When Intermediate Students Hit a Wall
Let's say you have a *adult* student that practices a reasonable amount (maybe 30 minutes a day), and they progress nicely through the beginner repertoire and even a bit into the intermediate stuff. But at some point, you eventually give them a piece that is just taking too long to pass. Maybe it's been a month, so the first thought is to give them something else - a bit easier - for a while so we don't experience burnout. So they work on that piece, and while practicing it, you also give them some etudes to better prepare them for what's coming next. Ok, so now you give them the more difficult piece again (or, something equivalent). Once again, they're just not really making good progress on it.
There are 2 conclusions at this point: either they're not practicing enough in order to pass this piece within a decent amount of time, or the quality of their practice is no longer sufficient to pass this difficulty of a piece.
Ok, so you talk to them and they agree to double their practice. You also go over, in good detail, exactly *what* their practice should be like, in terms of quality and execution.
Fast forward to a year later. This same process has been repeating itself. The student has, in essence, just been stuck at a particular level of playing that they just can't seem to surpass. Different etudes have little/no effect, and working back up from easier songs has little/no effect. Everything that you want to hear from the student has been stated, written in notes, perhaps even recorded in video form. And yet it never seems to happen.
Now, despite all of this, the student isn't bothered at all. They're happy with what's happening. Is that the core of the issue? That they're pleased enough with the quality of their playing and their technical skills, so that no matter how much advice/material you give them, when they go home, they're fine with playing it somewhat out of tune with no significant phrasing and questionable articulations?
This is a phenomenon that I can't quite find a solution to. It's not that they have no work ethic. They'll practice as much as is asked of them. But somehow, they just never care enough about the quality to really sink their teeth into the core issues at hand. Playing very slowly, listening with a critical ear, trying to comprehend the phrases -- they just don't care enough, and they're ok with not really caring. They're happy. And the worst part is, it's not like they're not *trying.* I just feel like when they go home, they go into a state of "practice hypnosis" where they just play through the piece without really realizing what they're missing.
What do you do, as a teacher? Do you just accept that this student will continue paying you for essentially no progress whatsoever? If they're happy, should I be happy? I feel that weekly lessons are an important part of their life, so I think it would damage them to say something like "hey, this isn't working out anymore." And I really doubt that finding a different teacher would change the nature of their situation, otherwise I would recommend that.
Do not fight it over with your student. However, at that level, violin study should become a bit serious in order to advance. The brain-body connection hasn't been fully realized, and the student may not wholly grasp the full, good advice you are giving. So if the student is willing and able, try teaching him/her as you would a conservatory student, granted that he/she has the time and love for the instrument to advance. It is also obvious that this student does not know what to do to improve further-it may also be that he/she does not care, of course, as you are led to believe, but in general, people that are willing to spend that much on lessons would not relish being "stuck" forever.
George, I always ask about goals when I acquire a new student, and I usually ask every few months if their goals have changed at all. I believe she mentioned "it's something to do," and her answer hasn't changed since then.
First Question: How old is this *adult" student"
The intermediate wall is common.
I was stuck at the intermediate wall for six or seven years, self-teaching.
Consider asking your student to just make a video of themselves practicing -- unedited. Or spend a lesson watching them actually practice. This may be instructive in determining what's going wrong in the practice room.
I could be way off, but, maybe the student just likes to play without feeling the pressure to advance, and maybe someone to play with that can keep them in check is worth the cost of lessons. I thought of this because I remember my husband teaching guitar to an older adult student for an hour a week. He was retired. The first half of the lessons they spent talking about the town gossip, the last half they spent actually working on music. My husband would get frusterated at the slow progress, but the student couldn't be happier. This went on for years. When age and health had an effect on the student, he still came, even when he could only strum a few chords before getting wore out. I would sometimes jump in if I had free time and fiddle "Faded Love" so he could play along, which he really liked. The lessons continued on for years until we moved out of state, and the student and my husband have a really neat friendship now. I wonder if my husband would have told him he wasn't progressing quickly enough how different things would have been.
George said what I was thinking.
Andrew said: "I would guess that a common reason people get stuck is that improving further requires not merely technical tweaks but a complete rethinking of some aspect of playing."
Don't forget there's room for nontechnical improvement, too, in terms of musicianship.
"They're happy with what's happening. Is that the core of the issue?"
Please consider a pair of strategies: (a) one new piece each week, and (b) work on shaping phrases.
May I ask, at what ABRSM level is the typical 'intermediate wall' found? And what level is this particular student at?
Looking at the current ABRSM repertoire lists, I'd say typical is somewhere around ABRSM Grade 6, give or take a grade level.
Erik, et al.,
I "hit a wall" about ABRSM grade IV.
Frieda mentioned studio recitals and that's a very good idea. "Require" maybe not, but cajoling seems fair. Or would your student be interested in performing a whole solo recital? Pieces need not be memorized, and they can be within present technical grasp. Set a goal for, say, 6 months after the "end" of the pandemic (whatever that means), and then try to learn two new pieces a month -- from folio books or whatever. Arrangements are fair game! That might stimulate a little more polishing which probably does as much for one's technique as the early parts of the learning curve for a given piece.
