Discouraged adult student

Share your piano experiences with other adult students

Postby Brandywine » Sat Jan 12, 2008 10:43 am

I am 58 years old and have been taking piano lessons for one year now. I am using Hanon The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 exercises (I'm up to Part I Lesson 38, and (having skipped 39 to 43) Lesson 44) . Also I'm using Elementary Instruction Book for the Pianoforte (Ferdinand Bayer) and I'm on Lesson 86, although we skipped 81 and 85.

I work full time at a computer all day in a very stressful job. I've developed a tendinosis of my right shoulder and have spasms and knots in my upper back. I'm receiving treatment and physical therapy for the tendinosis but I'm in constant pain and sometimes when practicing my piano exercises the little finger and the one next to it sometimes don't seem to respond.

There are days that I can play my lessons fairly well but on other days, it seems that my fingers do not respond to my brain. It happens often when my teacher is present and I'm beginning to think that it was a mistake to begin taking lessons at such an "advanced age". The truth is I get nervous when I'm playing for him and my most recent classes have not gone well. I don't know how to get over this hump.

I have wanted to learn to play the piano all my life and didn't begin when I was a child because we could not afford to buy a piano. I love the piano and really want to learn to play for my own pleasure.

I am feeling depressed and any thoughts, suggestions, recommendations, encouragement, from anyone who feels my pain would be highly appreciated!
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Postby Tarnia » Sat Jan 12, 2008 6:37 pm

I am not going to comment on the lesson books you are using, as I do not know them and I am not a teacher (well younger cousin doesn't count:p)

I can sympathize with trying to practice with a repetitive strain injury. I sprained/dislocated my right thumb right before my 3rd year uni exams (I am right handed) and right before an ORMTA audition. Despite all the physio, etc. it did not TRULY heal (i.e. total absence of pain) til I was off school and piano for the summer. (Coincidence? I think not). SO, my first comment is to take a long-term view and look after your health-be it investing in ergonomic computer stuff, taking some time from piano, etc etc. I realize it is not easy to quit when you are just getting started, but it sounds like this means a lot to you so I am sure you will be back. The fact that you HAVE been trying, despite your age, lifestyle and now pain, demonstrates your commitment IMHO.

My second point is that you might want to have a so-called 'heart to heart' with your teacher. When I sprained my thumb, my teacher agreed to let me continue playing, but she watched how I used it like a hawk. My point? If your teacher knows about your condition and is not treating it/your concerns with respect...IMO you need a new teacher. While it is only natural to have some nervousness when we know we are not performing at our best etc., repeated lessons of what sounds like high tension raises a red flag for me. I want to give your teacher the benefit of the doubt of course; he/she might just be unaware of the situation/how 'bad' it is.

There are a lot of other things...like how you should be using your shoulder (i.e. very relaxed) etc that I could comment on, but I will leave that to ppl more knowledgeable than I. And if I think of anything else, I will add:p
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Postby Brandywine » Sat Jan 12, 2008 7:17 pm

Thank you so much for your reply. I will be starting physical therapy next week and I've acquired an ergonomic keyboard. I'm going to a chiropractor and getting monthly massage therapy. I think its an overuse problem. I work all day at a computer at a stressful job (lot of responsiblity) and rarely take breaks (I know!). I also have a part-time job that I do from home, transcribing reports for a psychiatrist, plus I practice the piano for at least an hour daily.

I don't know why I get so "nervous" during my piano lessons. I guess I just want to do everything right and I'm probably trying too hard. Some days I do better, but there are days that it seems that I have not practiced at all during the week.

I've also considered changing my teacher because he says that my problem is not my physical condtion but that I'm just not concentrating and that I'm bored with my lessons. I'm not bored. I actually enjoy my piano lessons, unless I'm tired from my day at work. But when I play for for my teacher, I feel that my fingers are stiff and don't respond. It's really frustrating but giving up is not an option.

