Minor reconstructive memory problem with student

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I've been teaching for less than 6 months. I've found these boards to be very helpful and appreciate the knowledge shared. I haven't seen a thread about my question so I'll go ahead and ask it.

I've had this problem from time to time and it hasn't been as serious as it is with one of my students. I don't know if it's a big issue or not, but I have a 10 year old student who often insists when I correct her, that that is the way she did it the first time.

For example, on triad inversions that are best with a specific fingering, she may use the 3 finger instead of the two when going through one of the inversions. When I correct her she will say "that is what I did", and look at me like I'm stupid. She is otherwise a very bright child and eager to learn and easy to teach.

I know that the point is not to waste time trying to win an arguement with a 10 year old and given the known power of reconstructive memory, I believe that the child honestly believes that she did it correct the first time when she tells me so. However I believe I am losing credibility with the child when she thinks I'm correcting something she already did the right way. In anyone's opinion, am I right in thinking I should just say "Okay then do it again" and when she does it the incorrect way the second time, try to stop her right in the middle of what she is doing and correct her? (which is what I've been doing lately) Or should I get a video tape and play it back to her? Just kidding I know thats going too far, but its a bit frustrating at times.

I've heard the saying 20 men crossing a bridge into a village is 20 men crossing 20 bridges into 20 villages, however some things are just black and white. And I dont believe that it is my memory playing tricks on me during these simple excercises.

Outside my frustration, my only worry is that she will think she's doing it right at home when she is not. It has happened where she has played wrong notes and thought she played the correct ones and she has used the wrong hand for correct notes during hands together. Is this a big deal?

Thanks for your responses.

-- beginnerteacher (plectrum@collegeclub.com), June 19, 2001


There are no easy answers to deal with students like this, but I'd suggest videotaping her. I don't think she's going to believe you unless she actually SEES herself in action. I don't know what else to suggest, other than having a chat with her & her parents. How can you teach her if she's not willing to be taught? She seems determined to do things her own way, not the correct way.

-- Music Educator (noname_poster@yahoo.com), June 20, 2001.

Good question! It sounds like you have a pretty good handle on teaching already. I suspect that you are becoming an excellent teacher and really care about your students.

Unless your student is so cocky she thinks she never makes mistakes, she is most likely having difficulty with being corrected. Students with lower self-esteem have more problems than others. Be sure that you give her lots of compliments. You may have to break her performance down into the smallest elements that she does right in order to find things to compliment. That way she will feel you think she is successful and will receive your correction easier. Be sure to tell her about some incident where you were having trouble doing something and how hard you had to work to overcome it.

You may have to catch her in the act if she really won't relent. When she is playing the chord incorrectly, say "Freeze!" and the 3rd finger will be there playing that F. "Look at that #3 finger-- stealing #2's key! Let me talk to that finger. Now listen #3, you have keys of your own to play and it's just not fair to take #2's keys, so you just mind your own business! There, that ought to work. Now let's try again." (You're right I'm crazy talking to fingers, but it keeps the tone light and blames it on the finger instead of the student. I've done it with adults so she's not too old--and the student looks at me and laughs.)

I assume that the particular problem you mentioned is the F chord fingering in C--finger 3 instead of 2. Tell her the reason she is having the problem is that she is such a good practicer, she has practiced it wrong a whole bunch and that's actually a good problem because now that great practice she does is going to help her fix it. "But how many times have you practiced it wrong--maybe 50? Oh my, you are going to have to do it at least 51 times right. That's a lot, isn't it? Should we do it the right way a few times now? Let's do it right 10 times before we go on and then you can do it the other 41 times at home." Just keep your tone of voice light (not always easy when the student is giving you a hard time over and over) in order to let her know it's important but OK to take the time to work it out.

I think it's good teaching practice to show a student the reason why we want them to use a certain fingering--it's not just because we are being arbitrary for no reason. (The student may be thinking--If I can do it OK this way, why are you messing with me?)

She needs to understand that she's building skills for the future and that other chord patterns will be easier or harder based on how she learns these. For example: Show her the same chords in G and then in F. The G will have the same pattern as C, but in F, if she uses her 3rd finger instead of 2nd, it will be quite a stretch to the Bb. And sometimes we have to play these chords really quickly. We only have 10 fingers and they have to cover all these 88 keys, so we are trying to do it the easiest way possible.

VERY IMPORTANT!!! Emphasize that we are looking for the easy way together, and make her feel you are her coach so she will know you are on her side. You are going to help her find the easiest way to play the piano. That is probably the most important element of removing the wall she is putting up against you.

The wrong hand thing is another issue altogether. We all know professionals who play completely by ear. Who tells them which hand to use on the keys? So it's not that it's wrong, just that she needs to be able to do it the way the music says, and then if it's easier to play another way, she can perhaps do it her way depending on whether it's really the easiest way. Have her do it both ways and determine which is easier. Of course, you may need to overrule depending on the situation. I do this for fingerings in some situations. At least she was reading the notes and not the finger numbers!

