6th grader blahs

Posted by: GeeTee

6th grader blahs - 03/31/03 08:31 PM

I've got this 6th grade student who is very talented, a decent practicer, and up to this point really shined in her playing. But since she's hit the beginning hormone stage her playing has become flat. In fact her entire personality (before quite bubbly and positive) has dulled considerably. While her fingers get to the keys just fine, her playing is lackluster. I have to drag the expression out of her. What's funny tho, is 2 yrs. ago she earned my "Musicianship" award at the spring recital for exception musicality and expression in playing.

I'm blaming the age here. All 6ths get a little strange as they try to move out of the kiddie stage and into the cool teen years. Does anyone else see this kind of thing when students get to this age? She's studied with me now since 3rd grade.
Posted by: Jalapeņa

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/01/03 06:14 AM

Originally posted by GeeTee:
All 6ths get a little strange as they try to move out of the kiddie stage and into the cool teen years. Does anyone else see this kind of thing when students get to this age? She's studied with me now since 3rd grade.

Yep. I'm going through that with Piano Kid right now. In many ways, she's maturing nicely \:\) ... but in other ways, she's a pain in the you-know-what. :rolleyes: I survive my children's growing up years by telling myself, "This, too, shall pass." \:\) Hope this helps.
Posted by: Arlene Steffen

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/01/03 07:24 AM

Oh, brother, do I know what you're talking about! Last year one of my finest students came to her first lesson and by the end of the first five minutes, I knew what most of the year was going to be like. She didn't have the blahs; she had the ditzies. Seems like it happens overnight. This year she's fine. Hormones are such strange things, aren't they?

Wait it out and be encouraging. As Jalapena has said, this, too, shall pass.
Posted by: GeeTee

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/01/03 07:45 AM

And let's add to this the "I don't like this piece" attitude that these early teens decide to begin voicing rather arrogantly. I've always wondered why some students feel so inclined to think that they can dictate what they are or aren't willing to practice/play? Oh, I believe in trying to find music that appeals, but some kids just seem disgruntled with any/everything put before them. I wonder if they do that kind of thing with their school teachers?? And get away with it!! Sometimes I want to just look one of these kids in the face and say "Look Susie, your parents are paying ME for MY expertise in teaching you how to play the piano to the best of your ability using the best available materials. I'm not being paid to appease and satisfy your every liking. Now let me do my job!"

:rolleyes: ;\) :rolleyes: ;\)
Posted by: Lilla

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/01/03 08:23 AM

You might also consider that it's springtime. The kids get kind of distracted and antsy towards the end of the school year. Maybe just a change of pace would help - some easier, fun pieces, or some activity sheets or fun contests. Something to keep their interest.
Posted by: Susan

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/01/03 10:27 AM

Sometime I feel so sad that the magical childhood time is gone forever. They become distant and it seems they're not listening to a thing I say. They don't laugh at my jokes, either. They used to think I was a real comic. I feel you can't reach them. Hang in there because it gets better as they grow out of that stage. When they do, they really want to feel the music, and they learn to play with so much more expression. At least this has been my experience over the years. I have a student now who has been with me since she was 4 and she's almost 13 now. We've been going through the same thing as you for about 1 1/2 years. She just kind of blows into the studio and out.
Posted by: NancyK

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/01/03 12:01 PM

I too have observed the blahs, ditzies and changes in personality in students who started as young children and grew into pre-teens and teenagers. All I can say is....I watched my own 3 children turn into people I did not know or recognize for a few years, but now as young adults they are getting back to themselves. I think 13 -15 is a very strange time. By 17 I see a definite change for the better and now my youngest of three is 19, lives on her own, as do her two older brothers, and they are all pretty normal people now! I have observed all the same thngs in students. I guess it's up to us to remain consistent...for them.
Posted by: rainy

