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Author Topic: teaching your own child with learning difficulties  (Read 1246 times)
nj61
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« on: February 22, 2015, 12:38:10 AM »

My son showed an interest in learning piano.  He has a mild problem which means his fine motor control is not very good, co-ordination generally is hard for him, working memory is a bit of a struggle compared to peers.  however he is bright and these things are obstacles rather than impossibilities.  They meant I put off getting him any instrumental lessons until he showed an interest, rather than automatically starting when he was younger.

At 11/12, he showed the interest.  To see how he went, I started casually teaching myself one summer holiday.  He had some basic ability to read music from school, and takes instruction well.  He quickly got through the very basic beginner book, although didn't really acquire good posture/hand position in that time. 

As I am not a piano teacher (about grade 7), I found a good teacher who is patient and understood his needs re: technique. He gets a lot out of it, but its apparent he is never going to be an awesome pianist.  This doesn't bother me, nor am I.  However, I am inclined to trust the teacher's view that he might never 'get' hands together.  eg he has been practising his c major scale for some time, and just cannot do it hands together evenly.  It doesn't seem to be happening for him.  The teacher's enthusiasm seems to have waned a bit - most likely she would be too polite to tell me outright if it became impossible to get much further at some point.  I don't feel qualified to make that assessment.  The general confusion means less interesting pieces are being set, and I am less inclined to make sure he practices, which has made it worse.

I am tempted to go back to teaching him myself for a while, to see where he goes just following his lead. Dropping scales and classical curriculum, and seeing if he has strengths which can be developed at the cost of never having good technique, but at least being able to knock out a few tunes he can take pride in.  Or maybe a less classically focussed teacher (who is very much a perfectionist) would be better - perhaps someone who knows the jazz curriculum? Probably though it might be better to consider another instrument which doesn't require all the fingers to do so much at the same time - maybe a brass instrument?  Any thoughts?  ta
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« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2015, 06:55:38 AM »

Try singing his pieces/scales with him, music starts in the inner ear, this will have a significant impact on making the connection between what he hears, and what he plays.

Also perhaps try a different method such as 'Simply Music', you will have to check if there is someone in your area who teaches it, and if not, you could try teaching it yourself.

Remember that most teachers whatever their background usually know next to nothing about technique, let alone how to teach it, and in these early stages that may not in fact be the problem at all (but probably is to some extent).

Check out the simply music webite, also I would consider an audiation approach such as 'music moves'.
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nj61
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« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2015, 05:48:27 PM »

Thanks for the reply Smiley I will definitely check out the suggested curriculums.  The current teacher definitely has good technique - in fact was training as a concert pianist, and is maybe not a natural teacher. 

Sadly my  progeny seems to be one of those rare people who is pretty much tone deaf.  If I play a single note on the piano within his natural range, he will generally land anywhere between 2-5 whole tones away.  Its completely random.  If I sing the note with him, I have to use hand indications to raise or lower his voice to meet mine, and sometimes even that doesn't work.

I think I will look into the suggestions you have made and discuss with his teacher to see whether she thinks its worth a bash, and take it on myself if it doesn't work out.  I could probably support his practice more specifically during the week but don't want to interfere with how he is being instructed, and anyway I might as well teach myself then whilst he's at this level.

Thanks again Smiley
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anamnesis
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« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2015, 07:26:46 PM »

To be honest, I have severe doubts that most teachers know how to teach coordination and technique, which is why there will always be those who will struggle regardless of any learning difficulties. 

This is very much so for a concert level pianists, who don't always know how they are actually doing things. 

The motor coordination needed to  play the piano is not about a bunch of little movements that are strung together, where you have to mentally be able to control each note.  What happens at the hands should not be the primary concern when starting out because it is actually a follow-through result from the center/torso.  It's better understood as a dance that involves the whole body, that you are constantly refining.  You actually have to feel the rhythm and pulse of the grosser movement at higher/more central levels before you can even begin to worry about the smaller motions closer to the piano.  It's about refining a grosser continuous movement, not stringing a long a bunch of tiny, inhibited ones.

For various reason, I would never have started someone using parallel scales HT, because it actually isn't easy even with C Major. Anything that causes you to first start out worry about all the tiny motions of the fingers and time them perfectly together at the start is going to fail for some students.





