Magic can often happen with transfer students. Here's a brief video of a zippy student I had the opportunity to work with for two years, playing and singing Haven't Met You Yet. There was a time in the beginning part of my career when I thought transfer students were products of slightly-less-than-stellar teachers. I realize now that I was too quick to judge, and simply because a teacher didn't lay the foundation in the way that I would have, does not make him/her less valuable.
We've all been there. A child that has had five years of lessons and he/she is barely able to read, doesn't have much technical facility and struggles with a steady beat. I have one student that I have had for many, many years; he is only at a 2Bish reading level and does not have any theory or technique as part of his assignment. With this student, we play 90% popular music, and the other 10% is Christmas music. This particular student practices but not well (he plays, and repeats) and yet he shows up every week with a smile on his face. His parents always make sure he does what I ask. If I were being judged by this one student, I'm pretty sure you'd think I could barely play the piano and had no idea what I was doing. The thing is though, he has learning challenges, tracking challenges in reading, no interest in the classical genres and is highly skilled and interested in sports. I see my most important task as making music come to life and making it meaningful/relevant to him and his family. First I teach the student, then the music, THEN the piano.
Teachers have different backgrounds, priorities and experience levels. It's important to be kind in our thoughts toward them and quickly develop a plan of action forward for the transfer student that has these three priorities leading the way:
For ease, let's look at a roadmap for transfer students by level; beginner, late beginner, early intermediate, intermediate and advanced. The first 6-8 weeks will be a time where you really learn how their brains, family priorities and their individual style shine. This period of time is important to not push too much, just enough, and really listen and learn about your student. Make their priorities more important than your own.
This is the time to focus on what the student knows and is good at. Keep the interest level engaging and ensure a solid reading foundation. I am in love with The Music Tree, so any beginner transfer students I have had, I always transition over to this series for the sheer reading brilliance than comes along with this method. These are reading pieces, not performance pieces. You need to supplement with a minimum of one other book at all times. Of course if your student is older, don't use this...use something like Hal Leonard for Adults (equally fantastic.)
This is a time when above all else, ensure reading ability and technical facility are solidly developing.
Late Intermediate/Early Advanced
This is really when we can tell what the student knows by how creative he/she has become. This usually indicates the variety (or lack of) in musical experiences.
Summary: View your transfer students as they are: a collection of strengths. Enhance their innate abilities and help them be their best selves by guiding them in the best way you know how. Student first, music second, and piano third.
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