” highlighted in a previous blog, is another fabulous piece that has a built in sequential pattern in its harmonic progression, so while the selection is flooded with alien black notes, the student can see and “feel” note grouping relationships that ease his anxiety during the learning process.

Side journeys to Kabalevsky’s “24 Pieces for Children Op. 39” (Palmer/Alfred) Schumann’s “Album for the Young” and Bartok’s Children’s Pieces, offer repertoire enrichment at early levels of study, easing the burden of a standardized teaching curriculum.

In conclusion, we need to give our students more leeway– Let them break out of the method book mold, and spread their creative wings.

At least it will be a start in the right direction, reaping rewards at every stage of learning.

PS As a footnote to this writing I have experienced the joy of using Irina Gorin’s Tales of Musical Journey that utilizes a creative approach to teaching children in the 4-7 year-old range. It is a book I highly recommend because of its early focus on tone production, and fluency of motion. It mobilizes the young imagination, and takes baby steps in its progression.


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In a Piano Teacher’s Arsenal: The Magic bullet piece (VIDEO with Aiden Cat joining in)

There’s always a piece of music lurking somewhere that can save a young student from quitting piano. For those of us who teach the great masterworks, passing a cultural legacy to the next generation, we know lickety-split when it’s time to break out our ammunition: the magic bullet piece.


An 11-year old had gotten into a rut practicing Rameau’s Menuet en Rondeau. As far as I could see, there was no tomorrow unless a treat was tossed her way a.s.a.p. Oddly, it came straight from the Chocolate Factory, compliments of Willie Wonka. And if this album had remained sequestered in a dark closet where it had amassed dust, it would have been headed for a meltdown.

But a twist of fate caused a reversal of fortune.

Not only did “Oompa-Loompa Doompadee-Doo” come out of obscurity, but it stimulated my student’s musical appetite. Her slow and steady practicing paid off as she artfully navigated the Willy Wonka piece in the good company of Aiden cat who’d been wooed to the piano bench by a handful of Greenies. Once mesmerized by the mysterious, modal melody, he stayed put for over 30 minutes.

Currently, the student who was slipping and sliding, is now back on track with her piano studies, mixing it up with classical and popular. Down the line, additional morsels from Willy Wonka will keep her musical appetite primed. How about, “Pure Imagination,” and “The Candy Man.”

Please share your favorite magic bullet pieces:

Others that have worked: (Combined with minuets, sonatinas, sonatas, classical marches, Romantic character pieces, etc)

Arrangements of these selections can be found at appropriate levels:

Star Wars
Colors of the Wind
Beauty and the Beast
Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter
Phantom of the Opera
The Entertainer
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
In Dreams from Lord of the Rings
A Beatles Medley
Liz on Top of the World from Pride and Prejudice
West Side Story selections
Sound of Music medley
Looking through the Eyes of Love from Ice Castles

Added by Jessica:
Bella’s Lullaby from Twilight. Why oh why?

From Lisa:

Possible Magic Bullets for intermediate/advanced students …

* Linus and Lucy (Vince Guaraldi’s theme from Charlie Brown)
* Theme from Pink Panther
* Bumble Boogie
* The Heart Asks Pleasure First (Theme from The Piano)
* Andrew Lloyd Webber
* Abba’s music from Mamma Mia
* Clocks by Coldplay (cool piano intro)
* Jon Schmidt does a lot of really neat stuff that is also technically challenging (he has several sheet music books available — I’d suggest “Waterfall,” “All of Me,” “Ridin’ West.”)
* William Joseph’s compositions — he has a couple books out and my personal faves are “Within” and “Piano Fantasy”

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The MTAC Celebration Festival, Anna Magdalena Bach, and Meeting Keith Snell (VIDEO)

Last weekend I journeyed to the Fresno State University Music Building to monitor Room 1 for the Celebration Festival sponsored by the Fresno branch of the Music Teachers Association of California.

Every February students from our city and surrounding areas are invited to play one or two pieces in a selected cubicle, (basically a music department practice room) that serves as a mini stage beside an audience of one. A branch teacher sits nearby with a simple evaluation form, jots down notes about each performance, and renders an overall rating of “Fair” to “Superior.” Each category has assigned points.

“Excellent” and “Superior” ratings bestow a handsome engraved Medallion, while only those earning “Superiors” play on one of many ongoing Honors recitals that are scheduled over the course of two weekend days. No one goes home empty handed. Lovely grand piano pins are more than a booby prize.

This year I had ten participating students, and most received the coveted Medallion that was tightly embraced like an Oscar, minus the heart-wrenching acceptance speech.

Nayelli, age 10, managed to eek out a “Superior” for her dazzling Performance of “The Juggler” by Faber, Lesson Book One. And with her honor came the hot news that rippled through my studio like lightning. First thing I heard from Sakura and Mai, two sisters who’d performed selections by J.S. and J.C. Bach at the Festival, was that “Nayelli” had scored a victory at the mini musical Olympiad. While all three students proudly wore their colorful ribbons with attached medals, the HONORS recital appearance seemed to carry the most prestige.

