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students ... what are they thinking?


Dave Horne

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I received a phone call last week from a young man who wanted to study jazz piano. We make an appointment and he comes over for an introductory lesson. I quickly learn that he can not read music and can not play the piano at all; he does not even own or have access to a piano. What is going through his mind? I don't want to be rude to this guy, but I nicely suggest that perhaps he should buy a piano and go from there.

 

The next time I'll have the presence of mind to ask the obvious. Amazing.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Students!

 

- "What you mean, I have to practice at home?"

 

- "I have a degree in classical music, you know, and I've read a couple of ragtime pieces, they're so funny... Now, a friend made me listen to this guy called Art Tatum, so I wonder if you can give me some advice to play in that style"...

 

- "What you mean, I lost the structure in my solo? I was all right!"

 

- "Wow, these are a lot of chords!

 

- Same classical musician from above: "I find playing in time so difficult... What's wrong if I don't keep the 12-bar chorus? Nobody would notice it anyway".

 

-"Too much pedal? Well, I like it, it's my style!"

 

- "I have a free hour every Saturday, and I want to use it to practice the piano. Do you think that in six months or so I could reach professional level?"

 

- "I want to go for my feelings, man. I don't want to learn all those inversions. Technique is not music." (My usual answer: "Right - it's just a part of it".)

 

And my favorite:

 

- "Yeah, I can't play it, but what's important is, I've understood how it works!"

 

Don't get me wrong: I love my students. Many of them are becoming, or have become already, great musicians. Some of them are working more than me. :) But when you're a teacher, you are exposed to every kind of people approaching you... Today, I've learned to avoid the obvious traps. But the above quotes are all true.

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Maybe he thinks that he can get away with a warezed copy of Reason and a piano sample, plus a shoddy cheap 49-key controller (with *drum roll* MicroKorg-sized keys) ;) .

 

Not necessarily students, but on another forum someone got a Virus Rack Classic. At a time which seemed immediately after his purchase he asked how to make a certain sound, not showing that he did any research, study (the Access manuals aren't bad) or even knob tweaking in the slightest regard to get to his results. Oddly enough, suggestions like "try to turn that knob out of the 30 or so on that thing" are sometimes even deemed offensive and unhelpful.

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I remember an audition in the militray where I was one of those in charge (of the audition). I placed a chart in front of the kid to see if he could play chord symbols. I corrected one of the chords he played. The chord was a minor 7th with a b5 (half diminished 7th chord) and he just played a minor 7th chord. His response, 'boy, you guys _are_ professional.'

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Here's some that I've gotten several times:

 

- "Can't I learn the scales later and you show me some chords now?"

- "I'll learn where the keys are later, can you show me how to play something now?"

- "You've got a lot of keyboards, can I use one of yours?" -This one really got me.

 

The conclusion that I've come up with is, what it took you years to do, they want to do NOW! Some of them have no regards to the importance of a good, strong, solid foundation, no matter how many times you tell them what you went through, and can help them avoid.

Yamaha MODX8, Korg Kronos 2 61, Hammond B3, Novation 61SL MKII, Impulse 61, Roland D-550, Proteus 2000, etc......to name a few.
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Oh, no, here he comes again :( !

 

Bad teacher: Sit down. Just do as I say, I know too much more than you do, so you better keep your mouth shut and swallow every single idea I'll nail into your head. If you are any good (and I am the one who decides that, of course) you will thank me in the end.

 

Good teacher (dialog):

Teacher: What exactly do you want to be able to do that you believe I can teach you?

Student: I wanna play "Rhapsody In Blue" .

Teacher: There is more than one way to do it. Of my knowledge arsenal, I can offer to teach you .

Teacher (and that is the priceless part, so often neglected): will help you in , will help you in <...>, chord formation will help you in <...>, and so on and so forth.

 

The point here is that the person you address as a student has a joyful idea of what he/she wants to learn (and rarely thinks about what it takes to do it). A good teacher will realize that the first contact with the hardships of learning music (which is much more than "just playing") is usually unpleasant. A sensitive/humble teacher will realize the importance of letting the student know right then exactly which benefits derive of each "discipline", and most of all why is that necessary for achieving his/her goal. And yes, choose what he/she wants to learn first. Cmon, we all know that wrong/hasty choices at that point will invariably lead to he/she stumbling on the need to learn what was initially scorned as teachers rap. But when it happens you will have earned your pay as a teacher: Your student will have his/her personal notion of what it takes, why that obstacle should be tackled and then decide to tackle it or just give up. In other words people, telling your kid that fire burns will never replace the telling experience of having ones hand burned. Scorning your kids interest in having a burnt hand in spite of your advice is cynical, to say the lest...

