Help! Got a stubborn student! : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

I am a fairly new teacher so have come across a troubling situation. I've had a little 8 year old boy for 6 months and we've had a terrific relationship--he's very talented, has a good ear--has been a little 'bold' in the way he talks to me and tells me if he doesn't want to do something. I recently talked to another piano teacher and told her that he refuses now to count out loud, and has a pretty bad problem with rhythm. His dad is a drummer and I've suspected he's pretty critical of the little guy so I've tried to be extra sensitive. My friend told me NOT to let the boy call the shots, telling me he WON'T count out loud etc--that he's being disrespectful and I need to get control of it--and he'll thank me one day for making him learn rhythm properly. So, yesterday when I gave him his little three measure rhythm exercise, I asked him to count out loud as he clapped it and he said 'NO! I'll count in my head!"--I remained very calm and told him this is the way it had to be if he wanted to take piano. He kept shaking his head 'no' and pretty much refused. He started crying and I consoled him, telling him I wasn't trying to be mean, that this was just a very important part of learning music. He pretty much said he will NOT count out loud. I believe he deals with MUCH critism from his parents so I do not want to mention it to them. When his mother picked him up I think she could tell he'd been crying and things were a little tense and she immediately lit into him saying ,'you haven't been disrespectful to Rose have you!?' I felt so bad I said things were fine. I pulled him over to our little table telling him 'lets go over what you have to do this week' and then I put an arm around his shoulder and whispered, 'we'll get through this, I promise, and then you won't need to always count out loud". Please tell me if you have any other suggestions. I love this little guy and he does love piano. Thanks.

-- Rose (, October 13, 2004


Since you're unwilling to give him up as a student, let's see.

I agree, do NOT let him be disrespectful towards you--you're not doing him any favors in life skills, never mind the piano skills.

Maybe just lay it out on the line about choices and the consequences that follow from them. "Say, this is the way it needs to be right now, either you can work with me or I will let your parents know that I will no longer teach you as a student." Harsh? Yes, but at 8 he is old enough to understand the seriousness of this. You are a piano teacher, not a babysitter or his buddy.

I don't know if you can do this, but see if you can find out where he goes to school and try to have an informal chat (in person would best, with a note enclosing your business card for an introduction) with the little boy's teacher--may he/she can shed a little light on the boy's situation, since they usually have conferences with the parents, or can offer some other helpful ideas.

-- GT (, October 13, 2004.

Hi, Rose! Talented children are often the most difficult to teach. However, I do have a couple of suggestions. I compare "broken rhythm" to a broken leg. When your leg is broken you need a crutch to get around, but when it heals you put the crutch away. When his rhythm is broken (poor, wrong, whatever---), he needs to count out loud and use this "crutch" to heal the problem. I usually offer to count WITH the student, and this seems to help, also. For three measures he should be able to count with you. Tell him that having a crutch in his head would do nothing for the broken leg, and it also does not heal his broken rhythm. When the rhythm is OK, you can always make adjustments. Hope this helps! Ruth Farkas

-- Ruth Farkas (, October 14, 2004.

There are actually two problems. His being disrespectful and his not wanting to count aloud. I'll deal only with the second one first.

Firstly, I hope you are not counting 123, but rather singing ta ya ya. (A dotted quarter is Ta ya te etc.)This is a much more musical way. Another alternative that works in some pieces is pear- apple-pineapple-candyapple for quarter notes, eighth notes, triplets and sixteenth notes respectively. You can sing it aloud and hope he joins in. Some of my students don't like saying it aloud so I sing for them. Then I ask them to do it alone, perhaps using a drum for fun. If they are right, no problem. If they are wrong, I explain their error and have them try again. You want good timing, with or without words.

In teaching, I have found that ultimatum's don't usually work. It's better to cajole, to laugh, to sing, and state your truths quietly and clearly when it comes to disrespect. Today I told a young boy that he will have to behave better, more as a lamentation than anything else. Sometimes I respond, "Be nice. I'm nice to you, aren't I?" when they are rude. When this boy tried to press me for extensive information on the next piece, I said I could tell you that answer but we're not working on that piece right now. We are working on this piece now.

Finally, a small caution about trying to be as strict as another piano teacher or friend of yours. I tried this once, and it didn't feel like me. Perhaps, your pupil was scared because you weren't like this before, and he didn't want to be the cause of your change. You are obviously a kind and sensitive person and doing a great job and developing a great relationship.

-- Anita (, October 15, 2004.


Regarding the teaching of rhythm, I have developed different approachs. I've found that variety keeps student's interest and helps you to discover what makes a student tick. For example, make rhythm strips on 3 x 6 poster board strips or blank index cards and write in rhthmic patterns to be clapped and read out loud as syllables. Use front and back and mix them one by one to create four measure lines which can be read from the music rack while clapping. Clap the rhythm to each piece out loud. I also keep small drums and percussion instruments in the studio. This is a fun way to teach rhythm as a fundamental skill. I have found that expanding the approach to teaching rhythm both demonstrates it's importance and keeps the student alert.

As for the little boy's attitude, this is tough. You might try postive reinforcement when he behaves. You might tell him directly that for good behavior (whatever that is at the time) he will earn a reward. This is what his parents should be doing, but obviously they aren't. Can he be given a little reward like a sticker each week, or a toy for longer periods, or maybe enlist his parents to get him a DVD each month for an excellent report from you? Please don't keep putting yourself in a position to be abused by this youngster.

I hope this helps. You seem to really care about your students.


-- Lea Johnson (, October 16, 2004.

forgive me if i totally misunderstand your question. it seems that there are two conflicts:

a) you need timing feedback from the boy, so that you can verify his progress learning rhythmic skills.

b) he doesn't feel comfortable for whatever reason giving you verbal feedback.

Here are some friendly alternatives:

a) bobbing his head: bow, nod, nod, nod b) tapping his foot: loud, soft, soft, soft (no damper pedal songs, c) breathing/humming/whispered intonation (basically just like counting out loud, but in his own breathy quiet style sans vocal chords)

my teachers often would have me demonstrate that i knew the rhythm by tapping it out on the soundboard. they would correct me as needed, but the rhythmic learning in these instances was just aside of the tonal learning. when all went well, i'd resume playing the song incorporating both rhythm and pitch.

if i couldn't do both at the same time, the teacher knew that i needed to work more carefully and thoughtfully on one, the other, or both. assigments could vary: some assignments were entirely tone/pitch oriented, others entirely beat/rhythm oriented. combining the two came later.

there are many, many different ways to think and learn. some kids might not like verbalising their ideas. in fact, i'd imagine that a great number of musically inclined people share that trait--they'd rather express/emote a melody than recite/explain.

maybe i'm falling back a bit too much on some leftbrain-rightbrain pop psychology, but i hope there some grains of relevant truth in there for you and your student (and his expectant family?)

-- former piano student (, November 16, 2004.

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