While I enjoyed swishing down the hallway from time to time with envelopes delivered to the front registration desk from an adjudicating teacher, I was most excited by a serendipitous event that occurred in the break room where mounds of croissants and bowls of fruit awaited Festival helpers.

Who should turn up but Keith Snell, composer, performer, and editor of the very prestigious Fundamentals of Theory course, not to mention a host of other publications including Selections from Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebook.

Snell’s Anna Magdalena edition was definitely a significant improvement over Schirmer’s, the mainstay of most piano teachers back in the 50’s and 60’s.

By a quirk of fate, I’d been practicing a few Minuets and Marches from the collection, and appreciated Snell’s thoughtful editing. Teaching these pieces to fledgling students was made easier by having enlightened phrase marks, intelligent fingerings, and a dynamic landscape that conformed with the style of the Baroque era.

But I wondered what this renowned individual was doing in Fresno? I would have tied his visit to judging a local solo competition.

I quickly learned that Keith had moved to the Valley and was actively involved in our Branch’s diverse musical activities. On the side, he flew out of the area to his sanctuary in England with stop-offs in other European venues–the life of a jet setting musician.

Following our convivial conversation, I paused to hear Nayelli play “The Juggler” in the big university recital hall before returning to my monitor post in Room 1.

The Festival ended at 4:30 p.m. while students trickled home with their awards.

By Thursday following Celebration 2011, I had already received a thick manila envelop with Certificates, and detailed performance reviews to share with my students. All but one had received an Excellent or Superior rating, which showed a curve of improvement since last February’s MTAC Celebration.

In any case, my pupils plan to be back next year, each one hoping to earn a coveted gold cup worth a minimum of 15 points. It may not be an Oscar to most, but for these kids, it comes pretty close.

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PULLS AND TUGS: Two sides of the piano student/teacher relationship

There are two sides to every story, so in all fairness I’ve posited a number of situations that crop up in the piano lesson environment, with an analysis from the Teacher and Student’s point of view. In some instances, I’ve substituted PARENT for STUDENT where I think it applies. RESOLUTIONS of various issues are explored.


Parent: Hands teacher a package of pieces. Wants student (her child) to learn on demand. (Tiger mom? or just pushy parent of any shape, size, form or ethnic background)

Teacher: What’s going on? (she says to herself before thinking about the next move on the chess board)

Teacher can either have a fit, draw a line in the sand, refuse to
thumb through the music,


Look at the packet and manage to find one piece that is level appropriate and fits the curriculum.

PARENT: Can take an all or nothing position, or negotiate a middle ground that teacher is trying to advance.

In most cases, the situation can be resolved until the next packet arrives by UPS. Back to the drawing board.


TEACHER: Rules of studio, as far as payment, cancellation policies have been set in stone from day one.

MOTHER OF STUDENT: Decides that out of town debates, swim meets, tennis matches, soccer practices, upend lessons, and deserve higher status. Lessons missed must be deducted from monthly fees at all costs. (pun intended)

TEACHER: Mother knew the rules, and is now changing them.
Money, power, and control are all interchangeable.

Resolution: Teacher can write a 4-page letter to mom about running a private business, comparing her own plight to hard-working Americans with no health insurance, no cushion of job security, and the rest. She can emphasize that monthly payment reserves her child’s lesson day and time. It might alter consciousness for a few months until the Lacrosse tournament rolls around. Then it’s just a matter of time before lessons are terminated by either the parent or teacher, whomever chooses to exercise POWER.

Teacher realizes, a prolonged clash of wills is not worth the trouble..
3) REDUX: More quibbling over canceled lessons, sometimes at a moment’s notice.

Parent: Makes a cell phone call to teacher only minutes before lesson begins. Junior is on his way to the mound for the Little League Championship. Does she have to pay for the missed lesson? Can’t do make-ups because kid has 5 other tournaments in a row coming up?

Teacher: What???????

Resolution: Teacher can fumble the ball and give in, or stand firm.

Parent can either quit lessons once and for all, or hang by a thread, until there’s a shouting match worse than an explosive response to an umpire’s bad call.



Student: Forgets to bring music for THREE consecutive weeks.

Teacher: Can gently remind student of his lesson-taking responsibilities, comparing the piano learning environment to the classroom. What would his-her teacher say if loose-leaf, text books, pencils, pens, homework assignments were missing week after week?

Student: Can look puzzled? or connect with the teacher and admit wrongdoing with a plan to remedy behavior. In desperation, he might blame his parent for not packing the music.

Enter parent (usually father): He can either back up the teacher, (the preferred response) or absorb all the blame for the missing music, taking his kid off the hook.

In either case scenario, the music does not magically appear, and may not in the future. A double play strategy that worked on the baseball field goes the distance at piano lessons.

Resolution: Teacher can reprimand parent and student or stand idly by. In both instances, she’ll never get to first base!


Student: Claims all his music is in Texas???

Teacher: What??????

Student: When gramps last visited, the music bag landed on the back seat of the pick-up truck and was driven to El Paso.

