Managing a piano student who has too much ambition 

By lmt-editorFebruary 7, 2023
Est. Reading: 4 minutes

Believe it or not, I've met a few overly ambitious piano students. If you are new to piano teaching, you may not understand what I mean because having a student who dreams great aspirations seems terrific. Someone who begins with high hopes and a lot of enthusiasm. Someone willing to scale the highest peaks and swim the deepest musical oceans. Someone who claims he will follow your advice to the letter and practice two or three hours per day. Someone willing to go to any length to become a successful pianist. Someone who swears never to give up and understands that plateaus and setbacks are all part of the learning process. Someone who will always attend his piano lessons regardless of the circumstances and who will be with you for the next ten years. Someone who has made a precise determination and is willing to put in the necessary time and effort to perfect Rachmaninov's Second Concerto, even if it takes him twenty years. 

Isn't that what you're looking for in a student?  

Think I am joking?

You might believe I'm joking or that I've imagined the ideal pupil. I can promise you that I have not and that I have met students of this type a few times in my career. 

I was as taken by the first two students as you would surely be, but I soon realised that it was all a ruse and that individuals who are so eager are incredibly difficult to manage. I'm sure they are confident in their ability to succeed when they begin their piano lessons. I do not believe they are inventing it to impress you. I think they're sincere, but their diligence, regrettably, remains a figment of their imagination. 

Terrific at first...

These "exceptional" students are usually terrific at first. They arrive early for their piano, ask many questions, show considerable interest, attend piano performances regularly, practise meticulously, and even phone or WhatsApp you between lessons to check that they are practising correctly. 

Unfortunately, this appetite vanishes rapidly. It can go one of two ways: either your "dream" pupil will grow increasingly erratic over the next few weeks, or he will begin conducting the lessons on your behalf. He'll become a piano instructor, and these once-in-a-lifetime piano lessons will become a nightmare. Trying to control this type of student is akin to attempting to catch a jellyfish! 

Problematic scenario!

It's a problematic scenario that can quickly become unpleasant if you don't take charge. 

If one of your pupils appears to go out of hand and try to lead the lessons because his ambition led him to rob a music store of their scores and recordings, I will encourage you to put him back in place immediately. The longer you wait, the worse the situation becomes. The more power he wields, the less power you have, and you will be unable to conduct your piano lessons. 

Horrible encounters

I had many of these horrible encounters, and it was incredibly tough to get out of them once the game began. Every week, the student would bring a new piece that was completely inappropriate and unsuited for this skill level. He would start to disregard the technical exercises offered to him because he believed he had discovered a better method to practice them (let me remind you that he was a beginner). He would also start arguing against musical guidance because another pianist's version was more to his liking... 

After a few weeks, you begin to question why you are seated next to him and begin to lose your sense of direction. The teachings no longer make sense, and you wish this specific student would quit your class. It eventually happens due to his great ambition, which causes him to smash his nose on the keyboard. 

Jumping from one piece to another

I've been teaching piano students for over two decades, and I've always seen that those who try to make too much progress make little development. They jump from one piece to the next, from one technical exercise to the next, from one recording to the next, and end up nowhere. 

I understand how difficult it is, but as a piano instructor, you are expected to give your students the best advice, even if they do not behave appropriately. You are expected to guide them in the right way and bring them back if they take the wrong turn. 

I did not always correct these too-ambitious students as a young piano teacher. I didn't want to disappoint or discourage them, but now that I think about it, I realise it was a mistake. Debating with your students also takes a lot of bravery and energy, especially if they are utter beginners with incorrect beliefs. It takes a lot of psychology to get them back on track because hurting someone's feelings is never nice. Regrettably, it is sometimes unavoidable... 

I gained confidence!

With additional teaching experience, I now have the confidence to confront these pupils and identify inappropriate behaviour at an early stage. I use a lot of energy throughout each lesson, but I take satisfaction in maintaining control, which is critical to their progress. Allowing your students to go wherever they want and following them down the wrong road is not the way to go.

As I previously stated, pulling the harnesses is much more difficult, but it is the only option for you to continue instructing properly. You must keep your status as a piano teacher and ensure they heed your recommendations. If a student believes he knows better than you, he is free to study elsewhere, but don't let anyone rule you. There's a reason you are the instructor, and they are students. Never forget that! 

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