Thanks for answering my "plea" for help. It really helps to hear from others.
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Postby Tranquillo » Sat Jan 12, 2008 7:58 pm

It's really good to hear that you are starting now. As a young person, learning voice and piano many older ones come up to me after a performance telling me that they would like to know how to sing like that ... but they claim that they don't have the 'voice' or 'aren't musical'.
Such comments are not true. It is very much encouraging to me that you are learning piano now and you are doing something that you have always wanted to do.
I think its absoulutely normal that you get nervous with your teacher. I felt the same way with all the teachers I went through. How long have you been with this teacher? I don't feel nervous anymore or tense but thats because I've gotten used to my teacher. I just think its something that will take time ... you feel comfortable with playing for your teacher when you have settled a bit more.
From a physical side ... I havent had much of a problem. I have always been told to me careful ... sorry I cant shed much light. If it helps a frined of mine went through times when she couldn't play. Her joints were so stiff and she took two years off cause she couldnt play. She was bedridden for two years and is getting back into it. She told me that she was so excited to get back into piano that she pushed herself too far. So now she is slowly easing herself in.
Its good to know that you are seeking medical attention ... she tells me she has piano streches and her teacher is informed.
Sus your teacher out ... I am not sure on his advice. Hope this help.
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Postby Brandywine » Sun Jan 13, 2008 5:43 am

Hi Becibu,

I've been with my teacher for a year now. I started with him at a music college, but when they moved the location of the school, he quit teaching there and I began private lessons with him. Although I've always felt a little nervous playing for him, I think the "real" problem began when I began to feel that my fingers would not respond while I was playing for him. I want so much to do things right and that may be the issue. My massage therapist, who happens to also be a musician, says I should play the exercises slower. Slow enough so that my fingers don't "spasm" and I don't make mistakes. But my teacher says the problem is in my brain - he says I'm just bored and distracted. I think he's trying to make light of my physical problem so that I can just "get over it."

I've heard that adults have a harder time learning things and I don't want to be influenced by that thought, if you know what I mean.

Thanks for your input. Sharing this with others and getting feedback really helps.
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Postby Tranquillo » Sun Jan 13, 2008 5:54 am

I've heard that adults have a harder time learning things and I don't want to be influenced by that thought, if you know what I mean.


I hate that thought! Really! Adults are the eager learners. Unlike children. Adults are the ones that WANT to learn, the are the ones paying for their lessons with the strong desire. The older we get the easier it is to see patterns and work them out. The one thing that probably drags adults is time. Kids, work, bills, you name it!

Anyways ... hope you get better. :)




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Postby 112-1182392787 » Mon Jan 14, 2008 10:38 pm

Brandywine, there are only 4 years between us so I assure you that you are not old! As for the idea that adults learn more slowly than children - I was astonished to read that for the first time - most recently that one should not have "unrealistic expectations" of being able to catch up to a 7 year old. I did my grade 1 exam in another instrument and was preceded by a 7 year old. I had been playing 6 months and he had taken 2 years to get that far.

If you are having physical problems your teacher should be addressing them. You should be set up from the beginning to play without strain. How you use your body, your posture, all play a role. I don't have a piano teacher at present but I did perform at a student concert half a year ago (long story). My hand was cramping up after a certain passage. I saw a piano teacher friend who noticed I was preparing my thumb way in advance and that was spasming my hand. A simple new way of moving the thumb and a host of problems were solved.

Is your teacher looking at all at how you are doing things? That is as important as the what.

How do you practice a new study? Do you start very slowly, hands separate? Has he told you how to approach practicing? When you do practice a new thing for the first time, do it slow motion, see at what point your hand tenses, try to see what you are doing to make it tense? If you can isolate it, then you can demonstrate this to your teacher and ask him to work on that with you. "It's all in your head" is no answer.

Is your tension coming mostly when you are playing in front of your teacher? I have that impression. Is it your goal to play well and perfectly for him? Does he expect that? If that is your goal, change your attitude completely. (I wish I had known some of these things a few years ago.) When we do academic work, we have to bring in a perfect paper. When we bring in what we practised, it's an ongoing project and it's supposed to be imperfect! A good teacher wants to build your skills, and these skills are built layer by layer. You cannot have perfection because your playing ability is incomplete. Also, the piece or study you are working on is not the goal. It is the tool for reaching the goal. You try to do your best with the piece, but that is not the point. The point is your actual striving, because what is being worked on is you - your abilities. Rejoice at your mistakes, because every mistake is an opportunity for strengthening a weakness into a strength.

You may want to change the premises upon which your lesson is currently being built. Tell your teacher that you want to find out where your weaknesses are that you want to improve one by one. What in particular does he see that you could be doing differently. If you begin to work on how you are playing, instead of just what, some of these tensions may disappear.