Teacher: What?????

So when is the music coming back?

Student: No idea. It could be a month or three months.

Parent: Corroborates story of student, but says grandpa is planning to visit again in about six months, and promises to pony up the music.

RESOLUTION: Teacher can suspend lessons for 6 months.

Parent can purchase new music and resume lessons asap.

COMPROMISE–Get music in three months..

6) ADULTS ONLY: situation #1

Student: Can’t practice. No time, no energy–divorce interfering. Low hemoglobin. Needs vitamins.

Teacher: What???????
(Thinks to herself, Why did pupil sign up for lessons in the first place?)

RESOLUTION: Drop lessons until red cell count rises. NO further discussion.

ADULTS ONLY: Situation #2 (Beginner wants to take lessons)

Student: Has no piano, no keyboard, no nothing…

Teacher: What?????

How do you expect to learn???

Student: Give me six months, and I’ll come up with something that resembles a piano. Ya know, “Money is tight.” In the meantime, I’ll just wing it or tap on my table top.

Resolution: Lessons are a NO GO!


7) ANY STUDENT situation #1,000 and growing! With parents screaming the loudest!

Can we change lesson times??? (IN CHORUS)

TEACHER: What??? We’ve already changed from Tuesday, to Thursday, to Friday, to Saturday, and finally, to Sunday? (Teacher is tearing her hair out, about to blow a gasket!)

PARENT: But what about Wednesday, at 4 p.m.? We’ve never tried that time? And it’s the best, since there’s soccer, baseball, basketball, swimming, tennis, flag football, and Catechism on other days??

TEACHER: What makes you think, you’ll stick to the new day and time?

PARENT: Well, we can always give it a try to see if it works out. Otherwise we can play it by ear.


TEACHER: Can either capitulate to parent or tow the line.

Best RESOLUTION: TOW the line! or eat crow!


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Are Adult Piano Students Stigmatized?

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.”

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.


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Letting my hair down with a snatch of “Let It Be!” (VIDEO)

The piano room was a mess yesterday with music strewn about. Two ’60-’70’s era Beatles albums were excavated from a pile of sheet music, hard bound theory texts, and Urtext editions of Beethoven’s sonatas.

Foraging a big carton of stuff like this was a trip down memory lane. My very old Yamaha guitar, a prized possession, was off to the side, propped against a book shelf. A 1974 model with magnificent resonance, it evoked memories of my one and only group classical guitar lesson at New York University with a South American virtuoso. On the very first day of class, he tried to teach one of the more difficult pieces in the flamenco repertoire. It was Rubira’s “Estudio,” later renamed “Spanish Romance.” (The performer in this video was not related to the instructor)

Within a few weeks, class enrollment had dwindled to three and quickly, I made it two. It reminded me of several Oberlin Senior Recitals at Kulas where one audience member was seated in the front row holding a musical score. (I recalled a New Yorker cartoon with the same theme)

The NYU guitar teacher like many other music instructors I’d encountered needed a reality check. Half the students in his class had never read a note, but they expected to play guitar “in a flash.” Generations that followed were tapping iPhones and game boys with guitar tab charts and animated keyboards. It was an espresso learning revolution!

My sixteen year old student, Allyse was an anachronism in her approach to piano study. A fledgling, she went with the program, played scales and arpeggios around the Circle of Fifths, and studied the Baroque Masters as an entree to sampling Classical and Romantic literature. No short cuts for her.

Just the same, she drove a hard bargain, insisting the Beatles went with the territory somewhere along the time line.(Allyse had already niftily tackled Five for Fighting, “100 Years,” and Taylor Swift’s “Forever and Always”) She had me enslaved to these pieces, as I sifted through practical fingerings and labeled harmonic progressions. But the prep work jump started a two way roller coaster ride through the contemporary pop music landscape.

With bristling enthusiasm, I indulged Allyse’s Beatles’ request. In truth, I had a vicarious interest in reading through reams of my favorite songs besides pumping out Scarlatti sonatas on You Tube. I loved “Eight Days a Week,” “Hey Jude,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Michelle,” “Yesterday” and the tour de force, Gospel style, “Let it Be!” Ralph Cato, US Olympic Boxing coach and former student, could have put me through the paces on that one. (*”Cato, His Killer Keyboard and a Round of Piano Lessons”) No one could pound the piano the way he did.

Allyse had lobbied to study “Let it Be!” with her new found confidence flying high. Just one week into our practicing, we had divided the parts at two pianos and did some public jamming–at least a snatch.

Our musical encounter was a peak experience!

This Saturday Allyse will come back down to earth playing her Baroque Rondeau at the Music Teachers Association’s Celebration Festival. An assigned adjudicator will evaluate each student’s performance and send them off, in any case, with a handsome medallion and Certificate.

Those who earn a Superior rating will play in one of the marathon Honors recitals taking place over two days.

If Allyse is not a marathoner, she’ll still race home to practice the right hand part of “Let it Be!” We have a re-run scheduled for next week. It should be a blast!