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Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

My mother was afraid of the water.  She took swimming lessons for the first time in her late forties.  She must have been very scared.

One of my students, an adult beginner, is similarly afraid of the piano.  But she had an “aha” moment this week!  I was so happy for her!

Background

My student, in her 50’s, enrolled in my piano class a few years ago.  She returned every semester until the class moved to a different day.  Then she had a schedule conflict, so decided to try playing on her own.  Six months later, we started private lessons every other week.

She comes from a strict background, which shows up during lessons as an extended litany of why whatever we’re working on will fail.  In addition, she has played flute for several years.  She reads treble clef well, but continues to have problems with bass clef.

Her sight-reading in lessons is often better than her playing of the music she has practiced.

​Two weeks ago

We were working on a right-hand exercise from A Dozen a Day.  After one or two minor fixes, it went well and seemed to make sense.

Next, we looked at the left-hand version of the same exercise.  Big problems cropped up, so I was trying to understand why.

The left-hand exercise begins with the thumb on Middle C, a whole note.  The 5th finger continues on beat 2 with an F for 3 staccato quarters.  Then the thumb repeats Middle C, with the 5th finger playing 3 E’s in the same manner.  (You can go on from there.)

My student would play Middle C, and then the trouble started.  She had a glitch in finding the first note for the 5th finger.

I realized that she hadn’t looked ahead, even as far as the 2nd note.  When I reminded her, there was no improvement.  What was going on?

I asked her to say aloud the name of each beginning 5th finger note, i.e. “F,” “E,” “D,” “C.”

What do you think happened?

She was unable to do that right away.  I was surprised, but then, I’m not an adult beginner.  There was a ton of interference going on about the perceived difficulty of blocking everything else out and focusing on one note.

This seemed to go all the way back to the way things were in piano class.  The question, “Which note is next?” triggered consideration of all 88 keys.  Anything was fair game.

In her lesson this time, she was able to calm down and name the notes, but it took at least 5 minutes of cutting through the static.

And then something extraordinary happened.

This week

We started the lesson with the left-hand exercise.  She aced it!

I wanted to know why.  Wouldn’t you?

In thinking about how to investigate, I decided to ask how she had practiced the exercise.

She said, “I knew I started on F.”  There was no angst.  It was an immediate, clear answer.

YES!  She was grounded before starting to play.  I’m quite sure this is the very first time she has been able to play without being petrified.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic.  This is a huge step.

Have you experienced similar moments with your students, or in your own lessons?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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