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« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2015, 11:35:33 PM »

sing a minor 3rd, G-E, with a nursery rhyme, he may change the pitches, but then find the pitches he sang and sing them, then have him sing them back (sing not play on the piano). You will find he can do it, but he has find pitches that work for him, find what they are, then begin to add notes around those interval after he has mastered several songs using those 2 intervals.
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nj61
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« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2015, 07:57:09 AM »

anamnesis - that make sense re: core/posture being more important than individual finger movements.  He does not have strong core strength and has generally low muscle tone so anything like this is asking quite a lot of him, but that makes it all the more worthwhile him trying while he enjoys it.  It also contributes to me feeling it might be better to teach him myself because, whilst I am not an expert on piano technique, I do know quite a bit about his physical limitations and can probably have a better go at working around those than a teacher.  

re: the C major scale, at this point he had been playing nearly a year, could bash out some very simple HT pieces, had been enjoying dozen a day exercise book 1, then c major HS, then contrary motion, then HT.  I don't find it very surprising that getting HT for scales would take a long time, but the teacher feels it is so significant that he wont ever really be able to play piano in any meaningful way.  It must be a bit confusing because he 12, reads music well enough, understands what is being asked but struggles more than what she would expect.

I think I might go back to teaching myself, look into the suggestions, and see if they would fit into the previous approach I took which was basically a mixture of dozen a day, and very simple arrangements, and then seeing what he succeeded with and where issues arose, either moving back or addressing them with basic exercises.  He actually seems to enjoy basic technique exercises more than melodies/pieces, strange child.  Maybe because they are shorter and novel things get introduced all the time, albeit gradually.  He would probably prefer a curriculum which was 75% exercises/scales and then one piece to work on over a long period, and that would prob be good for his technique but not overall musicality!

Green: thanks I will try that.  He does not enjoy singing much (do most 12 year old boys ha) so I don't know how it will go.  I do sing with my 6 year old - I know she would do exactly as you say, repeat the interval but probably at a different pitch.  Singing alone to the piano, she will actually sing in tune but with some imprecision re: intervals - pretty good for a 6 year old, even finding a starting note after a 2 bar introduction. My son could not sing twinkle twinkle for a long time because he could not remember the words!  I managed to get him to sing with me at xmas when I was practising carols and he wanted attention.  It was a carol he chose and knew well, we sang together, and he pretty much stayed on one pitch... moving to his chosen pitch and working from that with intervals makes sense.  That could be incorporated into the exercise//theory bit of a lesson which would make it more palatable to him!

I do feel bad saying these things - obviously when we sang together I praised him and commented on how lovely it was to sing together!  But in my heart I was thinking it would be nice to develop a bit more musicality for him to be able to sing more confidently, and enjoy music as an adult.
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anamnesis
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« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2015, 10:20:22 AM »

I honestly think the overt focus on scales in the beginning may be part of the problems.

The purpose of scales in the beginning shouldn't be as a practice lab to learn coordination between two hands. They cause you to listen to things on a note-by-note basis, and try to micromanage things, which will interrupt the continuous, rhythmic flow that helps you learn motor coordination. 

The problem of motor coordination is solving the degree of freedom problem:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degrees_of_freedom_problem

And solving it at the levels of the fingers first is far less efficient than solving it at higher levels first, from the torso/shoulder girdle down to the fingers.  Moreover, rhythm is primarily felt in the torso and is vital to learning coordination.  There's a reason why Parkinson patients do get some help via rhythm training:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149763413001930

What is the best way to solve the degree of freedom problem and connect it with music?

Outlining:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bdTjmWS3TU#t=185
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSKTqRU6BPY

All see the posts made by Herve on this forum:
http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?action=profile;u=2100;sa=showPosts

He only made a couple of posts (25) on this forum, but oddly enough they only resonated with me years later.  The kind of movement behavior we cultivate due to social influences is not at all conducive to learning the coordination needed at the piano.  What is the origin of music?  Song and dance, and yet pianists, especially classically trained US ones, do not instincitevly use these tools as part of piano pedagogy.

Whiteside's student Sophia Rosoff who has continued her work actually makes her students dance their music.  For example, a four voice fugue would be represented by each of your four limbs. 


