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How well do you expect students to play a song before you pass it off? (Read 322 times)

Offline jorgelene97

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I'm mainly talking about younger students in method books.

I've been teaching for about 10 years now and this is something I've been contemplating recently. I'm thinking about new goals for students this coming year and am interested in discussing this topic.

I usually want students to be able to play through their pieces at a reasonable tempo, without pauses, and with dynamics appropriate for their level. Occasionally I will pass a student through a piece "early" if I can tell they've really hit a wall with it and are spinning their tires in the mud, or they really dislike it. Other times I can see they just need to push a little longer to make it over the hill.

However, I have heard of other teachers who push their students to get through whole method levels in a matter of a couple of months or even weeks. I can understand some exceptional students can learn like this, but I can't understand entire studios based around this kind of approach. To me, it seems the only way this is happening is if the students are passing through their repertoire without really mastering them, or even learning them throughly.

Now I don't expect complete perfection with every piece--not by a long shot--but I do want them to demonstrate mastery and understanding of the new skills and concepts. For most of my young students it takes about 2 weeks to learn their main pieces--one week to get notes and rhythm, one to add dynamics and correct tempo.

Basically, I've been questioning lately if this is too slow a pace? I want to push my students and I want them to progress quickly, but not at the expense of musicianship. I'm also curious if there are any teachers out there who push their students through the method books quickly, and to know how why they do it, and how their students fare. If this is you, no shade on you and your teaching! I'm genuinely curious and open to hearing how it works for you.

I don't think I'm going to start cranking my students through levels as fast as possible, but I'd love to hear about how other teachers move students through early method books.

Honestly, I'm curious about how you do this for students of all levels too. I've been contemplating this about some of my more advanced teen students too who are out of method books too.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: How well do you expect students to play a song before you pass it off?
«Reply #1 on: February 11, 2021, 12:59:01 PM »
I feel that multiple approaches is the best choice, this means students should know how to polish a piece as much as possible and they should also understand that it is ok to move onto something else without complete mastery. If there is no type of mix between these two approaches I think this is when problems arise.

The unfortunate nature of examinations around the world is that you simply need to polish up pieces as much as possible then present it. The time it took to learn is not taken into consideration just the end product. This seems to be the reason why many students are made to polish pieces as far as they can go because of examination preparation. It is no surprise then why you come across many high level pianists who have a small repetoire or have not spent much time on sight reading skills, they may also have fairly rough practice technique because they haven't learned a huge amount of pieces to sharpen those skills with.

Constantly moving onto something else helps train practice method (learning the notes, fingerings, coordination) which is a very important skill unfortunately neglected if one has to master everything they try. Of course if the music is easy enough you can master pieces and move on to something else fast, this is excellent for sight reading training but it may be rather boring for many who want to play pieces which sound pleasing and perhaps challenge their technical capabilities.

We should understand how to polish pieces but there can be limited return after a certain point. It is important to experience this and polishing lots of pieces is essential for that. Sometimes a high level of expression in music is just not that high on the priority list for the developing pianist. We need to prioritize what might be most important for a student, I guess this is measured differently for each teacher but I feel that for instance young students don't really want to play with high levels of expression and are much more interest simply playing tunes they know and are fun. Once a student matures to a certain point musically then they are more open to developing a more refined musical approach.
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Offline nilsjohan

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Re: How well do you expect students to play a song before you pass it off?
«Reply #2 on: February 12, 2021, 08:33:05 AM »
OP banned for advertisement in signature.
Feel free to continue the discussion.

Offline perfect_pitch

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Re: How well do you expect students to play a song before you pass it off?
«Reply #3 on: February 12, 2021, 09:56:16 AM »
Thanks Nils. To me, the polishing of pieces is almost like a Logarithmic growth curve.

You learn a lot in the beginning, the notes, rhythms and co-ordination while looking at articulation and dynamics. The longer you spend on the piece, the better it gets; usually a lot in the beginning as you get to know the piece and work on the biggest issues - tempo, fluidity of playing and the more natural playing of the piece as you get comfortable with it; then towards the end you find that you are working on smaller things - harder ornamentation, balance between hands (for those not naturally good at it) and just the ability to accept and play the piece as a whole.

The problem is that not all students are as diligent at really refining those trickier moments. For me, I feel as a teacher that if my student is really struggling on it or they are beginning to get bored, but the piece is playable and decent enough to play from beginning to end without any real dramas, then it has at least helped them with various technical abilities, that can be sharpened further by introducing new pieces and technical aspects that they need to master in the next piece.

Some are quite fastidious and are very driven to the fixing of these minor annoyances and those are the people who end up becoming very pianistic, or well-rounded piano students.
But you have to weigh up how much time might they spend on those minor details, and is it worth it to maybe get from an A to an A+ in an exam? Part of it comes from the student - are they willing to put in the extra time to get a better result?

Generally, I prefer my students to play the piece until they can usually play it better than I can sight-read... and I teach students all the way up to Grade 8.

