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Do adult amateurs have special problems learning harp?

Home Forums Teaching the Harp Do adult amateurs have special problems learning harp?

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  • #85698
    unknown-user
    Participant

    As an adult beginner (45 when I began), I can only relay my experience.

    #85699
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    Barb- With any student I teach, I usually ask them what they want to work on, what music they like, and when the student is ready to work on a new piece, I give them a choice of 2 to 4 different pieces that will accomplish what I want to accomplish and let them choose. I’ve learned the hard way that if the student doesn’t like the piece, you will accomplish nothing.

    It’s really nice to hear that there are dedicated adult beginners who are willing to do the work that will achieve results. I didn’t mean to make a broad sweeping statement that “all adult beginners are awful to teach.” I was just relating my own experience with a few people and was trying to figure out the mindset that would make them completely ignore the valuable work that they had to do. Its nice to hear there are those willing to do it.

    #85700
    alice-freeman
    Spectator

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    There may be something else going on here with adult amateurs. Carl is talking about a one-time lesson, perhaps at a conference, or associated with a workshop, not a student who will be coming back week after week. Adults usually want to get the most out of an experience and in some cases, I wonder if their desires get in the way of a realistic view of their abilities? They are either taking a one-off lesson because they want to take advantage of a master harp teacher, they do not have a regular teacher, or they want to work on something that their regular teacher has not offered them. Either of the last two reasons might explain why they show up with inappropriate music.

    Adult amateurs are different from adult beginners. “Pro-ams”, or amateurs who play at a professional level, as Barbara Conable calls them in an Internet article on What to Do About Performance Anxiety, rarely suffer from performance anxiety. They play a lot of chamber music and there are no bad consequences if they do not play well, like loss of a job, scorn from colleagues and so on. I can see people like this getting out of touch with a realistic assessment of their skill levels. They may be “playing” more than they are “practicing.”

    For me, I believe that the bottom line is the technical work is necessary and having a strong background in music before you start learning the harp is helpful. If you have a good regular teacher that you follow, and you practice instead of playing, it is possible to make steady progress, even for us “oldsters” who started harp after our children were grown and out on their own.

    #85701
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    Thanks Alice. I should clarify here that when I use the term ‘adult beginner’ I’m not referring to their playing level(beginner) but rather to the fact that they began harp as an adult. By that definition, they may play at quite a high level and nevertheless be an adult beginner.

    I think you’re right, there can be a big difference between someone who takes a one-off lesson and someone who takes regular lessons with a single teacher. In the cases that I dealt with, I don’t know if the people who came to me were studying regularly with someone else, if they ‘got permission’ from their regular teacher to take a lesson with me, or if their regular teacher had worked with them on the piece they brought to me. I make a point of dealing only with the student and the material at hand during a one-off lesson.

    #85702
    unknown-user
    Participant

    I’ve pondered this for a long time, years actually, and this is what I think- adults have great difficulty using newly taught techniques without unconsciously intermingling them with previously learned habits.

    Example- the aspiring student is a former softball player who drinks bottled beer. Upon being shown the position of fingers on the strings, h/s makes a global approximation of the position, while unconsciously referencing holding a softball and/or twisting a beer cap.

    Now the teacher must determine whether the student is OK with playing the strings as though they were a softball being pitched, or whether it is worth the investment in time to teach the student correct hand position.

    If the student is OK with the softball approach, the teacher must decide whether it is worth the effort to convince the student that it is not possible to advance toward La Source without the new hand position. If the student wishes to play Hasselmans with the softball grasp, the student and teacher may amicably part company here, with the teacher’s explanation of why this would not be practical.

    If the student expresses both the desire, fortitude, time, and observational skill to understand the need for the correct hand position, lessons proceed. The student will need to learn the novel skills particular to the hand position of the harp, as mentioned by Carl.

    This model actually works for any teaching-learning situation I can think of, including the oft quoted second language learning example. It is not impossible for a non-English speaker to achieve accent free English, but the task requires making so many small changes that the learner typically resorts to a comfortable level of communication that is neither too arduous to achieve nor too difficult for the listener to interpret.

    An additional critical decision for student and teacher is determining a good meshing of mutual goals. I am thankful every time I sit down to play that I have found a teacher who is a bear for technique. I KNOW the importance of a good technical foundation, and I know what I must do to develop the technique I need to play more and more wonderful things. (Carl, I believe I could be the sort of beginner you could tolerate too). We have a shared mutual goal, no conflicts there. She does no Celtic music, and I love Celtic music, but I know that if I learn what she is teaching me, my skills will generalize to any style of music I choose to take on.

    I have seen this situation with unconscious contamination of technique

    #85703
    mr-s
    Member

    Carl,Leonard is right in what he is saying, but if adults want to play the harp for a fun time no problem,i think every one is invited,but if they think that they will be a great super star harpists i think its so difficult or somehow impossible,in Russia the harpists spend about 16 years or more in playing the harp before getting their conservatory’s Diploma,they play through thir study a very wide and huge repertoire that is the mind of the adult cant do it when it gets older,because the childrens have a pure minds and no material problems are filled inside,but the adults they do a very small progress,because they are involved with many different problems,Leonard explained his and others problems very well,of course there are some exceptions,and you as a teacher pieces you can study by your self in a year??? ofcourse lees than when you were younger, but tell me please are there musiciens who play many instruments in one time? i think piano in beside the harp is enough.