Good luck and let us know how it goes,

Flo Arnold

-- Flo Arnold (flo@pianimals.com), June 20, 2001.

Great suggestions, Flo.

-- Music Educator (noname_poster@yahoo.com), June 20, 2001.

Thanks to you both for your suggestions. Flo, I'm still laughing about your suggestion (talking to the fingers). What a great idea :-)

I'm really enjoying what I'm doing. It is challenging and very rewarding (even more than I imagined).

The fingering I was referring to is in the three note triad inversions which we're doing in all keys. For example the first triad would be C Major which is C E G using 1 3 and 5 fingers with the right hand. We invert it and then we have E G C and we are to use 1, 2, and 5, we invert it still again producing G C E and we are back to the 1, 3, and 5 fingers. Since we are only using the triads that involve the 1st 3rd and 5th degree of whatever key we're in, when we get to F we do not use the B flat because it is the 4th. However what youre saying makes sense because in the key of D, if we were to use the 1, 3, and 5 fingers when we invert it the first time, it would be very awkward to make the 3 to 5 finger stretch between A and D while 1 is on F#. It is smoother and easier to keep the fingering the suggested fingering for each key. (the left hand is different from the right, but the left hand stays consistant in each key also).

When I began playing, I questioned what I was taught alot. I realized that my teacher was right more often than was I, and questioning was wasting my precious time. Therefore I dont always understand why I'm doing something the way I was taught and I have now found that as a teacher, at times I have to affirm an explanation to myself in order to do so for my students.

I have been playing guitar for about 5 years and when I began pursuing my degree, I was introduced to the piano. I dont like to spread myself thin, but now I am to the point where I dont intend on making a decision as to which instrument will be my "main" instrument.

I was hired as a guitar teacher at my place of work, and my employers found out I played piano also and started giving me some beginning students. I was reluctant at first, however I feel that it has been going well. We have two other teachers who are much more experienced than I and when I feel a student is in need of greater assistance than what I have to offer I can always suggest another teacher. (I've only done it twice so far).

My weekness lies in my sight reading as you would imagine. I can only walk into the simplest songs "blind" and play them at an acceptable level. I feel my technique is good (of course there is room for improvement). On peices that stretch my ability level I divide and conquer rather than try to limp through the whole thing. I really just try to find the sound and learn the peice as quickly and accurately as possible. This is also the way I've been teaching my students for peices that stretch their ability level. It is the way I'm taught.

I have only been schooled for 2 years in theory and piano and I am continuing to take lessons in addition to required classes for my degree. I am working on a performance degree rather than education. I feel that I am qualified to teach guitar, however I still have some doubts about piano. I just do my best to stay ahead of the kids. Music educator and Flo, please give me your honest opinons. Do you think that I am teaching piano prematurely and cheating my students out of some knowledge that I may not have or know about? Should I wait until I get my degree to teach piano? What are your opinions about this? Please dont be afraid to be brutally honest. I take criticism and suggestions well.


-- beginnerteacher (plectrum@collegeclub.com), June 23, 2001.


Never mind how many years you have studied piano, where are you in your playing ability? For example, have you been working in a known method at a particular level? It would help us to know what you are able to play.

Teaching experience is also very valuable, so a person who has been teaching (something else) for a while will be able to transfer those techniques into teaching piano and make a better teacher than one who hasn't developed teaching skills. Please give us more information about yourself before we can make that determination. I appreciate that you are concerned about your students, wanting to give them what they deserve. It is true that there are certain things a qualified, experienced teacher will pick up on that another teacher may miss.

I would not say you need a degree in piano before teaching, but I also wouldn't recommend that anyone who has studied something for two years (a sport, math, reading, flute) be teaching it for pay to other serious students. On the other hand, a smart 5th grader could probably teach a smart 5-year-old to read, so I don't put limits on people.

I have actually had students of mine who are playing on level 3 and are about 12, say, to have parents ask them to teach their children. These students will come to me asking to purchase PIANIMALS I in order to start teaching them. I have had a few ask if they can bring their students to my piano parties. I let them and it is really fun to see their students playing songs musically. So who can say? Eventually of course the student comes to me or someone else. One student of mine taught her mother to play "The Entertainer" completely on the keyboard--couldn't read music at all. She said at the piano party, "My mom can play "The Entertainer." I said, "Kathy, really! Do you want to play for us?" She did and was perfect. Isn't that fun!

Anyway, I digressed......Give us more information telling us what you are doing with the students and why you feel you should be teaching piano. That will help us a little to know how to answer your question.

About the chords.....(You are VERY WISE to insist that the student play with the correct fingerings. I try not to be arbitrary about everything, but fingering is very important!) I was speaking of the left hand and I assume you were talking right hand. So that is why we were so opposite with our fingerings. When in the key of C, a C chord is played 5-3-1 (root position), and then an F chord (Left Hand) 5-2-1. Often the students will try to use 5-3-1. I believe that is what we were discussing.