 

I am sure every teacher has individual memories of early perception of each one of these "disciplines", as well as how they have evolved through them and where exactly does it help their playing. Sharing them with your students, even the silliest ones, is fundamental. Make your superior musical education unite you, not separate you. And if knowledge were enough to make a teacher, there sure would be a lot of teachers in the world, huh?

 

My 2 cents ;) .

 

P.S. = Dave , did the guy at least have any plans of buying/renting a piano or something? I know it's ridiculous, but you could start by calling his attention to the fact that having the instrument is conductive to learning to play it...

"I'm ready to sing to the world. If you back me up". (Lennon to his bandmates, in an inspired definition of what it's all about).
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The flip side of this is that sometimes a teacher will mentally give up on a student who doesn't have a clue. I look back on some early lessons I took. I was pretty clueless, and didn't have a whole lot of support from family and friends. I muddled along but now believe that my teacher had lost interest in me and just going through the motions.

 

The best thing a teacher can do for a student who doesn't have a clue is give them one. Get them to go see other students play, to give them an idea of the progression. Encourage students to socialize amongst themselves to develop a shared understanding of the steps towards playing well.

 

My daughter, now in 1st grade, is studying violin and I sit with her and help her practice roughly every other day. I don't know a thing about violin but the basics of rhythm, notation, and practice discipline are the same for any beginner so I help with that. I think it makes a difference for her, and wonder how people who have no musicians at home ever learn.

 

Maybe that's why the musical community is so guild-like and insular -- it's so hard to become a musician for people whose parents are not.

 

Bartolomeo.

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Maybe that's why the musical community is so guild-like and insular -- it's so hard to become a musician for people whose parents are not.
I never looked at the musical community as being insular or guild-like. There seem to be no standards, anyone can join and those who join can play without learning any of the basics. Anyone can carry a 'card'.

 

The kid who came to me was completely outside my framework - he couldn't read, couldn't play, didn't own or have access to piano - what's going through his mind? Well, good thing this isn't brain surgery.

 

Oh, that reminds me of something. This is a story from the West Point Band but from before my time. There was an officer (conductor) who posted a sheet on the bulletin board for those who wished to sign up and study conducting with him. A friend of mine (who is now 74 or so) posted another list where you could sign up and study brain surgery with him if you wished.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Hartmann, you didn't address the issue of a 'bad' student. The student who doesn't want to be bothered to learn how to read or have anything to do with the 'basics; he knows exactly what he needs for 'his craft' and he dictates to the teacher what he should be taught.

 

... but you could start by calling his attention to the fact that having the instrument is conductive to learning to play it...

I did in the nicest possible way. (That was mentioned at the end of the 'lesson' for which I asked no money. It just cost me my time. I learned something even if he didn't.)

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

Hartmann, you didn't address the issue of a 'bad' student. The student who doesn't want to be bothered to learn how to read or have anything to do with the 'basics; he knows exactly what he needs for 'his craft' and he dictates to the teacher what he should be taught.

Dave, I'm aware that there are students like that. Only I believe they are not "bad", just ignorant of the benefits of structured learning as proposed. As a teacher, you could enlighten your pupil and "bring him to your side". And if still your pupil insists on dictating an unfeasible learning path, you can send him out the door with the clear conscience of someone who did everything that was possible regardless of opinion differences...After all, even the "instant-reward" cravers must live in the real world, in which certain skills are hard earned :rolleyes: ...
"I'm ready to sing to the world. If you back me up". (Lennon to his bandmates, in an inspired definition of what it's all about).
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What they're thinking is,

 

they want to play music!

 

Maybe some of you who make it so effortless are to blame ;):wave:

 

Don't be the "mean old lady piano teacher" who turns them off to playing music for life.

 

It only takes one!

A WOP BOP A LU BOP, A LOP BAM BOOM!

 

"There is nothing I regret so much as my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?" -Henry David Thoreau

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Hey, I don't know about Dave, but I hope it was clear that my post was totally tongue in cheek! (See the last part of my post) I didn't intend to insult anybody.

I know, of course, that everybody have to start with the basics. I'm a *very* dedicated teacher. I just wanted to have a little fun about the bizarre characters around. How many visual art students approach their potential teacher with "I've seen a a painting by someone called Picasso, so I'd like to paint somewhat like that. Can you give me a couple of advices so I can do that in a short time?"