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/01/03 06:24 PM

There must be something in the air. Just last Tuesday I had it up to my eyeballs with one of my students who mopes and displays a petulant attitude whenever she has to work on ANYTHING at a lesson. Usually I have the student play the piece they were assigned the week before. After listening I give my comments. I try to say positive remarks first. For example, "Susie, you had all your notes correct and your hand position was wonderful." Next I'll point out any problems I see such as timing, fingering, etc. This particular student will pout, slouch and just have a sour expression. If I try to count with or for her, she will totally ignore me and do whatever she wants.
Last week I asked her if she wanted to take lessons. She said she wanted to quit but her mother said she should continue until summer. I told her I'd talk to her mother about discontinuing lessons immediately. I said there was no sense in wasting my time and her mother's money if she wasn't willing to listen to instruction.
If this was an isolated occurence, I wouldn't have thrown in the towel, but this child runs hot and cold. Frankly, I feel like the weight of the world is off my shoulders. I already moved another student into that spot. It's nice to see enthusiasm again.
Posted by: NancyK

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/01/03 09:02 PM

Those kinds of students can really be SO exasperating..I agree! I recently asked a 7th grade student, who no longer was practicing at all, in fact was starting to show up with NO books, WHY she was taking piano lessons? This was after many other exchanges with her, her brother and her mother, and nothing positive was happening! She answered with, "because I like to play the piano". I said, "Really? No one would ever know!" She asked why I said that and I told her that usually people spend time doing what they enjoy. Those who like to cook, cook. Those who like to read, read! ETC.!! She got a funny look on her face and then said, "Oh, I see what you mean." It must have made some kind of impression on her because suddenly she is practicing again (it's literally been months) and she is bringing ALL her books. I did however, tell her and a few other students the same thing that week.......PRACTICE WHAT IS ASSIGNED, DO ALL WORK, AND BRING ALL MATERIALS OR YOU WILL RECEIVE NO LESSON THAT WEEK! I have stuck by that and there have been times I simply handed the books (if they were brought)back to the student, told them to practice or do their theory, and I went about my merry way doing other things in my studio during their entire lesson time. It has made a big impression on them and their parents. This was all very recent. I had had it with about 4 students so that was my solution since the parents insist they stay in lessons. I don't give a lesson to them if they haven't done their part. Once they get back in the swing of things I may be a little less strict, but not until practice and bringing their books is the norm again NOT the exception. If they don't like it they are free to find another teacher. This same girl asked about being in a certain event she had participated in in the past and I told her, "sorry, sign ups were over a month ago." She was very disappointed but I told her that I never even considerd putting her in this year because she had been doing NOTHING and why would I think she would work to perform for that? Between that and my new rules for her, she has started to get it together again. I'm glad because she does very well when she puts out the effort.
Posted by: Jalapeņa

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/02/03 06:25 AM

I like the "no practice, no lesson" policy. If I decide to keep teaching (I'm still not sure), I'm going to institute that policy. Maybe that will bring some people around. If nothing else, it will make them uncomfortable enough to either shape up or ship out.
Posted by: GeeTee

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/02/03 07:22 AM

NancyK, You are da bomb!!! I'm afraid that sometimes we must confront the students with the plain truth of things. Your approach makes me think about sports teams and how coaches sometimes have to handle the perpetual slackers (they sit the bench)until they start practicing like they're a part of the team!
Posted by: John

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/02/03 11:55 AM

(double post boo-boo) \:o

[ 04-02-2003: Message edited by: John ]
Posted by: John

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/02/03 11:56 AM

This hits SO CLOSE to home! (NancyK's post)

Yesterday I had a student who had not finished for the 3rd week his composing assignment (literally had to choose 8 more notes to a given rhythm in G major to complete his piece).

I told him that we could not begin his lesson until he finished it, and asked him to improvise about 3-5 minutes until he found something he liked, and then write it down.

It was 3:30 and I skipped lunch that day, so I went into the kitchen and has a wonderful tuna salad while he worked.

OFF-TOPIC - My new fav.....get tuna fish and mash it until it's all "de-clumped", add sweet relish, FINELY chopped red onion and cucumber (adds wonderful moisture and texture), maybe also red pepper, mayo.....mix passionately.......YUM!


I have recently decided due to increasingly tight schedule and trying to juggle performing, accompanying, and writing to offer for the FIRST TIME EVER........gasp!

