Q&A with my piano teacher, PART 2: Adult students
If you missed the first part of the Q&A with my piano teacher, definitely check that out. We talked about everything from music philosophies to teaching me as a child. 🙂
Here’s part 2 of our discussion, which largely centers around adult students. A full transcript of our conversation can be found below. Enjoy!
ALLY: So I just wanted to ask you a few questions about adult students.
KRISTINE: Oh, yes.
ALLY: Yes, there’s a lot of adult learners, especially adult beginners who watch this channel. So if you could bestow upon us your pearls of wisdom. I want to know what problems… I’ve done actually videos on this, problems with adult students, but do you encounter a consistent problem with adult students?
KRISTINE: And I tell this to all, my adults also, because I believe in being [0:00:34.8].
ALLY: Yeah, of course.
KRISTINE: Right? The biggest problem with adults is they have the biggest hang-ups out of everybody. And the reason that I think it is, is because they can have a job, they can have a husband, they can have responsibilities, pay their bills, they can do everything. They can cook, they can clean, they can keep their house – why can’t they play this simple song!
ALLY: Yes! Yes.
KRISTINE: “I can do all these things but yet I can’t get my fingers to work and play the…”
ALLY: “I can’t play Frere Jacques!”
KRISTINE: Right? And they think there’s something wrong with them because they can’t do this, because they can be successful in so many parts of their daily life, why can’t they play this really simple thing.
KRISTINE: And it may not be simple. Like when you break down actually everything that’s happening to your body in order to play, you’ve got this side of your brain, you’ve got this side of your brain. You’ve got your auditory, you’ve got your…
KRISTINE: Yes, right? Your coordination and you’re trying to coordinate two things at once, and listen and play, and everything together. There’s a lot of things that’s going on.
ALLY: Well, most musicians don’t have to read two lines of music at the same time. So it’s a special challenge as a piano player.
ALLY: But, yeah, absolutely. Like being uncomfortable at the beginner phase, that’s a really… Yeah, I see that all the time.
KRISTINE: Well, even when they get even more advanced or even teaching like a senior student. I’ve taught many grandmas and grandpas over the years, and you know, their coordination isn’t what they used to be. Their eyesight isn’t the same. They need a special pair of glasses just to sit down in the piano. And so there’s a lot of things that are beyond their control, that they just have to learn to accept. And so I always find if they keep reminding themselves, “Okay. Where were you like a year ago?” Right? “Do you remember when this was really hard? Now this is really easy. Do you remember two years ago? Do you remember when we couldn’t do this?” I have this one adult that I’ve been teaching for 25 years.
KRISTINE: And every year we’d pick a new goal. And so one year it’s, okay, we’re going to work on pedal or we’re going to work on fingering, because sometimes she likes to cross weird fingers over, flutter fingers, or we’re going to work on rhythm. Not just for her but for other adults, sometimes when they’re working with eight notes, instead of going [singing out notes].
ALLY: [singing out notes]
KRISTINE: Right? Because they’re just thinking of the groups instead of how it leads to the group. Can’t end until you get to the next one. And so, you know, working on those kinds of things, so we just have our goal for the year.
ALLY: That’s really… That keeps it simple, too.
KRISTINE: Absolutely. Well, in this one particular student that I have, she was in her forties when she started. So now we have less goals.
KRISTINE: Before, it was that – but now it’s, “Okay. Let’s see if we can just get through this. Let’s see if we can…” So then we just do different goals per song, which is how most people are. But for her, that was kind of how it worked because we would do a bunch of songs and we would just work on, okay, these songs are working on different key signatures. Some adults have a hard time playing one song with sharps and some with flats. So then I would purposely give one song with sharps and one with flats.
KRISTINE: Right? Because they’re like, “It’s so much easier if you just give me songs with just sharps” and then…
ALLY: Yeah, I used to be like that.
ALLY: Like I hated songs with sharps. I much prefer flats.
KRISTINE: So sometimes it’s easier just to do, “Okay. I’m working on three songs and they all have sharps in them, or I’m going to do three songs and they all have flats.”
KRISTINE: Right? Or they’re all in minor keys or they’re all… Right? And so I just find it – you know, let’s mix it up.
ALLY: Make your brain work harder.
KRISTINE: It does. But as some of my students, when they get older, then sometimes you want to keep it simpler because the frustration is like you’re dealing with a lot more than just, “Oh, you’re going to get it if you work hard.”
ALLY: Yeah, you’re working against your physical…
KRISTINE: Right? And your mental capacity is different. Sometimes I find they have a harder time reading the key signatures. Or one week everything is fine and then the next week, all of a sudden, D’s and B’s are really, really hard and they’re flipping them around.
ALLY: Oh, yeah.