I suggested that when playing an F chord (root position--left hand) with 5-3-1 and going to a Bb chord, the student would be forced to use the correct fingers 5-2-1 because of the flat, (it would be too difficult to use 5-3-1) but would be confused if he had practiced the previous chords incorrectly because he would be used to the wrong patterns and would have difficulty. This is the example to use to help students understand the reasons for the fingering on the chords with inversions.

I think you had the correct understanding but because of the left hand and right hand thing it was confusing. Also I didn't make it clear that I was talking about inversions in the root position of another chord. So now that we're on the same page again.........we can start talking to those fingers and keeping our lessons light. So many problems with students can come when the student feels judged by teacher. They don't want to feel that we are disappointed with them. Sometimes we are, but we must hide that. We aren't perfect either.

So just talk to those fingers instead of the student and it helps a lot to keep things light. I tell them "This actually works, so just let me have a minute with #4 here." They will laugh and I am also programming them to do it right by telling them it will work. Of course sometimes it doesn't, so I shake my finger at the finger or sometimes write the finger number on the finger. I have drawn a pig face on a finger before too (when that finger keeps hogging another finger's key.) Whatever keeps the lesson light while making a point that must be made. The children understand taking turns, so the fingers must play only when it is their turn.


-- Flo Arnold (flo@pianimals.com), June 24, 2001.


Hi and thanks for your response. I have completed book 1 of Alfred's Group Piano (for adults) and most of The Complete Book of Scales, Chords, Arpeggios, and Cadences (Meaning I have learned the correct fingering for the natural major and minor scales and triads, but, though I understand the theory behind it, have not taken the time to learn harmonic or melodic). I guess it's difficult to assess my ability on paper. I've never been officially tested in sight reading. That is my weakness. In working through book 1, I was usually told a week ahead of time what peice(s) I would be playing for a grade the following week. I would then spend the week reading and practicing the peice until I basically had it memorized before playing it for a grade. In addition to the peices and excercises in Book 1, I have also performed sonatina in G Major by Dussek (learned from paper to memory) for a grade. I am still working on bettering the dynamics. I would say its the most difficult peice I've played so far.

In my private applied class, currently, I am working through a Rock Keyboard book and Fur Elise. (How do you get the little dots over the u?).

I have been teaching most of my students out of the same book(s) I was taught so that I am familiar witht the peices. My very young students have been learning out of Thompson's first level (teaching little fingers to play), Bradley's Color my Piano book 2, and a book with Disney songs (easy play). These are the simplest books I have observed to get them started. I have no problems teaching out of the Thompson or Bradley books. When I teach a Disney song out of the easy play book, I need some time to get familiar with it before I teach it. The Thompsons and Disney books seemed to be good interesting books for the little ones (as suggested by another teacher), but I have a 9 and 7 year old student who are going through them VERY slow because they dont seem to want to practice. I do my best to be creative and add extra things to keep them interested, but sometimes I feel like I'm more of an entertainer than a teacher for them. They are both taking lessons because their parents are making them and my hope is that I can make it interesting enough so that they will stop complaining and start working. I will possibly start them on pianimals after they complete the materials they are working through. I sometimes get valuable advice (and book suggestions) from another piano teacher at work. I was told that I play too much for the kids as opposed to letting them play. I agree with that statement, however there has been more than one occasion where I had to switch seats with the seven year old to keep her from crying because what I was trying to teach her was "just too hard". I've found that she is less frustrated in the lower seat because she doesnt feel like the spotlight is on her and sometimes I have to play something to get her happy again. My hope is always that she will see me playing and want to learn whatever it is I'm playing, however, usually she is smiling and very entertained until I try to get her to do something, then she does everything in the world to try to get out of it. Any additional suggestions? Ok back to the subject which was about me. I have only taught guitar in addition to piano and not for very long. I have used my knowledge of theory for students in both instruments.

Oh yea, and your suggestion about explaining the left hand fingering for the (I) to (IV) chord was right on now that I know what you were talking about.

Now that you are a little bit more familiar with my ability, do you think I'm qualified to teach?

With the younger ones I dont see my playing experience being a problem as much as my teaching experience, and the only way I can get teaching experience is to teach and get advice from more experienced teachers. However, with the older students, there may be technical aspects I am overlooking without knowing as an inexperienced player/teacher. Is there a certain level at which I should turn a student over to a more experienced teacher? For example when they get through a certain part of the book or complete all the major scales? Or should I be teaching at all? Please give your honest opinion and I liked you analogy about sports. I suppose even a little league coach should have at least 4 years of high school playing experience before coaching other kids. Makes me think. hmm. I could back away from the piano students and just teach guitar until I get my degree. I'm having great fun and learning alot as a teacher, but I dont want to cheat the kids out of valuable knowledge. I gotta go,

Thanks again.

-- beginnerteacher (plectrum@collegeclub.com), June 25, 2001.

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