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Feeling a bit deflated....

Discussion in 'Private tutors' started by Saltycaramel, Oct 4, 2016.

  1. Saltycaramel

    Saltycaramel New commenter

    I'm a private music tutor, female and in my late 30s. I've taught privately since i graduated around 18 years ago.

    I've felt for some years now that i put much more in than what i get back with many students and it leaves me feeling drained a lot of the time. With iPads and all the other "exciting" gadgets nowadays, it's getting more difficult to get young kids interested and keep them interested in learning an instrument. A lot of them do so many other activities too that they really don't have time to practise.

    Today though, three things kind of bothered me a bit. I should say that I've not been sleeping well recently and am not feeling too good, so it's maybe just an overreaction because of that.

    A retired man i've started teaching seems to get a bit annoyed at me whenever i help him if he makes a mistake. I'm now just letting him make mistakes and fix them for himself rather than be snapped at. I'm not doing my job though and this bothers me a little. This has happened once before to me with an older, retired professional man who ended up leaving. He always mentioned how i was so young compared to him.

    With another student after, i was pointing to a bar of music on her book and telling her about it and was aware her head was turned the other way and she wasn't answering. I peered forward and saw she was texting on her mobile! She's 18. I thought it might have been an emergency, so smiled at her and she stopped but left the phone next to her on the chair tucked under her leg. I continued what i was saying and she picked up the mobile again. I asked her if everything was ok (she has slight autism) and she said yes. Kind of threw me off track a bit.

    Lastly, another adult i've taught for years has this habit of coughing over me without covering his mouth. I get the full force of the blast in many lessons. I have to point to the notes as he plays them as he gets lost otherwise, and he'll cough on my hands right in front of him. I've quickly taken my hands away and looked at him, but he seems unaware. He'll also start playing loudly when i'm in the middle of a sentence which i think is really rude. I usually just stop mid sentence and shut up when he does this, but tonight i thought i'm going to keep on speaking to see what happens. I ended up almost shouting and waving my hands but he just kept bashing away on the piano keys.

    I feel like quite a few of my students don't really respect me. I know respect has to be earned and i don't know what i'm doing wrong. Maybe i'm too nice with them but they pay me and it's how i earn my living. A lot of them expect me to work miracles too, teaching them how to play the pieces they like but without them doing any practice and i get parents sometimes asking me when the child's exam will be, after only a couple of lessons.

    Sorry, this is more of a rant than anything i guess. Would be open to some advice please as i hate feeling like this.

  2. Ian1983

    Ian1983 Occasional commenter

    Be more assertive. If a pupil's doing something very rude, I would deal with it politely but directly.

    'Please don't snap at me like that when I point things out to you'
    'Please put your phone away. It's very rude to be using it in a lesson'
    'Please put your hand over your mouth if you need to cough. Your saliva is going all over my hands'

    The more someone does something without being pulled up on it, the more it becomes normal and acceptable to them.

    If they continued to snap at me, or to use their phones or to salivate all over me, I'd stop working with them. Being able to choose who you do and don't work with is the great thing about being self-employed.
  3. frangipani123

    frangipani123 Lead commenter

    I'd agree with the above - it's they who are being rude. You need to set the parameters as to what is acceptable. Use the broken record technique if necessary. You are a very experienced tutor who is no doubt highly skilled. Your students are not doing you a favour by being your student, they are lucky to have you.
    emerald52 likes this.
  4. stupot101

    stupot101 Established commenter

    Oh dear, where to start:(

    You will pick up some more ideas on how to deal with these type of problems from these two websites



    www.pianoworld.com (More American/Canadian)

    You are not alone:) Plaenty of piano teachers around the UK have experienced similar problems to yours:)

    Yep, it is harder. Particularly in our 'Xfactor' society Somehow, parents seem to think that their 'offspring' will learn piano by 'osmosis' :) Usually it is the parents who want their children to learn - unfortunately. :( Our job is to try and interest and motivate:) (I know you are aware of this, I am just thinking out loud as I type:))
    I even changed exam boards to try and 'motivate' - let them choose pieces etc.
    (ABRSM, LCM, Rockschool etc.)

    Rockchool Grade 1 - (The Entertainer:))

    Me: Do you like this piece?
    Student: Yes
    Me: Have you done any practice this week?
    Student: No
    Me: Is there anything difficult about it?
    Student: No
    Add infinitum

    Me: Have you practiced this week
    Student: well my keyboard is on top of my wardrobe
    Me: Have you brought your book
    Student: No, I forgot. I think it' s under my bed
    Add infinitum

    When I worked as a Peri
    Parent: Is it possible to change 'pupils' lesson so he doesn't miss PE? S/he does like PE you know
    Me: Yes, well, I do rotate the lessons so that doesn't happen very often
    Parent: S/he doesn't practice very much you know
    Me: well, I have provided him with a practice timetable. It' s only 5 days a week at the moment as s/he is only a beginner, and so a day or two per week rest is a good thing. About 15 to 20 mins per day is good to start.

    These are serious answers by the way. :(

    The only way I can see around this is to try and explain that learning an instrument is different to other subjects. Perhaps split the piece up into small sections? :) (I expect you've tried this already though?)

    A suggestion might be to use a 'pointer' to point at the notes - a baton for example:) - but s/he shouldn't be 'spluttering' over you anyway.

    I even used to allow them to record me playing the piece for them on their smartphones/tablets etc. so they could have an idea about what I wanted them to practice, and how it should sound, the tempo, articulations etc, that is appropriate for their needs:(

    I would make a rule about 'no phones in lessons' (Except for perhaps recording as above:))If there is an emergency, then you have a record of your clients telephone numbers.

