Sunday, January 31, 2010

Middle School Piano Students

Students in middle school are more likely to quit piano lessons than any other age group.  Why is this?  Here is a list of reasons.

  1. Students are more self conscious of gender roles.  Boys frequently quit at this age because "piano is for girls".  In elementary school, we have roughly the same number of boys as we do girls enrolled in lessons.  By high school, girls outnumber boys by about 5 to 1.
  2. Students are developing their sense of personal identity and are attempting to separate themselves from things they perceive as childish.  Students that started in elementary school can begin to view piano as something for kids.
  3. Students are being allowed to make more decisions about what they do.  Piano lessons are often the most challenging activity kids are involved in.  Because kids at this age have difficulty seeing the long term rewards of playing the piano, they will frequently want to quit at this age because it is too hard.  Parents frequently will decide that they no longer want to "fight this battle", so the student is allowed to quit.
  4. There is greater peer pressure to fit in.  Since piano is a pretty solitary activity most of the time, it is vulnerable to outside pressures.  When competing against more visible activities, such as sports, piano can be a hard sell.  Plus, most middle school bands and orchestras have no chair for a piano.  
So, how do we keep these students?  I think positive adult musical models help.  Assigning more popular music helps motivate students and gives them something that they are willing to play for their friends.  Offering group classes for students of similar ages can really help as well.  Taking students to piano concerts can help students envision piano as something for adults.  That can be a powerful motivator for a middle schooler who is trying to appear less childlike.  

No matter what we do, Middle School is a challenging time for students and their parents.  As teachers, we can do our best to be supportive and use our best motivational tools.  For parents, we recommend love and logic.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What qualifications does one need to teach piano?

I am continually amazed at how many people in my community teach piano who have little or no expertise in the subject.  People who barely play the instrument themselves take money to teach others the fundamentals of piano playing.  As a pianist who has dedicated the last 20+ years to the instrument, it is quite frustrating to see bright, enthusiastic young minds, eager to learn music, taken in by teachers who may have had lessons in high school, but quit because it was too hard.  There are teachers who can't sight read the simplest of music. There are teachers who can't count dotted rhythms. There are teachers who can't match pitch. There are teachers who teach using untunable  instruments that were built before we had the automobile.

How do I know this is true?  Because I talk to these people.  I meet them when I tune their pianos at home or at church.  I've even met them at local MTNA meetings.  I see a couple of old method books sitting next to the piano, and I ask "are you taking lessons?".  They will then say "no, I teach piano".  I will then say, "Oh!  How long have you been playing?"  Then they tell me something like,"Well, I had voice lessons in high school, and I've sort of taught myself to play.  When I had kids, I needed some extra money, and when I inherited this piano from my grandmother, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to start my own studio."  I then try to hide my feelings of disgust.

Is it not unethical to take a family's money and a student's time teaching a subject which is beyond your own comprehension?

Sorry for the rant, but it has taken 10 years for Robyn and I to build up a full studio in Greeley.  Why so long?  Because, there are a multitude of housewives and retirees who take private students, but have no qualifications and no business teaching.  None of them charge enough to make a living, some of them barely charge anything at all, and some of them copy music illegally for their students.

So to answer the question, "What qualifications does one need to teach piano?"  The answer is obviously none.  It is up to parents to have high enough standards to seek out qualified teachers for their kids.

New Class

We have decided that having 19 students in our studio at one time is a bit much, so we are splitting the 6th-12th grade class into two parts.  High school students will now meet at 1:00-2:00 for master-classes.