30 minute lessons. Basically my 2003 change is this:

Offer lesson length based on PRACTICE, and charge more for the shorter lessons. Some students simply do NOT deserve 60 minute lessons and computer time based on effort. My monthly fees are:

$100 ~ 30 minute
$135 ~ 45 minute
$160 ~ hour

(Basically it's $50/hour rate for 30 minute lessons and $40/hour rate for hour lessons. This is still a cheaper hour rate than a local music school).

I will be cutting many back to 45 and 30 minutes soon for SOME, simply based on effort. While I LOATHE the idea of 30 minute lessons, if students are practicing an average of 10 minutes a day, we'll just cover 2 pieces and a warm up (or whatever) to match their effort. I might as well make more money by squeezing in more 30 minute lessons to the ones who want "Basic Piano" (i.e. - little commitment) and continue to offer "Comprehensive Piano" to those that qualify.

I know some may find this cold and harse, but H-E-DOUBLE BAR LINES, I'm adapting to the current social climate in my area (often affluent families who add piano to a myriad of other activities and have little supervision on daily practice). There is psychological freedom in knowing you are offering the best instruction you can at the moment, and leaving it up to the parents and children to decide IF THEY WILL TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT.

I realize a more anal interview process MAY have weeded out a few weeds, but as a business person I just want to OFFER a quality service (which I really do enjoy passionately!), and worry less about trying to control the variety of familys and lifestyles that exist today. (Would Master Lisa approve?) \:D

rant over :p
Posted by: Jalapeņa

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/02/03 01:45 PM

John, here's my response: Why not? If they don't make much of an effort, why should you? Continue offering the longer lessons to those who want them & are willing to pay, but offer 30-min. lessons to the lazy students & allow their parents to pay you to eat tuna sandwiches if they please. If I had to rely on piano teaching to make a living, that's what I'd do. My motto is the same as Dr. Lisa's: "Why suffer if you don't have to?"

I was just talking to Lisa about this subject today. My thoughts are to give the lesson even if the student hasn't practiced enough or completed his/her entire assignment, but make the student use his/her lesson time to do the work s/he should have done at home between lessons. If that means putting the student to work on written theory or composition or whatever while I sip a glass of iced tea & eat a snack, then so be it. I'm not in the mood to knock myself out for a student who doesn't do his/her part.

BTW, your tuna recipe is the same as mine. Yum! \:D
Posted by: Jalapeņa

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/02/03 02:36 PM

John: Dr. (Master) Lisa is without a computer for the moment, but since you brought up her name, I decided to call her & ask her what she thinks. \:D Here's her response (I'm typing EXACTLY what she told me to type)...

She approves, with the following caveats: IF the student initially starts with 45- to 60-min. lessons, IF you don't advertise the 30-min. lessons, & IF you (not the student or the parent) initiate the switch to 30-min. lessons. IOW, it should be YOUR option to cut back. She says she did this with a former student of her's named Jill, who was a good student but had no time. She says the 30-min. lessons kept them (her & Jill) from driving each other nuts.

Dr. (Master) Lisa's recipe for Tuna Salad: Mash tuna (Albacore White ONLY); add chopped up seedless English cucumbers & a little grated radish (if desired); moisten with Cucumber Ranch salad dressing; add salt, pepper & dill weed to taste. Note: Lisa no longer adds dill weed to her tuna salad, due to an unfortunate vomiting incident that she had after eating at the Golden Corral restaurant when she was 8 months pregnant. \:o \:o \:o

[ 04-02-2003: Message edited by: Jalapeņa ]
Posted by: John

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/02/03 04:06 PM

Yep, tell the Big ML that all 3 fit my plan (well, I may still advertise the 30 minute lessons since I teach the 4-5 set).

Also, thanks for the image of Lisa vomitting. Priceless.
Posted by: Jalapeņa

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/02/03 05:45 PM

Why don't you just advertise 30-min. lessons for the 4- to 5-year-olds? I know from experience that the 4- & 5-year-olds do much better with shorter lessons. Also, IMO, 45 mins. is the ideal lesson length for most students over the age of 5. Of course (& Dr. Lisa concurs with me on this), the decision to cut back to 30 mins. should be done on a case-by-case basis by you, the teacher. The problem with advertising 30-min. lessons is that most parents are CHEAP & will opt for what they perceive to be the bargain price. They don't stop to compute the value of the longer lesson. They just look at the $$ amount they have to shell out every month. Besides, you really don't want parents thinking of your tuition in terms of cost per hour. You want them to think of tuition in terms of buying an exclusively reserved time slot for their child.

