Taking responsibility for quality piano practise

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to assess your own piano playing

A guide for intermediate to advanced piano students who have learned their piece and want to be able to assess the quality of their playing on their own, with guidance from their teacher.

  • Getting rid of mistakes

    You should have learned your piece correct from the very first. However, it is likely that you still have some weak spots where you falter, when under pressure.

Listen to a recording of your performance and then listen to recordings by different pianists until your ear can hear any differences in time, pitch and the harmony. This will help you hear and correct any errors in your playing such as wrong pitch and note values.

Also, listen to variations in articulation and tone production and figure out what suits your piece.

  • Use the metronome to listen

Students can make the mistake of playing erratic rhythms, and think this is interpretation. They need to understand how pianists interpret a piece while keeping the sense of style, tempo and mood that is required of the piece and the period it comes from. A metronome can be a help when listening to variations in tempo.

  • Listen to hear different parts

Listen to reputed pianists play. Listen to small sections, listen separately to individual parts in a section, until your ear can hear them.

Isolate a part or a layer of the music that you wish to work on, and listen to hear that layer well.

  • Listen for the rests

Rests, pauses and spaces in the music are a very important part of it, and one many students ignore. Listen for silences and feel the mood that they generate.  They need to become important to you.

  • Mark weak areas on the score

It might be a good idea to make small notes on the score, or mark areas where you need to check your playing, so that you don’t forget them during practise time.

  • Practise

Practise is different from playing. Yes, you need to play your piece and you also need to play it often enough. The mistake many students make however, is playing the piece through again and again, thinking it will improve their weak areas, and it doesn’t. That’s what practise is for.

  • Work with small sections

If you are ‘practising’ and still not getting results, you may need a smaller section. Working small will help you listen better. It helps to focus on one single weak area at a time.

  • Make notes

Write down the questions you have about any aspect of playing and performing your piece so that you remember them. Talk to your teacher about your ideas when you go to piano class.

Listen Listen and LISTEN.  That’s the key to being able to teach yourself to play better.

Piano Practise Charts and independence in practise

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Regular piano practise usually happens because of parent support, and then, teachers need to teach students to move on and learn to practise independently. This happens very slowly, and takes years with very many students, but detailed practise charts speed up the process, and give parents a way of keeping track of piano practise when they’re not around.

Some of my piano parents use detailed weekly charts like this, to keep track of studies too, and it’s very very effective, as students become teenagers, and want to take responsibility for their own activities and have less parents supervision.

It’s my hardworking ‘Piano Mom’s‘ who take the initial responsibility of getting their child to write out the practise chart. Over time, their children learn to remember, and do it themselves, because, when children ask for something out of the ordinary, or want some extra time with friends, parents usually take a look at their child’s practise and study charts, before okaying it.

Detailed practise and study charts help students develop independence in piano practise and studies and take responsibility for their own education.

 

 

 

‘Holiday / post-holiday-practise’ Prizes

This year my students will be awarded prizes for good work in January. They’ve been given practise assignments and targets for December/January – which include rhythm work,  scales, pieces they’ve done at class & new pieces they have chosen to learn on their own.

Here’s how the assessment goes :

  1. Students need to submit a hand written practise chart, when they resume class in January.
  2. All student assignments will be recorded during the 2nd class in January, and students will be given another chance at the 3rd class.
  3. The best audio recordings, will be mailed to all parents and students.

The prize : Sheet music to any one piece of the students choice & a little slab of chocolate





 An update :  

It’s almost mid January, and my younger students have resumed class having done very little practise, cos they were out on holiday. Still, it’s been really quite easy getting them back to work at class, this year. 

They’re quite enthusiastic about being recorded, and also about getting prizes. The chocolate seems to be more of interest to most of them, much more than the sheet music!

Getting your child to the piano at practise time

Young piano students generally don’t practise unless there’s supervision. They need help with scheduling practise and they also need daily reminders to practise. Here are a few effective and not so effective ways that parents handle the daily reminders.

  • Tell my children to practise and they will do it on their own

Most parents who do this and expect instant obedience will fail. Some of them might also make the mistake of thinking that their child is not interested in piano playing, because they don’t obey.

What many parents don’t realise, is that piano playing is a very solitary hobby for the young piano student and what they most want, in order to practise, is company. Just someone to be around, listen and enjoy their playing.

This method often degenerates into the next method.

  • Shout and lecture on a daily basis

This is the most ineffective way of getting practise done and the cause of a large number of children losing interest in piano playing. Some children who are still very very keen on learning despite this, get very defensive and their minds just shut down, so at piano class, convincing them to learn something new becomes a very difficult task for the teacher.

  • Set a practise time, and see that the child is free at that time, remind your child twice

This is the most effective, and a large number of musical children who do well, have parents who do this. Children usually respond to the second reminder and parents who are prepared to remind their child twice do not get irritated when their child doesn’t go to the piano at first reminder.

  • Listen to your child either during practise or at the end of the day, 3 times a week – preferably on alternate days

This works very well for parents who are both working and come home too late to be there at practise time. For most children, just a reminder that they have to play for their parents is enough to motivate them to practise.

 

  • Convince your child that you need them to play the piano, so that you can relax after a busy day

One parent came out with this really creative solution. Her child would often tell me that she had to practise every day, because that was the only time her parents could relax and unwind. The parent would lie down on a yoga mat and use practise time to do some relaxation techniques!

Young children who get the support they need in the early years, will grow into teens who want to practise daily. The role of the parent will change, from scheduling practise and daily supervision, to helping their child to this on their own.

My Personal Sightreading Challenge – 5 minutes and 20 days a month

Making the time in my daily schedule and committing to learn new pieces had always been a struggle. So, in April 2015, I decided to make a change. I started small, with just 5 minutes a day, 20 days a month spent on sight reading a new piece.

My first piece was a Bach 2 part invention – just a few bars on day 1,  and I kept adding 1 or 2 more bars each day. I started out recording the results each day, so I could see progress, however small, and feel a little motivated to continue.

I also decided that I would record that first rough run-through of each piece, the first time I could play it completely, upload it, and post a link online.

My goals were small – to learn one piece a month and keep in touch with the pieces I had learned earlier.

Related articles :

Month 6 of “My Personal Sightreading Challenge”

The impact of 100 minutes of practise

 

Why is my child’s progress so slow?

It’s your child’s practise routine – or really, lack of it…..It often takes parents anything from 3 months to a year to realise that their young child needs help with practise – to schedule practise, and schedule the child’s daily routine, so that it’s not overly crowded with too many activities.

Practise for the beginner level student could be anything from 5 minutes to 15 minutes a day, depending on the child’s age, and it builds up very gradually over the years.

The piano class progresses at a pace the child can cope with. It is important that the teacher does not exceed this pace, because young children get very disheartened and often want to give up the piano when they cannot cope.

It’s important that parents make the time to be present in class, when the teacher sets goals or targets for students. Because children often want to reach goals their daily routine, their learning style and practise schedule does not support.

Please read Why young students give up the piano and Coping with the overscheduled child in piano class