Regardless of how the teacher decides to answer, this *is* funny! :)

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Originally posted by Ted Nightshade:

[QB]What they're thinking is,

 

they want to play music!

 

Maybe some of you who make it so effortless are to blame ;):wave:

/QB]

That's right. Most of 'em think: oooh, that's cool. This band rocks! I can do this too!

The first thing I'll tell them is that playing an instrument and making music is great, but don't think you can do it within fifteen minutes.

 

"But at home I played this much better!"

http://www.bobwijnen.nl

 

Hipness is not a state of mind, it's a fact of life.

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Nobody wants to work anymore.....
that's the heart of the issue.. everything these days is instant this and instant that.. more, bigger, faster, NOW. It's not just in music, people want what they want and they want it w/o puttng any work towards it, and if they can't have it now, they give up on themselves and perhaps their dreams. I've enjoyed reading this thread, because it's pretty much solidified my belief that 1) I am a good student and 2) my teacher is excellent. I'm always making analogies between my music study and my study/practice of Tae Kwon Do. I have friends who will say to me "can't you just show me some moves" and I say "no, I can't".. it's not that I can't, rather, I won't. I say "you're welcome to come to class with me and give it a try" but I'm not going to try to "show you a flashy move" because 1) flashy moves are built upon a solid foundation of basic skills, none of which he/she possesses and 2) it would be highly disrespectful of me to think that I have any right to show something to somebody that they are not ready for when my Master has put so much time and effort into instilling in me the importance of dedicated practice and a solid foundation with which to base things on. Of course as soon I mention "coming to class/join the school" their eyes glaze over and they lose interest.

 

Instant gratification.. it's a serious downfall of this "E-age" I think.. Especially in the United States (my experience, I don't know how much this has affected other cultures).

 

I have a LONG way to go in my study of Piano.. after 10 years playing bass I still feel humbled by my skills and I know what it's going to take. The beauty of it though, as with Tae Kwon Do or any serious study is that it has nothing to do with the notion of an "end goal" - that is not the point, it's the never ending process of improving that's important and most satisfying - in music, in Tae Kwon Do, in life in general.

"You look hopefully for an idea and then you're humble when you find it and you wish your skills were better. To have even a half-baked touch of creativity is an honor."

-- Ernie Stires, composer

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as being one of those "classical guys" thats been to college with a good understanding of music....i personally don't think they teach you the real deal there....that's taking jazz piano now...i actually understand where you're coming from. i push a little during my lessons, however, my teacher is great. i have a little different direction of what he's teaching..not totally off, just a little. nonetheless, i think we've come to a great medium. it may not be exactly the curiculum, but we actually have a new found respect for each others styles..(mine leaning more in a gospel/christian style and he's mainly jazz) and yes, they do walk hand in hand. we've actually incorporated some eartraining with songs that i like to play and we'll analyze and run with it. this taken into concideration we have a chance to see how his teachings walk hand and hand with what i'm aiming to do. this is extremely effective in this "right now" society. trust me i know...i've been a musician since i was 8.(33 now-one class shy of a music/comp degree from years ago) and i still feel like i have tons to learn.
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I only say that because I've met more than one promising musician who was out of the loop for a decade or two after a "mean old lady piano teacher" experience or the equivalent.

 

It's very true that instant gratification is everything these days, and billions are spent misleading people about the nature of making music, so no surprise if many are mislead!

A WOP BOP A LU BOP, A LOP BAM BOOM!

 

"There is nothing I regret so much as my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?" -Henry David Thoreau

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billions are spent misleading people about the nature of making music
billions are spent misleading people about the nature of most everything these days. It's very disillusioning.

"You look hopefully for an idea and then you're humble when you find it and you wish your skills were better. To have even a half-baked touch of creativity is an honor."

-- Ernie Stires, composer

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Again, there is a way around the instant gratification syndrome and the people being mislead about the nature of making music:

 

1) Instant gratification syndrome killer: The immediate reaction of the hasty student is oh boy, you mean I have to come to classes and learn/exercise this, this and that?! The off-the-cuff answer should be one equating the effort and the immediately derived benefits: THIS will have you doing THAT, THIS other will allow you to do THAT other, and so on...

 

2) Delusions about how easy making the music you want is killer: ...Sure, but dont you think there would be a lot more Jimmy Pages around if it was in fact that easy to play guitar? And that everybody would be rich/famous/pretty too :D ?

