music lessons


Same Mistakes

A frustrating part of teaching piano lessons, is watching students make the same mistakes over and over again. This is caused by two things: a misunderstood concept, and unhealthy practice habits.

Misunderstood Concept

A mistake because of a misunderstood concept is completely acceptable. As long as the musical concept is not clear, students will likely continue to make the same type of error.  Until the student and the teacher gets to the root of the problem, any progress is muscle memory. Unfortunately, muscle memory may fail the student as time passes, or when stress is induced.

Unhealthy Practice Habits

A more dangerous mistake, is based on unhealthy practice habits. Students can fall into a cycle of attempting to play something over and over again, until they see the teacher’s approval. The issue with this, is that there is very little thought put into why the teacher would approve the new version. To me, this shows a lack of independence in their musicality. While it is the teacher’s role to guide the student, the student must take ownership of where their strengths and weaknesses. Of course, this is easier said than done with young children! However, that is one of the advantages of piano lessons; having a child learn to continually strive for progress with their unique projects.

When a student practices something by playing from beginning to end, they are using the ineffective block practicing.  Not only is this a poor use of time, it builds muscle memory to those mistakes. That’s why students make the same mistakes over and over again!

 

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Feedback in Lessons – A Personal Account

I believe there are 4 very important elements integral to piano lessons. The first is playing music together. The second is learning how to practice. The third is learning new concepts. The fourth is feedback.

Feedback- Good or Bad?

As a piano teacher, I often swing back and forth between feeling like I am too “easy” or too “tough” with my expectations. Because my students are at the age of 5-10, I do not expect perfection in execution.  However, I do often find myself correcting my students’ mistakes over and over again. After all, it is what my job is right?

The major issue with this is that students get frustrated that they can not perform the correction. In response, I find it instinctual to continue working on the problem, until we hear one solid good take. However, I remind myself this is not always possible!

It is true that progress in piano comes with repetitions. However, it is important to remember that endless repetition is not the answer. Not only does repetitive block practicing discourage students, it prevents students from understanding the piece as a whole song.

In addition, this kind of teaching limits the amount of music the student can learn in a year.  Instead, I aim to expose the students in reading as much music as possible, so they have a better understanding of how music works.

Furthermore, I find that since all students are amateurs working to improve, the lesson can appear to be a lot of criticism. Like all people, young students like to be encouraged and feel that they are making progress.

In 2017, I vow to encourage my students more and make an effort to praise their progress. Instead of shaming their mistakes, I will look to help them understand their weaknesses and provide options.

 

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Quitting Piano Lessons

As a piano teacher, I often wonder why piano students quit.  Of course, most will stop taking lessons eventually in their life, so this blog will focus on students who quit after 3 years or less. While every situation is unique, there are some patterns  on why students stop playing piano.  In a podcast, Andrea from Teach Piano Today discusses with Karen King about King’s research in why piano students quit.

 The Findings:

Karen King shares some staggering statistics from her research in this podcast episode. Most shocking to me, was that about 80% of piano students quit after 3 years.  A surprising finding was that parents who have music training that are heavily involved in practice sessions have a negative effect on the students’ motivation.  A not so surprising finding, is that long-term students generally practiced more (about 2.5 hours a week), and have moved past the initial beginner stages.

Why?

King suggests that motivation for piano lesson thrives under three conditions: competency, autonomy, and relatedness. Competency refers to the student’s feelings about their own playing; if they feel that the piano is something that they are good at, they are more likely to be motivated to continue. Autonomy refers to the student’s feelings about the creative control they have over the music they play. If they feel that they have more control over their piano projects, then they are more likely to continue being interested in the piano. Relatedness refers to the student’s feelings about how the piano relates to other parts of their life. Since piano lessons can sometimes be a lonely endeavor, it is important for piano students to feel that the music they are learning is not confined to just the lessons. A suggestion from King, is to have parents play recordings of a similar genre to what the student is learning.

These findings are invaluable to all piano teachers, piano students, and piano parents. Together, with research, we can continue passing on the art of music education.

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