Setting clear and achievable goals in piano class

When goals change

A student enrolls for a piano exam aiming to do well, and practises as much as is needed to meet his/her goals. Until the examination fees are paid, after which practise starts to
deteriorate. It could be one of the following :19 directory-1495843_640

  1. The student wishes to work less and is happy with achieving less than originally planned.
  2. There’s a hearing gap (more on this below) and what the student thinks is great is likely to be mediocre or way below par.
  3. The student knows progress is poor but has tremendous faith in his/her piano teacher. And thinks the teacher will wave a magic wand and all will go well.

The ‘hearing’ gap

I wrote about the ‘hearing gap’ in one of my earlier posts ‘Recording and Guided Self-Assessment in piano class’. This is the gap between what students hear when they play, and what the piano teachers hear when they listen to the same performance. It’s the reason why students often have very high expectations when it come to exams, and get extremely upset if their piano teacher’s assessment of their work falls short of their expectations.

A ‘hearing gap’ combined with a lack of clarity on the students current goal can be the start of student-teacher discord.


A way out

My experiments this year, with recording my students and getting them to do a guided self-assessment in piano class went really well. They made me realise that the key to good piano practise might lie in letting go of the outcome and focusing on the process.

  • Letting my students set their own goals.
  • Equipping my students with the tools to assess themselves.
  • Helping my students relate the quality of their practise to the outcome, which is the quality of their performances.
  • Making setting goals and reviewing them jointly with my student a regular part of piano class.

Assessment criteria and speaking in language students understand

49 application-2076445_640Most of my students want to do exams and they want really good marks. So I used the assessment criteria from the syllabus of Trinity College London as a start, explaining them to my students in simple terms that they could understand, and using recording, guided self-assessment and demonstrations of good and poor playing so they understood.

  • Were notes, timing, tempo, dynamics, phrasing and articulation correct?
  • Did the tune stand out enough, keeping the accompaniment in the background?
  • Did both hands depress the keys together in coordination?
  • Were the notes banged out or played with care, finesse and good hand shape?
  • Was their attention focused on playing correct or on making the audience ‘feel’ their pieces?

My regular weekly homework assignments now include a written qualitative assessment of previous weeks goals. Metronome targets are useful as they’re clear and specific.

A very important part of this exercise for me, is to help my students see those small but significant steps they’ve taken in the right direction. I’m realising that this might be the key to giving them the resilience to handle feedback on the goals they didn’t achieve.


Conclusion

Making goal-setting, review and assessment a joint exercise with my students is helping me teach them to make clearer connections between their practise and the quality of their performances, and take responsibility for their work.

It’s funny, that knowing they have the option of making a choice to work-less-achieve-less seems to make my students want to work harder.

I think that it’s them ‘owning’ their choices, as well as the outcome of their choices, that’s the key to getting work done.


Header Image Photo by Jungwoo Hong on Unsplash. Other images from Pixabay

Recording and Guided Self-Assessment in piano in class

Getting piano students to practise

Get a group of piano teachers talking about what they struggle with, and students NOT practising is very likely to be a hot topic.

    • Erratic practise
    • Students ‘playing’ through pieces rather than ‘practising’ them, ignoring instructions in the homework book.
    • Practising making mistakes. Instead of using practise techniques to avoid them, to practise NOT making them.

Like every teacher, I’m constantly looking for remedies to lack of practise, and to poor practise, because what works with one batch of students might not work with another.

My first experiments with recording in piano class

I turned to the recorder on my cellphone in a desperate attempt to motivate a batch of students to practise – when all other methods failed. Audio or video recordings of any student who’d made great progress, emailed to my students & parents. And was surprised and quite thrilled with the results and the way it motivated my students!  

A remedy for the hearing gap

Piano students want progress, and are often unable to understand the quality of work that is required to achieve this. A review of my lessons this year made me realise that students just don’t hear what their teacher hears. This hearing gap is one of the reasons why students get upset with the critical evaluation that’s a part of every piano class.

This November 2017, I decided to put my cellphone recorder and a pile of unused file dividers (assessment cards) to use, to remedy this problem :

      • I recorded my student playing at piano class, and both of us (student and I) listened to the recording immediately.
      • We then discussed how the student would assess his/her playing and what the assessment criteria I’d set meant. 
      • We listened again, and my student and I both did separate assessments.
      • If my grading/comments differed with my student’s, I’d explain my reasons and the student was free to agree, or disagree if unconvinced, marking as he/she felt fit.

It was an eye opener : I was expecting to have to talk about work that my students marked higher than I did. What surprised me was that they did not register some really excellent progress. I had to explain and get them to listen again, to help them understand  how well they’d done!


I started experimenting with recording my piano students after reading a post from the blog of Frances Wilson’s Piano Studio –  The benefits of recording your piano lessons class.

Recording plus a Guided Student Self-Assessment in piano class is improving the quality of my students practise and making a very positive difference to the way they respond to feedback. It’s also changing the way I interact with my students and taking away a potential source of student-teacher conflict. So much, that now it’s a regular part of my piano lessons.