 

Yes, this world is imperfect. But we are supposed to fight for improving it, even if it takes patience and resourcefulness. And for the Mean Old Lady Piano Teachers around, no matter how you like it, these are the students you are going to get. If you have any interest in keeping good music from disappearing, swallow your loftyness, roll up your sleeves and turn these inadequate, ignorant fellas that knock on your doors into someone that might pass on the traditions you seem to prize so much.

"I'm ready to sing to the world. If you back me up". (Lennon to his bandmates, in an inspired definition of what it's all about).
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I dunno, I could be waay wrong, but my impression is that a person has to have a true desire coming from the inside, and an inate understanding that accomplishing their goals will take alot of time and effort. Can you really teach somebody that?

"You look hopefully for an idea and then you're humble when you find it and you wish your skills were better. To have even a half-baked touch of creativity is an honor."

-- Ernie Stires, composer

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i think mound is on to something. when i was in music school i hated every moment of it basically because people didn't seem to want to think and really want the information being given. in theory 101 you would get people to ask questions like "you mean c to g is a fifth and i can count the amount of steps to get there?" all i could think was..."you are really wasting mom and dads money...you shouild know this by now. you are in college playing difficult music on your respective instruments and been playing them for many years and you don't get a fifth interval?" hey, when i was in high school, they didn't teach any theory, but i bought books, read, did exercises and more because i really love theory and playing instruments. i hope i'm not coming off as arrogant but i think you have to have the drive to want to play and learn music. i feel like a junior in college again after taking lessons again and even though some of it is foriegn(becasue it's jazz studies) i'm loving every minute of it. and i feel like i'm the best keys player that i've been and i'm excited to see where i'll be in a year!!!
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billions are spent misleading people about the nature of most everything these days. It's very disillusioning.
That's how Wal-Mart makes their fortune...

 

How about the stuff the schools won't even teach? If a kid has an interest in electronics or computer programming, they are expected to learn that stuff in college, as there is virtually nothing in those areas in the regular schools.

"shit" happens. Success Takes Focus.
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Well there's always a real possibility that they will never amount to anything on piano, but they will know enough to compose a bit (like me) or just have a new appreciation for those that can, and feel a personal stake in piano and music in general. They may go on to take up some instrument they can get around earlier, or sing from pure instinct, which can be amazingly good- the point is to keep the flame of love of music alive.

 

This from a guy who has spent thousands of hours on the piano and still can't play!

A WOP BOP A LU BOP, A LOP BAM BOOM!

 

"There is nothing I regret so much as my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?" -Henry David Thoreau

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Just to be perfectly clear, I was very nice (not the mean old lady music teacher) and supportive to this kid and even gave him a lesson (even though he could not play, could not read and did not have access to a piano ... details).

 

He said he would look into buying a piano and get back to me. If he ever calls me, I will probably recommend that he study with someone else to learn the basics and then come to me after he can read and play a little.

 

I showed him the difference between half steps and whole steps at the keyboard, gave him the two rule formula for a major scale (construction and letter names) ... whole step, whole step, half step ... etc. and if you start on some kind of A, the next ascending note will be some kind of B and so forth. I had him construct an Ab major scale even though he could not play or read.

 

If he has desire, he will follow through ... if he doesn't, I really did my best.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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My favorite, or least favorite...

 

"I don't want to lern dead people's music."

 

But let me ask which is worse, a student with natural talent that does not practice, or a student that will practice 4 hours a day and has no ability and no clue how bad their timing is?

 

Robert

This post edited for speling.

My Sweetwater Gear Exchange Page

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Originally posted by Rabid:

My favorite, or least favorite...

 

"I don't want to lern dead people's music."

A good answer to that would be to confront them with some music by Ligeti or Stockhausen. They are alive musicians, right? :D

But let me ask which is worse, a student with natural talent that does not practice, or a student that will practice 4 hours a day and has no ability and no clue how bad their timing is?

Whatever. I've seen all cases, and I think it's the teacher's job to find the relevant directions the student has to follow, *and* the best way for him to get there. All people are different. If somebody has really bad timing, I would even consider to temporarily stop all other things, and work on timing exclusively for a period.

 

That said, at this stage of my life, I usually try to avoid teaching absolute beginners, or people with an evident lack of musical talent. And I don't teach children, period. I totally lack the required inclination and patience.

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But let me ask which is worse, a student with natural talent that does not practice, or a student that will practice 4 hours a day and has no ability and no clue how bad their timing is?

I have more respect for someone who has a bad concept but who is conscientious in his practicing. (I wouldn't want to hire him for a studio recording but would offer him a pay raise in a band situation.)

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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