Sporatic students

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    I have had several adults begin harp lessons with me, then they cancel several lessons, only to finally quit altogether after only a couple of months.


    To successfully combat this you’re going to have to learn to overcome that little problem called “life” that most adult students have to deal with. If you find a way, please let the rest of us know. 🙂

    Seriously, it’s completely normal for adult students to have other commitments that take priority over things they do for a hobby. And there are always going to be people who try something and decide it’s not worth it. I find it’s important to try to understand what adult students really want from lessons–in some cases it’s actually just a chance to talk to another grownup, especially women with children who are from cultures that emphasize home life.

    In any case, you need to be sure to be non-judgmental about it all. If they want to play the same lesson for three years, just help them not to get frustrated about not having enough time to practice to progress much. It helps to have a great many teaching pieces at the same level so that you can give them alternatives when they go stale during times when lessons are very sporadic. Sometimes just switching to a new piece helps to keep interest up.

    Some teachers require payment by the month up front, with limited options for makeup lessons. I don’t do this because I so often have to reschedule when a gig comes up. It can also be helpful if you can get your students grouped on one or two days a week, which makes it worthwhile to turn down a gig to teach, if you have enough people on one day.

    Karen Johns

    I feel for you, Miriam. My biggest concern with my adult students is that they don’t give up. Sometimes life interferes and other

    Dwyn .

    As an adult beginner who


    Fortunately, Karen, I have a very understanding husband (who also happens to have a full-time job)!


    This, Dwyn, is something that should be discussed at the first lesson.


    >I tell my students right off, if they do not have time to practice during the week, to please just call and tell me this so we can reschedule.

    Well, see, now that’s something I handle totally differently. I want them to come in especially if they haven’t practiced, because they need the reminders if they’ve been busy doing other things. Me, I’d never tell an avocational student not to come just because they haven’t practiced. We just laugh about it (darn, can’t put anything over on you, can I?) and go back over what needs reinforcing. As long as they enjoy it, that’s all that matters.


    Barbara, I had one woman, a grandmother, who had always wanted to take harp lessons.


    Hi Miriam, i can feel you, i had the same problem, 2 years ago i had tow student they both are adult girls, one of them was not serious in coming to lessons,but she loved to play the harp but how to play it without seriousty and practicing i dont understand. she quitted after a 3 month of a very tiring lessons , the second one was thinking that she is Amadeius but she was in fact in the lowest level of talent

    J P

    I think all of the advice you’ve gotten so far is fantastic.

    Misty Harrison

    Well Miriam I’ve taught many adults. Some are really dedicated and practice all the time. Way more than my younger students. It’s amazing. Others kind of fool around. Of course then I sometimes have adults come for a couple lessons and then not come because something comes up and then something else and then another thing.

    So I am really warm and understanding with my adult students and I am sure you are the same way. Especially because a lot of adults think it’s too late to actually do much on the instrument and while there may be some things they probably won’t do there’s a lot they can do. So I want to be really encouraging.

    Then again I want to be sure that like Mr. S mentioned these people do count on your reputation if they show up on another teacher’s doorstep (and they may because they might be kind of feeling bad about all the missed lessons with you). So I do kind of make sure they see that I do expect some sort of progress, practice or not. So in a lesson where they haven’t practiced that’s fine but I don’t do the “let’s talk all lesson instead of playing” that some adults (and kids) accidently create.

    When I first get an adult I can tell if they are really serious or semi-serious usually by the way they talk about the harp. If they are serious they generally have plans or goals and talk about them and they notice things about the harp like muffling or things that they might not know about yet. Like they actually pay attention to details when watching you play and they show up at your concerts.

    With adults I don’t think are serious or who I can’t tell yet if they’re serious I put them on my “I won’t be surprised or upset if this person cancels or stops showing up” mental list. So I’m happy if they turn out to be committed but I’m not jumping to depend on them for income until I’ve had proof they’re going to keep coming to lessons. This works better than contracts or other things because it’s solving the root of the problem which is you expecting the adult to continue when you’re not actually sure they will.

    If someone does keep cancelling or just stops taking lessons, I try to call them and be really warm even though it feels kind of like I’ve been rejected even though that’s probably not the case. I just say that they’re welcome to start taking again if they want to and that I’ve enjoyed teaching them, and to check the calendar for my performances because I’d love to see them there. Mainly this leaves the door open for them and makes sure that we don’t have awkward feelings that might keep them away from a performance or from other harp things because even if they stop taking lessons they are valuable audience members and “friends of the harp.”

    Jessica Frost

    I have only been teaching for four years but the majority of my harp students are adults. Of the 34 I teach, 26 are over the age of 18 and more than half of them are over the age of 50. Some have come and gone but I’ve noticed that many of the students who do start coming “sporadically” or quit altogether, quit because they are frustrated by their lack of progress. And not necessarily a lack of progress in my eyes, but a lack of progress in their minds when compared to my advanced high school students. I constantly have to make sure my adult students realize that they will probably not progress at the speed of the younger students and that learning a new instrument (especially if they have no musical background) will take time. As adults, they are used to picking things up quickly and music can be incredibly challenging.

    Routinely I also record my students in their lessons (sometimes unbeknownst to them) and after a few weeks/months I’ll play it back for them. Especially if one of them is having a bad day and is convinced that they haven’t “gotten anywhere” in 6 months, when they hear the recording from 3 or 4 months ago, they realize that they have actually progressed. I also make a habit of mentioning at least one good thing in each of my students’ lessons. Sometimes it’s very small things (turning a page quietly, playing a beautiful rolled chord) but it reinforces that there are good things happening, even if it’s not always noticeable to the student.

    Of course I also have students who have to quit or take a temporary break because life gets in the way but I find that they are more likely to return when they can if they’re feeling confident about their progress. I have lost fewer now that I’ve realized why some of them were inclined to quit in the beginning. Just asking them why they want to quit will usually get to the root of their problem and I find it’s usually a frustration with themselves and a lack of confidence in their abilities. Just my thoughts 🙂


    I love Conan O’Brian’s comment that he told a musician on his show: “I would give anything to play like that except hard work and dedication!”

    I tell adult students from the beginning that they must have at least six weeks of consecutive lessons with me because it takes three weeks to form a habit and three more to keep it.


    I’m a organist who began studying the pedal harp about a year and a half ago when I was 48.

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