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Be honest with yourself. (Read 1512 times)

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Be honest with yourself.
« on: November 30, 2016, 04:27:51 AM »
A student being completely honest in terms of how much work they put into their piano every week is something I feel teachers can miss out on. Many younger kids like to tell me they practice every day but occasionally I don't believe it, they like to persuade me that they have given it a good effort for the week and some even in the past they have pretended to be not as skilled so they don't have to get through as much work! The level of dishonesty someone has with themselves really does effect a lot in their life.

I used to tutor maths and science to high school students in my late teens and early 20s and first noticed this pattern of not being honest with oneself especially with those who were struggling with their marks. They like to make people believe they are studying hours every day but they are being so dishonest to themselves, so long they can get others to believe that they are trying it is good enough, they really don't ask themselves if they believe it sincerely. I would start saying to my students "You don't have to convince me! You need to be really honest with yourself it is your future not mine!" I was a bit harsh back then now I like to think I am a little more clever in trying to make them more disciplined beasts.

When I try and encourage my students who progress very slowly to be more honest with themselves I set a smaller amount of work for them, small enough that success should not require too much effort (sometimes I will lower my expectations considerably, the aim is to give them an amount they cannot fail with minimal daily effort though I do not tell them that!). We ensured in the lesson they knew exactly how to practice the passage (observed them practice in the lesson without any input from myself for that proof) then set them a challenge to do this practice routine every single day x amount of times (not minute/hour time but rather successful practice routines of what was set).

I highlight to these students that if practice is done correctly then the time required is very short, but if they practice bad then the time will increase. Some youngsters I will challenge them to play the phrase x times with no mistakes and if there is a mistake the count must go back to 0, this is one good technique they can use while practice alone to monitor their control.

When I started teaching piano I would set my expectations too high for all my students but this is not a good idea for those who struggle with daily practice and especially detrimental for those who are used to failure (eg: low grades at school). It is much more encouraging when they can gain confidence that they can complete tasks successfully on their own, so it becomes a duty of a teacher of these students to give small projects that they shouldn't fail.

How we increase the workload of these students over time needs to be done very carefully because demoralizing them with failure really has a roll on effect. If they fail it often makes them want to give up and then they regress in their motivation to practice on their own. I found that often these students are not really requiring to get better at the piano as such but better at their approach to studying something with discipline. This has an effect on their schooling and even their daily life. I have even asked some of my students to make their bed every day instead of expecting their mum to do it, it is a simple action to include into their daily habit and trains their discipline. I have even asked one student to do a single star jump every morning when they wake up lol. Something very simple that requires them to think about making a change in their daily habits can train their brains to remember to do a duty every day.

Piano thus has becomes a device to teach discipline rather than musical capability with some of my students and especially those who have problems being honest with themselves or severely lack confidence in themselves. Of course we improve their musicality and technical ability but the real lesson for them is to know they can be disciplined beasts and be honest about that!
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Offline transcendental

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Re: Be honest with yourself.
«Reply #1 on: November 30, 2016, 05:48:39 AM »
Wow great post, great advice. Yes a lot of people tend to not be honest with themselves at times and we could all be more disciplined. Discipline goes a long way in life. May I ask what level you teach at? Because I feel this is more a problem with younger students who aren't as interested in music, with students who are more serious it wouldn't be a problem.

Offline ted

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Re: Be honest with yourself.
«Reply #2 on: November 30, 2016, 06:00:55 AM »
This is a very good post. Discipline, and in particular the habit of self-discipline, comes close to being everything, no matter what the musical goals, and of course these vary greatly with the individual. And its importance carries over into old age, at which stage many musicians seem lamentably to stand still. At sixty-nine, I couldn't bear that; I have to work at new ideas every day else I would just as soon labour in the garden. My teacher had the opposite problem with me. I used to work myself into the ground each week to do just a few of the things his gifts allowed him to do at once.

"I understand how difficult it must be for you Ted," he kept on saying, "but you'll get it one day. Might take you about ten years but you will get it if you work, I can tell." He was right. Practically exactly at the ten year mark, things started to happen. Sad he didn't live to see most of it.

So your pupils will certainly reap the rewards, musical and otherwise, in the distant future, of any discipline you can impart, even if you might not be around to see it.
"We're all bums when the wagon comes." - Waller

Offline outin

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Re: Be honest with yourself.
«Reply #3 on: November 30, 2016, 06:29:02 AM »
Dicipline is not actually necessary though... It's something that comes with personality and/or is learned at early age. I've never had any. Even as  a child no-one could force me to do anything, I was stubborn as a mule.

But being honest with oneself really can be a good motivator. I have always been brutally honest with myself. So I don't practice every day because of self dicipline, I practice every day because I have things to work at and problems to solve. This is what was missing when I was a child, so I did not practice. I did not really get the clues from my teacher to what end I was supposed to practice the things in the book.

Now as an adult I have had to create some daily routines and tricks to lure me into practicing on the days when I am less inclined, but never am I able to force myself and sometimes I just don't these days. What boosts me to practice is knowing my playing sucks and believing that I might be able to do something about it with regular intelligent practice. If I thought I was any good I probably wouldn't bother...

