How to engage transfer students who are not interested in changing their approach to playing?

“How do I engage transfer students who are not immediately interested in changing their approach to playing? I am trying to work on scale passages and teach them rotation, but they seem happy doing what they had been taught previously.”

This is a terrific question, and it is complicated by the many different situations that transfer students might be in. Some have moved and need a new teacher. Others may have a teacher who is retiring or moving out of the area. Some may like their former teacher but their parents may have wanted a change. There are many possibilities. But no matter what the situation, the students may be loyal to their former teacher. So change may be unwelcome at first.

I think the first thing you need to do is develop a good relationship with the student so that they trust you. This can be done by working solely with their technique as is, and concentrating on correct notes, rhythms, dynamics and interpretation. Next I would work on passages or techniques that they perceive to be a problem. (They may not feel awkward or uncomfortable doing something that you would cringe at. They will have their own standards when they start with you. What might seem tension-producing to you may be the state of “playing the piano” to them.) If you can help them with a problem that they want to solve, you will begin to gain their trust in your ideas and advice. In all of this initial work, I would frequently ask them about their comfort and tension levels. Do keep in mind that they may not have ever been asked about this before, so they may give you strange answers and/or blank stares.

I would also is get them seated correctly at the instrument right away, and show they how to drop on a finger. Correct dropping is the beginning of everything good at the piano – alignment, unity, and balance. You will need this beginning in order to teach rotation. Correct dropping is also is the beginning of staccato technique, which is the foundation of octave playing. If you can teach a student to play a piece containing octaves or intervals with more ease, you will gain their trust. I frequently have success with a transfer student when we begin our work together with a piece that uses detached/staccato technique.

I also teach pieces that use mainly single rotation. Teaching the forearm to turn freely after teaching it to move in one piece up and down is my next step. For many students, single rotation seems intuitive and applying it in pieces right away can be very successful. From there you can go into chromatic passages which apply the single rotation concept to thumb crossings.

I also use organizing techniques (leaps, grouping, interdependence) that can make the playing much easier. Any ease you can give to your student will be a big benefit to their playing, and to your relationship as well.

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