Some of my most supportive piano parents initially went through phases when they got upset with feedback. Until they understood that the kind of goals both they and their child were aiming at needed a different kind of effort to what they had in mind.
Sometimes right sometimes wrong
‘It just happens sometimes’ That’s what many piano students say, when they get something right and I ask them how it happened. So is it just luck then? And if it is, how does a student replicate correct playing?
When working on a piece that’s still a work-in-process during class, I sometimes record the first playing. Then practise it with my student, and ask them to play it again at the end. And there’s a vast difference in the quality of the first and last playing. And that’s how quality practise works – there’s is a clear difference what’s been practised, no matter how small the difference is.
Just playing, just being a good student who tries, is not enough for progress. It’s definitely not enough, for the students who strive to improve and are clearly fixed on the goal of playing better.
Practise lessons from the diary of a housekeeper
My maid is on leave this month. She does a few small chores for me once a week, that make my life easier and give me some free time. I wasn’t successful at getting a replacement. I could say that I’ve had bad luck. But that’s not the case. Many of the other families she works for have got substitutes.
I haven’t. Because there’s payback to getting a substitute, that is not acceptable to me right now. I will need to be flexible with work time slots and adjust if the maid is late. I know from past experience, that anything from 30 minutes, to a couple of hours late, to not arriving at work at all, is the norm here. While I might be lucky and get a maid who arrives on time, I’m not willing to take a chance on my daily routine disrupted.
So there’s something I’ve done, to be in the situation I’m in. It’s not luck. It didn’t just happen.
And because it’s my responsibility, I have the power to change the situation if I want. And that’s exactly what quality piano practise is about. Taking responsibility for results.
There’s payback either way, because right now, I have my daily work flow running smoothly, but I’m having to do a lot of extra chores that I would rather not do. And that’s another lesson – that there are no free rides. Not in life, nor in piano piano practise.
Work hard or work smart? A cause of parent teacher discord.
Piano students don’t know what they did that made their piece better, as at first, they play without conscious thought to how they practise. When a teacher works differently, using some practise technique, the student often forgets to use this technique at home, thinking it’s done and no longer needs attention. These students spend more time getting things done than necessary, getting some progress, but often not reaching standards of playing that they are capable of, because their practise just takes too long to fit it all in.
Young students who are approaching intermediate level should be learning how to practise. They need it for progress, because their school and coaching class schedule simply does not support long hours of practise. And students who can’t fit practise into the time they have available often give up learning the piano.
Parents need to understand this, because we live in a culture that rewards hard work and there are parents who expect excellent feedback for long practise hours and get upset when it does not happen. Even when it’s contrary to what the student is being taught.
Not every parent understands the value of practise techniques until their child has tried it out and they can see the results. A piece that sounds wonderful and ready to most of my piano parents is often far from ready for performing. It takes year of listening for them to be able to accurately assess piano playing.
Breaking it down
The piano teacher can help the student see what made that good playing ‘happen’ by breaking it down in piano class, writing it out in the homework book and taking class videos for the student where needed.
Young children often need parent support, to get them to read the homework book, and look at videos, because children take time to understand the relevance of a practise technique. And mostly, because young piano students just want to play. Reading homework assignments is often quite unimportant to them.
Getting parent support for this kind of practise for my students usually starts with getting parents to understand and to be willing to try. And then, finding a way that helps busy parents who want to be involved, work this in with their schedule.
It’s quite a thrill to see results. Shorter practise hours and more effective practise. Students taking responsibility for their piano practise, and having that attitude overflow into other areas of their lives.