    #85704
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    Ann- What a wonderful post. Very thoughtful and informative. I guess the point of my original post was this: If an adult beginner applys himself/herself in the same way that a serious child student does, working on the technical aspects with the same dedication and alotment of time, and plays what the teacher assigns, without skipping 5 levels of difficulty, will the adult student achieve the same results? I don’t know the answer. I do know from teaching English as a foreign language to French businessmen for two years, that there is a big difference between teaching children a language and teaching adults. Some adults are very adept at learning a new language and some are incredibly inept, and it has nothing to do with intelligence. So maybe the same thing exists with teaching an instrument to an adult. Or maybe the problem, particularly with adults who have never studied an instrument, is that such an adult has no concept of the discipline that learning an instrument requires, and that’s what holds them back. Again, I don’t know.

    #85705
    unknown-user
    Participant

    The ‘oft-quoted second language learning example’ is a perfect example of why one shouldn’t teach on the basis of thoughtless personal prejudices.

    #85706
    unknown-user
    Participant

    Nina, I’m not quite sure that I understand the tone of your post. I’m hoping that you have paraphrased exactly the point I was making. My concern is about the beer cap and the softball. In my decades of teaching experience, I’ve found that as you observe, those who aspire to the highest goals are most likely to be successful.

    I have found further that the more explicit the goal, the more likely the good result. Thus the reference to the softball or beer cap. If the students response is shaped by previous experience, and if the instruction provided is not explicit in the unique aspects of the new experience, the student is likely to repeat previous habituated responses. That is, after all, the result of what learning comes from. I totally agree with you that the responsibility of the teacher is to provide the sort of instruction that will allow student and teacher to reach the highest mutually shared goal.

    #85707
    unknown-user
    Participant

    Dear Ann,

    I’m sorry to have seemed hostile to you. It’s just that as a teacher, I simply don’t understand comments that seem to write off people trying to learn.

    I don’t teach music, but all my experience in teaching other things suggests that there are some things that carry over, no matter what you teach. One of those things is believing in your students. So yes, stretching to believe they can do more than you might think they can matters.

    But I’m a little iffy about the translation of that idea into ‘goals’. As I say, I don’t teach music, but I’ve had the equivalent in my own field of people saying ‘I want to play in an orchestra pit’. I wouldn’t be inclined to say ‘you can’t’. I’d never say ‘you can’t’ to any student–who’s omniscient? Not me, for sure. What I would do, faced with a student announcing grandiose goals, is to say: ‘let’s focus for the moment on acquiring the mastery that is ease’. What I mean by that is the familiarity with whatever it is (playing, knowing) that will give you the technical facility to do something more than the merely technical. But we start by learning the technique, not as an end in itself, but as a means to the end of expression. Sometimes, at least in my field, students don’t understand, unless they hear it explicitly, that they’re being asked to master ‘technique’ as a means. If that point isn’t made clear, some will just be turned off by the demand for technique, and I suspect that some are turned off music because no one told them that they were only being asked to do etudes or scales or theory, for example, as means, rather than as an end. Maybe it’s obvious to some of those who teach that these things are only means, but it may not be obvious to a learner. That’s the thing about teaching: you have to say the obvious. Sometimes saying that, combined with the conviction that your students can hear it, benefit from it and will ultimately find joy in it, will change everything.

    Several years ago, I taught a student who needed to pass Greek. I told her when she was in despair over the 100+ forms of the regular Greek verb, ‘Look, beginning Greek isn’t a matter of intelligence; it’s just donkey work. Put in the hours crunching paradigms and you’ll be fine’. I didn’t think I was saying anything important, but she came back after the Christmas break and said ‘What you said made all the difference: it’s just work’. She got the highest mark in her Greek exam in her year, and continued on after that, relishing Greek. I didn’t teach her that year: she taught me. I’d never before realized how much people need to hear: just work. Just work won’t make you Pablo Casals or Maurizio Polini, but on the other hand, you’re not going to get to that standard without work. So you may as well work. Given how far people can get with work, why stunt them by your own belief that because they belong to this or that group they can’t learn? Learning is going beyond where you are now. With effort, we can all do that, even if we can’t all become professional whatevers.

    Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter. Some of us are looking at the stars”. That’s about the truest thing I know about teaching: wherever you are right now, you can look at the stars. So why not look?

    #85708
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    Nina-Your story about the study of primary/elementary school children reminded me of something I was told many years ago by a woman who was a real mentor to me. She had worked in the administration of what was then called a trade school in Brooklyn from 1926 to 1964. At that time, trade schools were mostly for kids who had behavioral problems or were not doing well in a regular high school. Every time a student was transferred to this trade school, my friend took it upon herself to interview the new student. She would have the student’s transcripts in front of her as she did this. She told me that very often, at the end of the interview, she would simply erase the IQ number in the student’s records and raise it 10, 15, or more points. She knew, she told me, that if the teachers saw the low IQ they simply would not make an effort. One of these students went on to become a college professor, and several others became electrical engineers. So your point is well taken.

    #85709
    unknown-user
    Participant

    Both of these responses are sheer inspiration.

    #85710
    unknown-user
    Participant

    Carl, just for the record: I gather ethical norms in the social sciences have shifted since that study was done and it’s no longer considered acceptable to lie to subjects in a study.

    #85711
    unknown-user
    Participant

    What adults definitely tend to have problems with is how to relate to and respect their teacher. Many, or a certain type, want to be catered to endlessly, and coddled and think they are purchasing a service like a cleaning person, and then will quit abruptly for the most ridiculous reasons. It almost seems like the more “New Age-y” a person is, the worse they are, and the least “evolved”.

    #85712
    leonard-lim
    Member

    Saul, the statement you make sounds really harsh and generalized.

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