Don't overlook the simple things. We adults are accustomed to working very hard at complex things. Teachers tell us something "obvious" and "unimportant" and because it is so simple we don't give heed to it. But these small things carry a lot of power and can be the most important of all. Is there any simple obvious thing your teacher has told you to do that seemed too simple to pay much attention to? I'm taking a stab in the dark. How about: try less hard and allow more success to happen.
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Postby Brandywine » Tue Jan 15, 2008 6:00 am

You have given me some excellent advice. I am printing your reply so that I can go over it in detail to answer the questions you have brought up. I think you"re right on with a lot of the things you have pointed out. Thanks so much to you and to the others who have responded, It really helps.
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Tue Jan 15, 2008 7:34 am

Some extra food for thought, Brandywine. I used to play when young, but self-taught. I'm getting sporadic lessons on piano now from my teacher of another instrument. I just spent an hour on beginner studies, basic scales and today I noticed there was tension in my left hand. A bit further I noticed that after my hand was relaxed, it would get tense again. More observation: it tensed as soon as I played the ascending sequence 54, at the moment of playing 4. Then I started seeing what I was doing with my ring finger going that direction.
Similarly there was a moment that I would lower my elbow and raise my wrist, and that did something to what I did with my hand and fingers ... at what point, trying to play what?
Armed with this, I no longer have "My hand tenses up when I play that study." but some specific observations. I can work with them, and/or ask my teacher if he can observe what is causing me to tense up whenever I play 54. He may recommended something far removed from the problem, such as what I'm doing with my shoulders - you have to trust that. If you already know your body a little bit then his advice will have more meaning. In my case this morning, by the time I finished working through these things, I ended up having relaxed shoulders and back after practicing an hour.
Another thing that will cause tension is if your fingers are uncertain where something is but you want to get there anywhere: the hesitation causes tension. Or if you are in a hurry and want to be there before its time: feeling you don't have enough time. Slow practice and gradually getting up to speed will alleviate that.
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Sat Jan 26, 2008 3:39 pm

So? What happened? We're rooting for you Brandywine! :)
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Postby Brandywine » Sun Jan 27, 2008 2:06 pm

I have to say that all your replies have helped me greatly. I've been paying close attention to what I'm doing and playing the exercises slower and more carefully. I spoke to my teacher. He understands that I get nervous. He brought a new book that complements the other exercises I am doing and things have improved greatly! I finally learned the song I was stuck on. I realized what I was doing wrong. I want to thank all of you for your suggestions and good advice!!
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Sun Jan 27, 2008 5:37 pm

That is excellent news, Brandywine! I think it took me three years before I started to have a clue what practicing was actually about. Keep us posted. :)
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Postby Stretto » Mon Mar 31, 2008 6:28 pm

I haven't read the whole thread but skimmed through it all so hope I'm not repeating anyone.

I've had tendonitis issues in the past aggravated by playing the piano. One thing that first came to mind in reading your initial post is, "wow those books sound hard for the beginning lessons!" (unless you've played or taken lessons in the past?) Nonetheless, my advice which I have actually done for myself is bactrack to simpler music. Play as simple of music as you have to and then gradually build to more complex from there. I think back in college when I was playing music that was so advanced that I concentrated harder, worked harder, was more stressed trying to learn those pieces, that I put more tension into playing STRUGGLING so hard to learn the music. If your stressed in other areas of your life, then your music needs to be simple, fun relaxing, most of it that you can sight read, over grueling, hard work. The advice on a more difficult piece is good about playing slowly.

What about trying a teacher or adult class that teaches improvisation?

Some things I do is make my practice as varied as possible. Rather than playing the same segment of music over and over and over until it's right, I only play it a little bit, then go to another part of the piece or another part of another song, then come back to the first. I play a lot more pieces of music than I used to but simpler music rather than one complicated piece. Basically, I avoid overkill on repetition on any one thing. The other thing, break up my practice into 15 min. segments, take a break, do some other things, then come back.

However, in trying to "relax" on my own every which way I could think of in playing, I never could figure it out by myself and it wasn't until I got a teacher really knowlegdable in technique as in good, healthy movement at the keys not as in scales, exercises, etc. combined with what I learned from Alexander technique - it's a way of posture, and whole body movement in every day activities (do a web search and you'll find info on it) those two things and the easier music have me back to playing a lot. I do think too hard of music beyond my technical ability was one big factor.

You should read the thread we had on the board "relaxing" in playing. Now I'll have to see if I can find where it was but you may be able to do a search on this sight and find it before I get around to looking it up. I think I gave some links and other tips on that thread.




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Postby 112-1182392787 » Tue Apr 01, 2008 9:16 am

Stretto, what do you think of the advice already given, and the asker's feedback on that advice? Would this bring about new or different ideas?

P.S. When I looked back at my post the word "new" had turned red. Everybody else's use of that word has also been red lately. After edit, it's back to black. Is there a feature that changes the colour of that word? (Curious)




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