    The advice above is good. You need to be firm. I know I have been there.
    I could write a book about my experiences wih piano students. Some worse than the ones you have described above:(

    Unfortunately, musicians (and other Performance Arts subjects) find it hard because music is part of 'us'. It is who we are:) Therefore we take it too personally. I know that when I teach in schools, I find it easier to teach maths or english, than Music.:(

    You sound really deidcated:) That's good. You are concerned about your pupils progress.- that is a positive thing:)

    I have rambled on a little. :)I hope some of it is useful:)

    I may PM you if that is ok?:)
  5. stupot101

    stupot101 Established commenter

  6. doctoryes

    doctoryes Occasional commenter

    "A retired man i've started teaching seems to get a bit annoyed at me whenever i help him if he makes a mistake. I'm now just letting him make mistakes and fix them for himself rather than be snapped at. I'm not doing my job though and this bothers me a little."

    It depends on why he is wanting to learn an instrument e.g. does he just want to be able to play for enjoyment or is he planning on taking exams.
    Why not just focus on one area where he needs to improve each time and practice getting that right rather than correcting every mistake. For adult learners you are right, they need to be involved in the process.

    For the 18 year old, I would have a no phone rule as well. I suspect that once she has left sixth form though she may be giving up lessons.
    phlogiston likes this.
  7. Saltycaramel

    Saltycaramel New commenter

    Thanks everyone who has replied to my topic. I'll respond in more detail at the weekend when i get more time. I've never posted on here before, and i see someone has sent me a message (thanks!) - if i could only figure out how to read it that would be great! Where do i click? Thanks, ha ha! :)
    frangipani123 likes this.
  8. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    I feel your pain.
    Sometimes you have to go with the flow.
    Sometimes pupils have a drive to "get it right" which overwhelms the need to listen to guidance so they promptly play it again (often from the beginning) rather than allowing for technical guidance. You need to have an understanding that part of the lesson is about playing your pieces, but part of it is talking about playing. The point for doing this is not when they've decided to plough through it again (probably making the same mistake again).

    With your cougher, maybe you need a pointing stick to enable you to keep your hands out of the way. If it's your own piano, I'd think about gently remind him that cleaning the keyboard is fiddly.

    Do you talk about what you want to work on in the piece before they start? sometimes this helps.

    Hang in there!
  9. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    Thinking a bit more, as someone else has said, have talked about your long term outcomes with the retired chap. With kids some teachers seem to want to develop technical skills and collect as many grades as possible. I have no idea if this is how you work. The man probably wants lessons as focus towards personal practice and musical appreciation. It sounds as if he wants to develop his own musical problem solving skills, maybe you need to move towards "how do we solve the problem in bar 45?" and solve it jointly.
    crusell likes this.
  10. baitranger

    baitranger Senior commenter

    It's not as if they are likely to become professional musicians, is it? A few of them might need an exam pass, but a pass in a music exam is unlikely to make much difference to their life chances, is it? It's not quite the same as say Maths. What you're teaching is of marginal importance to them so it's not so surprising that they treat you and the subject with disrespect. Perhaps many of them are taking your lessons because their parents have forced them to do it. As for the adults, they are probably deluding themselves on a number of levels.
    What can you do? Try to find better motivated clients and be firmer and get rid of the ones that don't respect what you are doing to help them. If you can't do that, you have to suck it up and find your own ways of mitigating the pain, as you have already by ignoring some mistakes. Or find some other way of earning a living.
  11. sabrinakat

    sabrinakat Star commenter

    @baitranger - how unsupportive and patronising!

    Music is important to an overall appreciation of life! To demean someone for following their passion is awful. Practical subjects such as Maths may be essential but to be so dismissive is just wrong.

    To the OP, try to focus on the more helpful advice above!
    crusell likes this.
  12. baitranger

    baitranger Senior commenter

    I'm not demeaning anyone. What do you mean by "an overall appreciation of life" and why do you need to play the piano to have it? What about just listening to music, which is what most people do?
    The OP teaches piano and finds that some of his/her students aren't motivated to practise and don't want to hear any criticisms of their playing. Welcome to the world.
  13. crusell

    crusell New commenter

    Think you need some kind of contract with adults, with specific goals and lots of discussion and problem solving together. You need to create that kind of dynamic. They need to be able to almost direct the session- What do you think? I was having a problem with this , what do you advise? As an adult I hate being patronised -like most people. perhaps training in foundation counselling and life coaching will give you these skills.
  14. fantastischfish

    fantastischfish Established commenter

    Just because people are adults doesn't mean they are better at taking criticism. Are you praising him regularly too? I think taking up instrument lessons at an older age could be quite nerve-wracking for some and perhaps his frustration with himself is telling. Can you phrase your feedback better? "Well done, you did X really nicely there! One thing we could work on today is Y...that'll really make this piece perfect!".

    On the other hand, if he's just a rude person, then you need to be firm. you are not his punching bag. If he doesn't want your help and you don't enjoy tutoring him, get rid.

    This is just rude. Insist her phone goes on silent at the start of each lesson and is left in her bag. Visibly do the same with yours too so she gets the idea (many petulant teenagers are happier to do something if they feel you are doing it to - even though you haven't done anything wrong).

    Coughing on your hands is disgusting. Tell him, "Please can you make sure you cover your mouth when you cough? Otherwise you cough directly onto my hands or face which isn't very pleasant".

    If he interrupts you when you're speaking to him by playing, I'd advise having a talk with him before he sits down at the piano. Tell him that he often plays over you when you're speaking which isn't nice. I'm assuming it's YOUR instrument? He has no right to play it when you are speaking.

    Overall though, I'd say that you should get rid of any unpleasant students and advertise for new ones. When they join, issue a short 'code of conduct' regarding behaviour and expectations during lessons.

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