Presenting new material - What's the right rate?

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sat Aug 25, 2007 1:20 pm

I have a family member in another state, 13 years old, who is taking lessons now. She seems to like the lessons, but is frustrated with the slow rate at which new material is being presented. I suggested that she talk directly with the teacher to see if the rate can be changed or, at least, have the teacher explain the rationale behind what she is doing. Is it common to have students complain about lessons moving forward too slowly?
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby Stretto » Sat Aug 25, 2007 3:33 pm

Did she just start? How long has she been taking lessons?
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sat Aug 25, 2007 5:09 pm

As best I can tell, she's been taking lessons for about 6 weeks. Her grandmother is paying for the lessons and said that the girl is displeased with the slow pace of the lessons. What Grandma didn't know was exactly what was being taught and how far the girl had gotten, so I wasn't in a position to advise beyond the general advice I indicated above.
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Postby Stretto » Sun Aug 26, 2007 11:03 pm

Well I asked because in the very beginning stages of lessons there is a lot of initial explaining to do as there is a lot of information to get a student to the point of learning the basics like letters on the keys, finger numbers, rhythm, note names on the staff, clefs, time signatures, etc., etc. - not to mention helping them coordinate all this. In my own teaching, I don't know if this is good or bad, but I'm sure the beginning students only wind up with about 10 min. worth of things to practice per day as of all the initial explaining (although I am very big on students "hands on" in actively doing what I am explaining as I go) takes up a big chunk of lessons.

I actually think that the first 2 years of lessons, let's say for example through level 2 in a mainstream method (which would take longer if going through a primer series first and also longer or shorter depending on the individual student and amount of time and whether they are regularly commited to lessons and practice) - anyway, the first 2 years of lessons I feel the hardest of all learning because one has to learn enough to get to the point of actually being able to play things that sound beyond beginner music.

Lots of students want to get to a point of being able to play more difficult pieces sooner, not satisfied with the simplistic and elementary of the basics at the moment. On the other hand a teacher might in fact have a student that needs more of a challenge. It takes a little time as a teacher initially with a new student to determine if you have a student who rises to the challenge of something a little more difficult or a student who is stifled by too many new and more difficult elements at once. The latter is better with easier pieces that they can "divide and conquer" quickly while the former may do well and not mind spending weeks to work on something challenging. Sometimes if a student seems anxious to do something harder and doesn't seem satisfied with elementary pieces, I give them something a little difficult that they could do if they worked hard enough and many times, they realize it's just too hard and they decide for themselves that they would rather stick with the music at their level and they are much more content then with the music at their skill level (not to say anyone can't try something more challenging anytime).

Here's one analogy you could offer to a student who is feeling like the beginning of lessons is too slow: I like the analogy of learning to read. When first learning to read, one first has to learn letters, sounds that letters make, sounds that putting 2 or more letters together make, putting those sounds together into words, putting them together into very simple sentences, etc., etc. and recognize all this on paper and comprehend what you just read let alone in a timely fashion! You would have to agree this is the most important of all stages of learning to read and nothing can be glossed over at this stage without affecting subsequent reading stages. You wouldn't give someone just beginning to read a big, thick novel or scientific research paper to read! I would remind your relative who is the student what it was like to learn to read (unless she doesn't like reading or is not a good reader than you might have to think of another analogy) and how far she's come in reading books from when she started in Kindergarten and first grade. My daughter just finished first grade and could barely read the very basic of basic beginner books at the start of first grade and over the year has taken off and can figure out pretty big words and sentences on her own without help. Tell your niece she'll be reading and playing difficult music (or novels! as in music) in no time. At 13, with regular practice and commitment, she will very likely catch on really fast compared to elementary age students and progress in a lot shorter time than younger kids would.

Another analogy would be to equate learning to learning a new sport. For example, in basketball you have to learn all the basics first, how to dribble, how to pass the ball, how to get the ball from an opponent, all the rules of the game, how to shoot baskets, learn the parimeters of the court, how points are scored, etc., etc., before you can even play the game.

If she feels she needs more of a challenge, she could tell her teacher she was wondering if the teacher could assign or let her pick something harder to try on her own and see how she does. I wouldn't mind a student trying more difficult pieces as long as it was in addition to current skill level music although it's often very time consuming trying to help a student with a more difficult piece than their current skill level at lessons as it takes more time to explain new concepts and elements and technical skills not yet encountered in their current grade. A scenerio could be taking an entire 30 minutes to cover 2 or 3 measures at a lesson of a more difficult piece for the student. Or an entire 30 min. of the next lesson to go over trouble the student had mastering small segments of the piece. Not much music is covered that way and less to practice at home if students aren't trying to figure more of a difficult piece out without help and even so it still takes time to correct and help as I mentioned parts they tried to figure out they struggled with technically. But as I also mentioned, some students rise to the challenge and amazingly figure out more difficult music on there own without help.




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Postby Stretto » Sun Aug 26, 2007 11:11 pm

p.s. The student could be in too elementary level of books for her age. For example, books designed and geared for 7-10 yr. olds in methods? She might do fine on an adult method series.

The best thing is for her or grandma or parent to ask the teacher about the feeling of pace being too slow if it continues. I know you know that already but I'm suprised how many people are afraid to ask a teacher about things they question about lessons, progress, what they would like to see happen.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Aug 27, 2007 7:44 am

Stretto,

Thanks so much for your insightful and fulsome advice. You've said pretty much what I told her grandmother, but in much better detail and with a more personal insight than I could have given. I appreciate the time and effort you put into your response. I'll pass the info on. Maybe I can even get them to visit the Board and read what you've said! :)
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby Stretto » Mon Aug 27, 2007 1:18 pm

Thanks!

It would be interesting to hear back down the road how things are going as far as the student still feeling like things are going slow or not.




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