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« Reply #7 on: February 27, 2015, 06:17:58 PM »

An instrument is like a prosthesis, an extension of the body, music an extension of the mind - that's the order: hearing, movement, sound. Early child hood programs like music together, kindermusik, and musikgarten, are all based on this principle, as are all the big names - Kodaly, Orff, Gordon, Suzuki, Dalcrose, etc. Check em out, the voice is the first instrument, and usually the easiest to work with, or at least its the easiest to transition from when learning to navigate an externalized one. Whether you start at the piano or use the voice, same issues, in order to harness the power of sound to create and improvise music we need to train the inner ear. Start with that, it's actually lots of fun! (and everything is fun when you can actually do it, but that takes practice, which may or may not appear fun, but again let it unfold, be loose and easy with it, no amount of stress will ever help anything!).

When we sing we really do feel how hard it is to 'feel' the distance between notes, which is interesting, and how our sound feels 'big' and resonant and connected (it should anyways!); but on a piano, the body is now outside of us, and the sounds we produce 'feel' clearly defined by the keyboard. Nothing could be further from what is actually going on, sound is continually morphing, resonating, changing in infinitely subtle ways. See that, explore it, this can be done in many creative ways - I think the voice though is still a good place to start with this.

Many teens and adults (not usually kids!) often report that they feel disconnected from their instrument, and thus the music. And while that may be so, part of this process is about seeing that there is in fact no separation between sound, and what we hear. They are one and the same, or in other words, we are the sound; it is always right here, in our immediate aural field of awareness. When we see that, the body follows like a well trained dog. When you say sit, it sits. When you 'hear', it follows with movement.  No separation, never was, never can be, see that, explore it. This process is not unlike self discovery, finding out who and what we truly are. The inner ear is where it all begins, usually!

The body resonates in different cavities, the vocal chords and various levels of resonance are like a synthesizer, a vocal modulator, explore those sensations, explore what is present there, a teacher may be required.

In your case, perhaps find popular music that meets his interests, and deconstruct it and put it back together again, melody, bass, harmony, learn to sing the melody, try to do everything by ear in the learning process, reading and theory come last (but usually are simply introduced in the process as a related issues arise).
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« Reply #8 on: March 01, 2015, 09:09:13 AM »

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-northwestern-singing-on-key-met-20150218-story.html
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nj61
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« Reply #9 on: March 01, 2015, 01:16:33 PM »

I would actually feel more confident encouraging/teaching him to work with his ear/voice, than piano.  I am certainly no expert nor a teacher, but have sung abrsm grade 8 pieces, but would only be grade 6/7 piano.  I feel happier singing than playing piano - but I'm not sure my son will!  Many thanks for all the suggestions/links, I will def look through and think about how to work it in with my boy and discuss with his teacher - although I don't think she will be as confident encouraging him to use his voice if he is shy.  Whereas he knows I have a voice like a fog horn and don't care, as he hears me all the time, and can prob quite easily be persuaded that it is fun.  In fact I would rather hear him sing confidently than play piano - I do love piano, it means a lot to me.  But if someone doesn't get on with the piano, well so be it.  If you don't get on with your voice though, that is very sad.
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bernadette60614
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« Reply #10 on: May 12, 2015, 03:45:04 PM »

Our son, who is 13, also has learning difficulties.  He is taught by a marvelous teacher who specializes in children of all ages and I think that has made a real difference.  She knows, because she's been doing this for 20 plus years, how to keep even the most unpromising student feeling engaged.

I started lessons when I was 12 and by the time I was 18, my teacher raised the idea of my majoring in music in college.  I knew that wasn't how I wanted to spend my life, but I'm mentioning it only because I made significant progress in 6 years.

I don't expect our son to make anything like that progress. But, he LOVES his teacher, he gets tremendous satisfaction out of his lessons, he's excited about piano.  He's been taking lessons for just about a year, and he just began playing hands together.  He's happy with his progress.  Even more importantly, he has found his relationship with piano.  He loves to play by ear (at which his teacher tells me he is brilliant), to write his own songs and to write some songs which express his deepest emotions.

I think when a child struggles to learn, finding an instrument can be such an awesome experience since they can feel, see and hear their progress.
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