So what does a successful lesson look like for an adult student? That’s the next question I asked when I interviewed these adults. Here’s what they had to say:
I noticed a common theme – they want to learn something new each week. This can be a big thing, like learning how to do syncopated pedaling, or something small like noticing a pattern in a piece. But they want to take away something new each week. Notice though that they didn’t say they want to learn lots of new things each week, just one new thing. They need to learn in small steps that seem do-able.
Choose Your Battles
If you try to totally revamp a student’s technique, correct all of the wrong notes and rhythms, and add musicality and phrasing to the piece, the student will be overwhelmed. I am often choosing my battles. I decide what can they take away from this lesson right now and feel equipped to change. That sometimes means ignoring other things that I would like to work on eventually, but know is too much for that week. It also means sometimes I have to drop something for the moment and come back to it the next week. If I’m trying to correct and rhythm and the student just isn’t getting it, or change a bad fingering and they don’t like it. There’s no need to push these corrections to the point of frustration. Move on, work on something else where they can see a noticeable improvement, and come back to the issue another time.
I think a lot of the guidance adults need from teachers is how to make the music sound like what they hear. Adults, unlike children, have a broad base of musical experiences coming from years of listening to music. They have a sense of what good music sounds like and what they want to sounds like. Sometimes they need our guidance to help them bridge the gap between what they are playing and what they want to hear. They don’t know physically how to accomplish this, and that’s how we can help.
Also, I want to touch on what Jenell said about drilling. What she refers to as drilling we would most likely call practicing in the lesson. Many teachers are opposed to using lesson time for what is seen as things that should be done in at home practice. But did you hear her say she won’t do it on her own? When she plays at home she wants to enjoy it, so she needs the teacher to drill her in the lesson time. Sometimes adults do need to use the lesson time as guided practice time, and that’s okay.
Next week we’ll look at the bigger picture. What do students hope to gain overall in piano lessons?
Spring Seals, NCTM, teaches 60 piano students ranging from age 3 to 70 in Fort Worth, Texas. She also serves as the Director of Certification for TMTA. She is passionate about helping teachers become more effective in their studios through professional development, new resources, and fresh ideas.