Off topic: IMO, no tuna salad should be without peppers! ;\) \:D

[ 04-02-2003: Message edited by: Jalapeņa ]
Posted by: ChristyA

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/03/03 05:14 AM

Just had to share what my husband's former piano teacher does (still does) when students don't practice--they have to clean the toilet. I haven't had the guts to ask my students to do that--but wouldn't that be great! My house could use a good cleaning!
Posted by: John

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/03/03 08:44 AM

Kinda like "____ or get off the pot!"....or "Practice or get off the bench!". \:o
Posted by: Lilla

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/03/03 10:03 AM

At first I thought this BR detail was very odd but now I remember that in my parents music store - where they rented rooms to teachers - each teacher was required to clean and scrub their teaching room once a week. So I guess with that logic - perhaps figuring it's the responsibility of all participants in the studio - it makes sense.
Posted by: MadisonR

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/03/03 10:04 AM

You have no idea how good you all made me feel reading all the threads. I just did not feel "so alone" after reading the problems we all seem to share.
I want to add the problem I am having at the moment. I have a 9 year old girl who goes through at least three different personality changes during a lesson. She, at one point absolutely refused to play what was required in a piece of music. A passage divided between the hands. She devised a way to do it all with her left hand and it sounded horrid!!! I explained that it was incorrect and her response to me was, "I am not doing it the way it is written. I don't want to and I am not doing it. It is stupid." Another time she announced to another student and mother, "I don't practice. I hate it." I have spoken to her mother and I get, "She is going through a very difficult time." Yeh! ! Not to mention moi!

I had another boy who stood up in the middle of his lesson because I said he had to review a piece for the next week and screamed at me, "NO, NO, I WILL NOT DO IT. YOU WON'T MAKE ME. And he kept on screaming at the top of his lungs. I quietly got up. Went and got his mother and said, "Thank you but, No Thank you." Mind you the mother came in and said, "Are you unhappy, Connor? Is something wrong. You know Mommy doesn't like to hear you scream. I asked her to please leave that there was no way I could even deal with this type of behavior. I have never been afraid of any student in my entire teaching career, but I was afraid of that child. His eyes had a coldness that really chilled me. Thank goodness they are gone.

I do agree that around the 5th and 6th grades the children go a tad bit wacky. I also have a girl that played so beautifully it would bring tears to my eyes when she played a finished composition. Now, she brings tears to my eyes for the opposite reason.
I sometimes get so frustrated that I want to throw in the towel and listen to DVD classical music. But, then the next one comes in and something wonderful happens during a lesson and I see sunshine.

Ours is not an easy profession. Thanks for all the wonderful posts. They certainly do help.
Posted by: MadisonR

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/03/03 10:15 AM

To NancyK. You are my kind of teacher. Fantastic. I am going to institute your idea. I wonder why I didn't think of that years ago. I probably would have more hair on my head! You get the star of the week award.
Madison \:\)
Posted by: Shirley

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/03/03 07:00 PM

I can tell you what becomes of these kids later if they are not brought up sharply - they become the young lady in an intro college course I was teaching who, after an hour exam, came upfront and slammed her test paper down on the table and said, "How am I supposed to finish this test when there wasn't enough time?" and then, after a few curse words, stomped out of the room. I guess I was a bit stunned, but I wouldn't have been had I been aware of these stories you are telling. I still believe there must be a special place in the afterlife for music teachers!
Posted by: NancyK