Offline ranjit

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Re: How well do you expect students to play a song before you pass it off?
«Reply #4 on: February 12, 2021, 11:50:47 AM »
Some are quite fastidious and are very driven to the fixing of these minor annoyances and those are the people who end up becoming very pianistic, or well-rounded piano students.
Do you think that kind of fastidiousness is a mark of a good piano student? I'm partly asking because I tend to really let those things slide if I'm not interested.

But you have to weigh up how much time might they spend on those minor details, and is it worth it to maybe get from an A to an A+ in an exam?
I think you also need to weigh the potential benefit of learning say 2-3 entirely new pieces. How much time do you think it's worth spending practicing that last 5 percent in order to nail it?

Generally, I prefer my students to play the piece until they can usually play it better than I can sight-read... and I teach students all the way up to Grade 8.
Do you think the advice would differ for more advanced students, or perhaps while learning a piece for yourself?

Offline perfect_pitch

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Re: How well do you expect students to play a song before you pass it off?
«Reply #5 on: February 12, 2021, 01:38:57 PM »
Do you think that kind of fastidiousness is a mark of a good piano student? I'm partly asking because I tend to really let those things slide if I'm not interested.

Well, it depends. If someone has been learning for 5 years and they're trying to play a piece by Chopin then yes. If someones been learning for 15 years and trying to play a simply study, then no. If I feel someone is learning piano at an advanced rate, then yes - I do believe it is 'part of the mark' of a good student. A lot of the time they take on the pride in knowing that they worked towards making a really polished performance. I've got a few students who are harsh on themselves. It's not really me who's harsh on them as I'm more towards the very 'I'll tell you what you did wrong, but I'll show you how to fix it in a kind and stress-free manner' sort of person. Someone students however fault themselves and get very upset for even just playing a slipped note, or a quick one second pause between sections - because they get overwhelmed that they allowed themselves to make a simple mistake. That's the problem - sometimes the mistakes we make are so idiotic, so simple to make that we chastise ourselves for doing it... and the problem is - the root cause of why it happened is hard to quantify sometimes.

I mean, look at this poor bastard:



This guy has probably spent almost every second of being  alive practicing, and yet I bet you even he was probably unable to specify what happened.

I have an adult student who is almost 70, and I find the opposite with him. While he has been fixated on 6 pieces (Grade 4 level) for 3 years now, I have tried again on a few occasions to maybe let the pieces breathe a while and tackle other material that will present other challenges to him - he is still determined to try and work on that last 10% as best as he can (he did start piano late in life though and doesn't quite have the dexterity you and I would have)

I think you also need to weigh the potential benefit of learning say 2-3 entirely new pieces. How much time do you think it's worth spending practicing that last 5 percent in order to nail it?

I think if it's an almost essential technical aspect, then it may be worth actually following through with it. If it's a piece with multiple mordents and the student has trouble with executing them properly, then it would be best to tackle it now before it stumps them again in later material, because then they also have the daunting task of learning the notes to a new piece all over again if they start new pieces. If it's slippery notes, or just the odd slippery quaver, then sometimes that can be locked into muscle memory and it might be worth getting a fresh approach.

Do you think the advice would differ for more advanced students, or perhaps while learning a piece for yourself?

This depends on what the outcome is. If they're playing for a school talent competition, then yes I would be a little more stringent on them because again, I think it's better to at least alert them to any possible pitfalls they may stumble onto than having them catch the student off guard in their practice... but I always try and work on the biggest problems, or at least the ones that will enhance the piece the best. If a student has pauses in playing lots of quaver passages, then my goal would be just to work on the fluency. If they've got the fluency but there are wobbly rhythms, then I would focus on the rhythms and controlling of the fingers. If the problem is accidental playing of notes that they're not meant to but they seem random, then there's not much I can do - but if I find they're making the same mistake a few times, then it's definitely something I need to address.

If the student is playing for a class music lesson for the experience of playing in front of their friends, then I at least just want to make sure they can play from beginning to end without too many pauses.

Offline joe falchetto

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Disclaimer: I am not a teacher, in fact just an intermediate pianist who has recently restarted studying.

I am inclined to think that studying few pieces really well is much better than doing many just to a so and so level. I never really got the point of doing en entire course book (at the time I used Aaron, but never did a whole book, we usually selected something like ten pieces from it) or an entire set of studies.

I know that, in a sense, perfecting a piece has diminishing returns. On the other hand, I think maintaining fluidity/lack of tension, dynamics... at a higher speed, really conquering those parts you find tricky, really owning a piece, improves your technique vastly more than doing other similar pieces at an ok level.

So, diminishing returns may still be very worth it. Of course nothing is ever really perfect and at some point it is really not worth pushing it any more, but I vote for perfecting quite a bit rather than moving on soon.

It probably also depends on the student, how quickly they get bored, and what they are looking for (in order to develop sight reading or familiarity with a vast amount of different music perfecting a few pieces is of course not a good strategy).