KRISTINE: Right? So before, well, we could do 158’s, maybe now we’re only doing broken chords, or maybe we’re just playing solo chords. Maybe we’re playing it simpler but trying to see if we can a play a little bit faster.
ALLY: How do you keep adult students motivated? Because out of all… Like kids, their parents will just force them to go and whatever. But adults, they just can quit all the time. It’s hard to hold on to them.
KRISTINE: They do. I find they do because their life gets busy or their… Like I had one adult, she quit because she was having shoulder issues and she physically couldn’t sit at the piano.
ALLY: So it wasn’t a motivation issue.
KRISTINE: It had nothing to do with that. What I usually find easier for my adults is if they just come twice a month, so we come every two weeks. Then they’ve got more time to work in between, right? I do that with a lot of university students. They’re like, “I don’t want to quit but there’s just no way I could do it at the same time.” So let’s just come every two weeks. So we just pick simpler pieces and we… The thing about adults, like kids are, “I don’t like that song. I don’t want to learn it,” and adults would be like, “Hey, if you think I should learn it,” they’ll make…
ALLY: That’s true! They’ll go with it, yeah.
KRISTINE: Right? Sometimes they’re just a little bit more, “Oka. If you pick this…,” you know. If it’s time to pick a new piece, “Okay. Would you rather have a piece like this or would you rather have a piece like this?” and they’ll play them. I kind of let them decide, right?
ALLY: So you keep them involved even when life is busy by kind of relaxing everyone’s expectations?
ALLY: Instead of pushing like, “No, one hour a day” kind of thing.
KRISTINE: Oh, no, no, no. Absolutely not. And the other thing is you have to keep reminding them, as an adult student, they’re not there to impress me.
ALLY: But it feels like that. Even I’m guilty of that.
KRISTINE: If they feel like that, I know they feel like they need to, you know. It’s like I’m just a coach, really. I’m just here to give you some advice. “Hey, you know, this is really wonderful. If you put this finger under here in this one passage, you’re going to find that a lot easier. Maybe if you move your bench back a little bit, you’re going to find that you’ve got a little bit more elbow room. And when you do this passage, it’s going to be a lot easier.”
KRISTINE: “Oh! I never thought of that.” Or when they come to class, “Ugh, it’s so busy. I had a thing at work and I da, da, da, da, and my kid had a ball tournament. We had a family reunion and, you know, nineteen things that… I didn’t practice.” I’m like, “That’s okay. What do you want to work on?”
ALLY: Yeah, exactly.
KRISTINE: “Do you have a part of this piece that’s kind of driving you crazy? Do you have a part of this piece that you feel like you’re avoiding? Is there a scale or something that you wanted to do?” Or, “Hey, I always wanted to work on this” or “Let’s just try this piece and let’s just work on the left hand.”
KRISTINE: Right? “If the left hand is going you trouble, let’s take a look at this and see what we can work on.”
ALLY: Yeah, I teach 45-minute lessons and sometimes I find when my adult students get really busy, that 45-minute period is like the most productive practice they have all week.
KRISTINE: Oh, yeah.
ALLY: Just because we can do really focused practice and they feel self-conscious about it, but usually really motivated at the end of that because you accomplish so much in that time.
ALLY: And if that’s the best practice they get all week, then so be it.
KRISTINE: Right? And sometimes that happens, and that’s okay. I remember I would go to my lessons when I was working on my Grade 9 and my teacher was like, “Okay. Well, let’s listen to your studies.” I’m like, “I didn’t even touch them. Can we like play?” and she’s like, “No. We’re going to work on your studies.”
ALLY: “We’re doing this.”
KRISTINE: I’m like, “But I have nothing to show you. I have nothing…” “That’s okay. Pull out your study.” I’m like, “Yes… Okay.” And I did that exam as an adult, so I knew that feeling, that, “Ugh! I’ve let my teacher down.” But I didn’t. She was just like, “Look, let’s pull this out so that when you do get to it, you’ll know what to do and you’ll have some ideas of how to work through these parts before you even get there.”
ALLY: Yeah, it’s removing a barrier because sometimes when you’re at home, you open it up and you’re like, “Oh, that’s new. I don’t want to look at that.”
KRISTINE: Or that part looks so scary!
ALLY: Yeah, exactly. Oh, my goodness. Kristine, you’re so full of wisdom. I’m really enjoying this conversation. I know that those of you watching this have probably pulled some nuggets, some gold nuggets, out of this conversation. So I’m going to wrap this video up.
ALLY: We’ve had quite a good chat. Thank you so much for joining me. Please give this video a thumbs-up if you enjoyed it. Subscribe if you haven’t already and you can come hang out with me over on social media, and I’ll catch you in the next video. Bye, guys.