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/07/03 01:37 PM

Thanks for the reponses back to my no practice, no lesson policy. Sounds like some of you do a similar thing already. I begin teaching in about 30 minutes and two of my problem students come today. I'm curious to see how they've done this week and if they come prepared. It occurred to me that one mom in particular likes it the more strict I get with her son. It seems it takes the pressure off of her somehow though I'm not quite sure how, since I am not there in their home to make sure he is doing the necessary work. She doesn't seem to like to give him consequences so leaves some of that up to me. I really don't appreciate that much. I'll just stand by the rules for now and if he doesn't get very many lessons then mom and dad may decide to implement something at home. I'm hoping. I did try to drop this student FORMALLY over a year ago and the mom was very upset that I was "firing" them. For whatever reasons she begged for me to continue with him and I did so under MY RULES which they didn't conform to still, so I now have even more rules. This student is probably my hardest case ever in 20 years. For now he is still coming but if necessary I will drop him with NO MORE chances and no referral to another teacher as I would not want to put another through what I have been through. I would tell them how to go about finding another teacher period.
If any of you have more ideas or for those of you who mentioned you want to try my idea...please share and /or let me know what happens. Thanks!
Posted by: dlinder

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/10/03 08:38 AM

Along with the blah's, the attitudes, and the ditzies, let's not forget the discovery of perfume/cologne!!! I had a student this week that I thought I was going to have to pull out my emergency gas mask! \:D

As far as the ditzies, one of my teenage girls was trying to get the pedal on one of her pieces this week. After showing and telling her about 15 times that you play the note first THEN quickly lift up the foot and put it back down, she finally looked up at me and said, "Oh you mean you PLAY the note first?" My mind was throwing out a million smart responses, but I managed to just say, "Exactly!" I'm sure my eyes must have said something altogether different, though! :rolleyes:
Posted by: Jalapeņa

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/10/03 03:43 PM

The perfume/cologne must have affected her ability to follow directions. ;\)

Originally posted by dlinder:
Along with the blah's, the attitudes, and the ditzies, let's not forget the discovery of perfume/cologne!!! I had a student this week that I thought I was going to have to pull out my emergency gas mask! \:D

As far as the ditzies, one of my teenage girls was trying to get the pedal on one of her pieces this week. After showing and telling her about 15 times that you play the note first THEN quickly lift up the foot and put it back down, she finally looked up at me and said, "Oh you mean you PLAY the note first?" My mind was throwing out a million smart responses, but I managed to just say, "Exactly!" I'm sure my eyes must have said something altogether different, though! :rolleyes:
Posted by: NancyK

Re: 6th grader blahs - 04/10/03 06:04 PM

dlinder.....your post made me laugh. It made me remember a very similar story with a student of my own. I've told the story a few times and everyone just roars with laughter...maybe you will enjoy.
I had an adult student a couple of years ago for a VERY SHORT time. I could see immediately that I was in for trouble. At her first lesson (and she was a VERY beginner) I was showing her the black and white keys (she knew NOTHING) and had her play a few exercises with/for me using the black key groups of two then three like many of the beginning books do. She had GREAT difficulty doing these! In her book (it was an adult beginner book) the first few pages had some exericses like that and had illustrations to help with the playing. It even stated.."using the BLACK keys...etc." I went over it with her and assigned that exercise for one of her first piano playing experiences. WELL.....the next week she came back and proceeded to show me how she had practiced telling me how difficult it was..she didn't quite get it, she said. I thought to myself, "OK this will be tough if she didn't even get this." I had her go ahead and play the black key exercise BUT she proceeded to play it ON WHITE KEYS in a totally different fashion!! I had no idea why. When she finished, trying to be as patient as I could be, I showed her again what we had done together and how they should be played. I showed her the picture in the book, showing the exercise and I showed her where it WAS WRITTEN (and I had underlined.."using the black keys". She looked at me and in all seriousness said, "OH, you mean when it says play on the black keys I am supposed to play the black keys?" !!!!!!!! I was stunned! I did NOT say to her all I was thinking ..AUGH!!!! But I calmly said.."yes, if it says black keys you should play on the black keys! I demonstrated again and she tried it with MUCH difficulty. This woman was about 45 -50 years old and was a teacher's aid for 1st Grade, working on her teaching credential!!!!
She was hit and miss in attendance for a few weeks, with strange reasons, then stopped all together. It was interesting to say the least.

[ 04-10-2003: Message edited by: NancyK ]