George said: 'Maybe a basic question: "What kind of music do you listen to when you are alone?"'
If I were an adult student playing the violin as a hobby, quite satisfied to continue playing pieces at my present level, with no ambitions to play a particular harder piece or to join an ensemble, and I felt that this was unsatisfactory to my teacher or I felt pressured by my teacher to aspire to something that I truly did not care about, I would give serious consideration either to changing teachers or simply quitting lessons.
re: Mary Ellen Goree's comment: I couldn't agree more!
"I told my teacher specifically what my goal was --- I wanted to learn how to play Bach S&P!
This is all impossible isn't it. Someone who considers changing teachers is by definition motivated somehow and wouldn't be in the doldrums like that. And if I had no interest in improving or joining a group, why would I be taking lessons anyway?
The Bach solo fugues and Chaconne most certainly are harder than the first and second movements of Bruch 1. I would rate the g minor fugue and the Bruch 3rd movement as roughly equivalent except that the fugue requires more stamina; the other two fugues and Chaconne are harder than the Bruch 3rd movement.
I am an adult taking weekly lessons who values that interaction deeply, but I don't ordinarily really practice all that much (indeed, I am much more likely to do 20 minutes and not 30, though I do buckle and do more when a performance is coming up). I find the lesson
Everyone can have personal problems, and unless you're willing and able to step in and do something about them, they're none of our business. Erik has mentioned lack of apparent progress in his students before, and I'd hate for her to find this thread and think that there's something specifically wrong with her.
Is it just me who thinks that the fact that the student is still taking lessons is an accomplishment onto itself for the student and her teacher?
Hey Lydia, I have many adult students (and several in the same situation as the one I'm talking about, but at different levels) so right now I'm comfortable that on the off-chance that the particular student in question found this thread, they wouldn't be able to definitively identify themselves as the subject of discussion.
Interesting thread. As a teacher, I definitely like to see "progress". However, as a person with several different hobbies, I have some hobbies where I have already reached a level that is satisfactory for me, and I am not actively trying to improve. I continue doing those hobbies because they are fun, not because I am trying to "reach another level".
Last two paragraphs of Erik's last post: I can relate, nearly exactly. Before COVID, I reconciled by figuring that if the student (or parent) was content with spending the time and paying the tuition, then that met their expectations/needs, and I would just have to lower mine. Lessons were "something to do" for those students/families, and I was not willing to tell a years-long student that they are "not meeting my (original) expectations". After moving online, I've had to make some changes.
Intonation gives me a sense of pride... when I’m in tune that is.
There's also no reason why it's not okay to do simpler repertoire. For a student whose intonation is shaky, there may be fundamental issues in the hand frame or the like that's making it that way. Or they need to play something highly and obviously tonal (Mozart or Haydn, say) to help them more clearly hear that they're out of tune.
Eric, you are not scamming anyone unless you are being dishonest. Sometimes we don't know what we don't know but you aren't making any false promises as far as I can tell.
I have been following this thread with interest, as I can identify with the student here, being stuck on a piece for months , then COVID got In the way, and work has been so stressful, that I’ve stopped lessons or practicing much since March. I’m vaguely also hoping that taking a break may let me come back to it a little fresher.
Sometimes a plateau is just a natural part of a student's progression. You get stuck and it's frustrating, and you work, and you don't seem to make progress. And then you take a little vacation, or you don't touch the violin for a week, or just out of nowhere, you make a big leap in your playing. Sometimes, the brain just needs some time to do its calculations, and if you keep at it, it does just that.
Indeed plateaux are always natural.
Idk but taking time away from the violin seems like an excuse for lack of motivation. I don’t think the brain is recharging or doing its calculations or whatever, I think for certain people taking time away from the violin is like splitting up with your wife for a period of time, you feel good initially then ache to get back together.
Is it such a bad thing then? Maybe that’s the point of it.
Don't take a break: if you do, 30 years will fly by.
A one-week break can help, but definitely not a several-month one.
THE TEACHER WILL PAY FOR THE WALL.
I'm with George. While I am a motivated student who is making slow but steady progress, my lessons are ESSENTIAL to my well-being with all that is going on in my life outside of the violin.
Maybe "it's something to do" means "it's something that reminds me I have a life."
Anders Ericsson, the man who is credited with the term "deliberate practice" passed recently. He's also miscredited with the "10,000 hour rule", which he refuted in the following article.
It's rare for adults to receive the consistent, focused attention of another person dedicated to their personal (or professional) goals. This is the service Erik provides. Regardless whether the student's technique and musicality improves, she benefits personally from his positive engagement with her in her pastime. It wouldn't be enough for me, but it seems to be enough for her.
I didn’t have the time to read all replies, but I read that you think YOUR attitude towards progress is different from that of the student.
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