What do you do when you have students that profess to be keenly interested in learning and competing, but aren't progressing very fast? They bolt ahead for a period of time and then seem to stall for long periods of time ( lack of practicing, over-confidence??). I understand that the learning "curve" has peaks and plateaus, but this seems to extend beyond that. How do you keep yourself and them motivated and from falling into a rut? I don't like giving new tunes if they haven't improved or mastered the old ones yet, but I sometimes tire of telling someone the same thing week after week. I often question whether or not I should be pushing more or offering more to motivate them. I try to draw from my own memories on what motivated me to practice and play, but not everyone is the same. Does your methodology differ between child and adult learners?
Perhaps their seeming lack of motivation is because you aren't giving them new tunes and challenging them enough. I may be wrong but I firmly believe that you can play a tune until you are sick of it but if you have not progressed or improved that tune, you aren't going to. Then you should move on and learn a new tune at, hopefully, a higher level of expertise. How hard is it for you to go back to a tune you learned "wrong" and correct it. It's not easy and could become "beating a dead horse" so to speak. Try giving them a new tune that is a little harder or has lots of "whatever" that is currently giving them a problem. Maybe it will help.
Perfection in a tune is a grand thing but sometimes it's better to cut your losses and move on.
12-16-2003, 11:24 AM
Several good questions there. I'll deal with teacher motivation first.
I know exactly what you mean. I have had students that seemed to lose interest for a while, some permanently! I must say, though, that I never lost interest in them. I have had reluctant learners who went on to be very good players, and I've had real keen kids who lost interest and dropped out as soon as something else caught their attention.
At the beginning stages, most of the tunes are really designed to build their skills. I generally decide what the students will learn and when. As students advance, however, tune selection becomes more difficult, and should be decided upon with some input from the student. Teachers spend a lot of time deciding which are appropriate tunes to teach, which tunes will advance their skills in areas of weakness, or which will show off their strengths. I try to do both. Trouble with taorluaths? Here's a tune with lots of them in it! But I would not give that tune to that student as a competition piece! In fact, I might look for a tune with very few of the challenging movements in it. I would want the student to have the opportunity to play the best tune possible at that stage of development. Sometimes the kids just don't like the tunes the teacher picks for them. Let them have some say in the tune selection.
To do this, you might encourage your students to listen to other pipers. I don't mean just the CDs of the top professional players, but recordings of other kids at their own level or the level just beyond them. Grade 4 players can learn a lot by listening to Grade 3 players, etc.. I've often had the parents of the kids record all the players in the event their child is playing in at the indoor or summer games. A little hand-held tape recorder is all you need, though a number of people now have the digital recorders and can put what they record on CD for us. The kids and I then listen to all or at least several of those performances and talk about what we are hearing. Listening to what their peers are playing, and how well (or poorly) they are playing can be a motivator for some kids. It can also help them decide what their next competitive tune might be.
If I have a student who seems to be going nowhere with a tune I have given him, or even with one we've selected together, I think it is time to change the tune. It obviously did not have that magic element that would draw the student's attention and keep it.
I've had kids compete successfully one season, taking many prizes, and not want to take part in solos the next year. If they've advanced a grade, that is often enough to make them a bit shy about playing. As a teacher, you might think advancing a grade is a sign of how well you are doing. For the student, however, it is increasing the level of difficulty at a time when the student feels he has given all he can. The thought of having to push harder and trying to go farther is often daunting. It doesn't hurt to lay off a bit if you and/or the students feel that is necessary. Sometimes the student bounces back befroe the next season, sometimes it takes a year or more, and sometimes it never happens. One very fine young piper found herself frightened to death by competition. Her first experiences were terrifying. She never competed in solo again, but went on to become the pipe major of the Grade 3 band when I was suddenly struck with heart trouble and had to drop out of the band unexpectedly.
Sometimes you have to give the students immediate goals. Next summer's competition season is too far away. Arrange a little concert or recital for two months' time. Give them a reason to 'perfect' their tunes right now! We do that here in Antigonish. We have about six to eight Saturday afternoon student piobaireachd recitals during the winter months and my students participate in them at all stages of their development. One year two boys played the grounds of their piobaireachds on practice gooses in September. Two months later, they played again on pipes with no drones going. A month before their first competition, they played with two drones going, and then they were ready for the Piobaireachd Challenge in May. One of those boys won the Novice event his first time playing in competition, with his classmate placing second! At one of the major summer events, they placed in the opposite order. Both had won a trophy that first year!
Finally, you asked if my methods change from teaching children to teaching adults. They do, but only in non-essential ways. I still use the same program and I find the adults are very willing to play Hot Crossed Buns and This Old Man, just as the kids are. What is different is the way I talk with the students. With the kids, I find I joke around a lot more, play games a lot more, etc.. With the adults, it is all serious work on their part and they don't want the little diversions that are necessary with the kids. As I said in a previous posting, most adults must understand a musical concept first, then learn to play it. Kids are the opposite. They will learn to play it first and come to understand what they are doing later.
Thanks Scott. We appear to be on the same wavelength and I'm glad to see that we do pretty much the same things. I had begun to wonder if I needed to change tactics. They have set themselves with several mini-goals between now and the summer and I have planned accordingly hopefully. I especially liked what you said about getting them to listen critically to other players in their own category or the category above as a learning exercise. I've tried to get them to do this, but so far they haven't. I'll keep plugging awy I guess and hope that Spring Fever eventually sets in. It's always a joy when a student surpises you with improvement. Disheartening when you know they can do it, but it doesn't seem to happen for some reason. One thing I have noticed is that having the desire to change bad habits and the will/patience to do so do not always go hand in hand.