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Be honest with yourself.
«Reply #4 on: November 30, 2016, 11:47:25 AM »
...Yes a lot of people tend to not be honest with themselves at times and we could all be more disciplined. Discipline goes a long way in life.
I agree! The amount of students I've worked with who are very talented but lazy! Consistent and structured approach to any work will get you far, it is a shame that many just dont get that and do just enough to get by. I like the stories of Thomas Edison and his quest to invent the lightbulb or Colonel Sanders who at 60 saw his successful business go to ruin, survived on his pension check and faced many slamming doors to get his chicken noticed once again! I remember telling my students who love Lord the Rings movies when they came out how difficult it was for Tolkien to get his book even published! My young students are often impressed by those stories of persistence if they haven't heard it before.

May I ask what level you teach at? Because I feel this is more a problem with younger students who aren't as interested in music, with students who are more serious it wouldn't be a problem.
I teach a whole range of students from all levels though the frustrations with being honest with ones self does tend to mostly surround beginners/intermediates (thought even advanced students can be fooling themselves in many ways, for example I've had a number of students who have finished all exam grade and yet are not honest with themselves in terms of their sight reading ability, they prefer to ignore it or make excuses why they can't or that they don't feel they even need to improve etc, though I see this putting up of barriers as not being honest with oneself!)

Even with my more advanced students I am still pushing them to work on their discipline but it is at a different level. They practice daily no problem but what about monitoring their goal setting, work ethic, motivation, vision for the future. Goal/dream setting, motivation etc is something that exists even in those who are competent pianists but most of them already know of it and it is the beginners who neglect it completely without honestly giving it a shot!



.....Discipline, and in particular the habit of self-discipline, comes close to being everything, no matter what the musical goals, and of course these vary greatly with the individual.
I agree strongly with this ted. I feel so sad for the student who has lots of talent but they spoil it with their lack of self discipline. I often think of it all like the "tortoise and the hare" fable, i really love tortoises who are persistent no matter how slow, its much better than those bursts of inspiration from talented people who lack motivation to apply themselves! For some reason I'm thinking of Mussorgsky and his alcoholic addiction, I wonder what he would have produced if he was clean!

And its importance carries over into old age, at which stage many musicians seem lamentably to stand still. At sixty-nine, I couldn't bear that; I have to work at new ideas every day else I would just as soon labour in the garden. My teacher had the opposite problem with me. I used to work myself into the ground each week to do just a few of the things his gifts allowed him to do at once.

"I understand how difficult it must be for you Ted," he kept on saying, "but you'll get it one day. Might take you about ten years but you will get it if you work, I can tell." He was right. Practically exactly at the ten year mark, things started to happen. Sad he didn't live to see most of it.

So your pupils will certainly reap the rewards, musical and otherwise, in the distant future, of any discipline you can impart, even if you might not be around to see it.
Very wise words Ted and something I do have to still tell myself. I don't necessarily have to see the immediate effect sometimes it can have the larger effect many years down the track. Last year I got a message from one of my students I had taught some 15 years earlier when he was a 5 year old child. I really just wanted him to enjoy piano and find his love for it, he was talented but I always reminded him that the teacher can't make him better he has to do most of the work on his own and I will make sure he stays on track.

I remember the last piece we worked on was a pretty full on version of the Starwars Title theme which he was infatuated with, large chords for a young boy but he managed it all, when I saw him again years later he played for me Mephisto Waltz no 1, Un Sospiro and Shubert famous Impromptu no3. Was so impressed with his progress and was really flattered he said it was the love for piano that I taught him at the start that fueled his desire to go further and further.

So yes you are so right, sometimes we are not meant to see the effect we have on our students, but some of them remember it even if we don't or didn't even realize it! Come to think of it there are many teachers I adore from my past who have no idea how much they actually helped me in my life even today.

Dicipline is not actually necessary though... It's something that comes with personality and/or is learned at early age. I've never had any. Even as  a child no-one could force me to do anything, I was stubborn as a mule.
I don't think people can be naturally disciplined 100% of the time 24 hours a day 7 days a week (unfortunately we do need to sleep sometimes haha). There are certainly days of inspiration where we want to do nothing else but work, then there are days were we feel like crap and just want to do nothing, we are human after all with emotions not robots. I think most is learned while you are younger you're right, it is just a lot easier if a child is brought up with concept of discipline, not doing things only when you feel like it and accept sometimes work is not so convenient. An old dog can still learn new tricks and even adults who live a chaotic life can impose some kind of discipline in their life and then once they honestly meet with it it can make a lot of changes not only in piano but other areas of life.


Now as an adult I have had to create some daily routines and tricks to lure me into practicing on the days when I am less inclined, but never am I able to force myself and sometimes I just don't these days. What boosts me to practice is knowing my playing sucks and believing that I might be able to do something about it with regular intelligent practice. If I thought I was any good I probably wouldn't bother...
Sometimes on days were I feel so unmotivated to physically play the piano I will work on other things which doesn't require me to play, such as exploring repertoire, organising my work space etc etc. So long it has something to do with my music. Sometimes just watching a movie about music, or going to art gallery, watching the symphony orchestra live, going to watch some buskers etc, all of this renews my motivational energy to do music.

Piano can be such a solitary pastime, it is actually nice to join in with groups of people who like music, meet occasionally and be a part of a community. This I have found inspired me a huge amount to learn more doing music outside of the work space (teaching and my own study) when you have a community to connect with. Last year I found https://www.meetup.com it was really fun to meet with piano people in my area socially.
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