Teaching young student who won't repeat to correct mistakes

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I have a 12-year-old student who plays too fast and makes major mistakes but keep right on and won't stop. Complains to her mother that I ask her to play short passages until they are easier for her and that she gets bored. I believe in working on difficult spots before beginning the entire piece and also in playing the measures where mistakes have been persistently wrong....Any suggestions?

-- Mary Bennett (magpiemary@webtv.net), March 13, 2003


I'm having a similar problem with an eight year old boy (transfer) who is very gifted at reading music, and is musical, but who has no desire to eliminate his mistakes. I thought I would stave off any potential boredom by giving him music at a grade three level, which is easy for him to read, and giving him the incentive of working towards an exam (which I normally never do for an eight year old). But he does not have the patience nor the foundation to patiently work through articulations, shaping of phrases, mistakes etc. in small sections. In retrospect, I should have had him do very easy pieces from Leila Fletcher Book Two and not have passed him on a piece until all elements were in place; and given him one or two more difficult pieces. Essentially though, the same problem would exist. He would cavalierly romp through his pieces, and complain to his Mom that he wants new pieces. So, I'm beginning to think some students are not able to tolerate criticisms or corrections until later in life. They just want to devour pieces without tasting them, the anithesis of everything I stand for.

Your student probably fits in this category. I would suggest letting her play the whole piece once first. You can ask her what mark she would give herself or where she thinks she can improve. She may say there is no room for improvement whatsover! Then you play the piece, or better yet, a phrase of the piece, sitting in front of the piano, not in your teacher's chair. Ask her to state how your performance sounds different from hers. Then proceed to tell her how you brought out certain musical characteristics. Then ask her if she would like to try making this improvement now. Alternatively, you could play the piece with her errors, and ask her to be the teacher (which she will like) and point out specific problems to you. (How's my tempo?) When she tries to correct you, you can either do as she asks, or jokingly skate along, letting her know how it feels to try to correct somebody when they are impervious to your requests.

-- Anita (anitagreenways@hotmail.com), March 13, 2003.

One point that I make clear from the beginning is that piano lessons are about learning to do the things that pianists do while they study their music--learning how to take pieces apart and put them back together, many times and in different ways. Also I explain that pianists don't stop studying their pieces if they are wrong, or if they don't like the pieces, or if they are bored; they study their pieces until they learn to play them correctly. This is what piano students are expected to do. No equivocation--that is just the way it is. Naturally I introduce ways to make continued study of a piece more interesting and fun, but the students are not knowledgeable enough to decide what or how they should play.

I also make it clear that pieces are almost never finished in one week because there is *always* something more to learn, no matter how well we play. Occasionally I pass a piece off in one week and make a big deal about how well the student did, but usually we keep pieces on the assignment sheet just to reinforce the idea that studying music requires more than just playing new pieces all the time.

I make these points before the first lesson (especially for the parents' benefit), and again at the first few lessons so there are few problems later.

-- Alan (Noname_Poster@yahoo.com), March 14, 2003.

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