ADULTS WHO LEARN DIFFERENTLY – I have taken some time off to totally focus on my next program which will be the Schumann Piano Quintet and the Shostakovich Piano Quintet. More about that later!

Under my site’s recital tab, I have put links to my live performances of the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata for Viola and Piano, and the Hindemith Sonata Op. 11 No. 4 for Viola and Piano. In addition, I have finally put on YouTube my live performance of The Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach.

I have been wanting to write about teaching adult piano students, but yesterday, at a student’s lesson, I was given some information that blew me away. I want to share that with you now and, at another time, go into detail about my thoughts on teaching adult piano students.

For the past 3 years, I have been working with an adult who is retired from a highly successful career of scientific research. This person has given lectures on their topic all over the world and highly regarded in their field.

Their level on piano is quite advanced and they are able to “really get around the keyboard.” All this time, however, both of us have had moments of frustration during lessons.

My thoughts: Why is this student, who can play compositions of relative difficulty, having such a difficult time identifying the notes where I ask them to begin (such as in the middle of a phrase) when we go over some sort of musical problem. Why is this student, who can play compositions of relative difficulty, unable to identify the beats in a measure if there is a combination of different kinds of notes and rests (8ths, 16ths, 32nds, etc.)

I was truly baffled by the situation.

Thinking EmojiMy student’s thoughts: “Why doesn’t my pedaling and phrasing sound like Barenboim’s because I’m playing the exact same piece. Why didn’t you teach me that?”
“How exactly and at what angle is your arm placed in regards to your wrist?”

What do I do Now EmojiHere is my student’s frustration: They want rules and guidelines to artistry that they hear in recordings, but ART CANNOT BE QUANTIFIED. How does one exactly define certain artistic subtleties? How does one explain exactly when the arm must move and change degrees of angles? How does one exactly and without any vagueness explain the genius of a great pianist?

Suddenly my student asked me: Is there such a thing as musical dyslexia? I replied that I had just written an entry about it in my blog. The student also related to me that when they were in college and were in very advanced math classes, they were the only one to get the right answer to some difficult equations. I wasn’t surprised, but this was the same student who couldn’t answer me when I said: Look at this group of notes…1-16th note, 4-32nd notes, 1-16th note =?

They could not figure out that all of the notes together equaled in time to 3 eighth notes.

The student explained to me that they thought of the correct answer to difficult math problems in school, not through the methods that had been taught, but by other means that they couldn’t explain. In other words, I realized that my student had learned to compensate and created new ways of understanding that made sense to them. When I asked my question concerning adding up fractions in part of a measure in a Bach French Suite, they just shut down and needed more time to think about it.

Then it hit me! In my readings about Musical Dyslexia, I learned that there is something called “Dyscalculia.
Here is also a link to what some people have written about living with dyscalculia and their experiences with reading music.

At the end of our lesson, I thanked my student for sharing with me their experiences and thought of a different way for them to practice. For everything that was assigned, starting from scales, to their étude, to the Bach Suite, etc., I made lists that had 2 to 5 items on it. I suggested that in their practice, to read the list pertaining to what they were practicing, and remember the first item while they played. The second time through, read the second item and add it to the first to see if they could then remember both while they played, and so on. I wanted to make sure that nothing was vague or could be overwhelming.

My student is a brilliant person who learns differently and now I understand that. My plan is to speak personally with a neurologist that understands this part of the brain. I want to find different ways of imparting information that will make sense to someone who doesn’t think like me.

Until next time,