Monday, October 18, 2010

No excuse for missing a lesson

"But she didn't practice all week.  She'll just have to miss her lesson this week."  How often have I heard such a line?  And how often have I acquiesced?  Until now, that is.  I have finally come to understand the efficacy of a weekly lesson, regardless of progress at home.  Yea, verily, 30 minutes of daily practice is not always the key to success at the keyboard.  Effective training at the lesson is the essence.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying I would encourage my students not to practice.  What kind of teacher would I be?  Daily practice is the aim.  Effective practice is the goal.  In my studio, when a student sits down at a lesson, she plays through the assigned piece.  No comments until the end.  I typically ask what she thought of her performance.  "Did you listen as you played?"  Funny, the responses I get.  Often that's the hardest part of coaching: they have to listen as they play -- how else can they hear what they're doing?  Then we review the sticky passages.  I provide a practice approach to improve those sections.  We then "practice" how to practice.  And immediately the notes go in the assignment book.  I might even ask for a review of the assignment.  That way we both know what's expected over the next week.  If all goes well, the following lesson will produce great improvements, and space to move forward.

So what happens when the student doesn't touch the keyboard all week?  Certainly the previous lesson has not been ingrained.  Possibly no improvement will be apparent.  Surprisingly, there are times when  the following lesson shows great improvement.  How can this be?  As I stated above, we had already practiced the tricky spots together a week earlier, and maybe the repeated review is all it took.  So I ask, "Imagine how it would sound had you spent even one day last week actually practicing?"  Yes, just imagine.  Lest the performance be a fluke, I do repeat all that I had encouraged the week before, highlighting the improvements, and more than likely, making additional suggestions.

Another reason not to accept missing a lesson is in that word I used above: "ingrained".  When a student hasn't heard her teacher's words of advice and encouragement for a week, she tends to forget them, even though I have written them clearly in her assignment book.  The trouble spot is still there.  She may very likely continue to play that trouble spot as she originally learned it.  The incorrect fingering or phrasing becomes ingrained in the hands, and all that much harder to break.  Attending an intervening lesson will always highlight that same section, review the proper fingering or approach, and lead to improvement.

In a nutshell, daily practice is an essential element in moving forward at the keyboard.  Weekly lessons are vital -- no excuses.  30 or 60 minutes of concentrated effort once a week with a teacher will highlight trouble spots and break bad habits.  So get back on that piano bench and practice!

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