Thursday, January 20, 2011

"Are You Going to Cross This One Off?"

Does anybody else have students like this? Students who view the sole purpose of the lesson being getting the piece(s) from last week 'crossed off' so they can move on to the next piece(s)? I have a particular student who predictably turns to me after the completion of each piece at his lesson and says:
"Are you going to cross this one off?"
It happens every week, at every lesson, after every piece, without fail. Never mind how well or badly he may have performed the piece, for some reason he conceives the whole process to be:
1) I play the piece 2) You cross it off 3) We move on
Not exactly! I've patiently explained to him time and time again that there is more to learning a piece of music than just playing it and getting it crossed off. I'll ask questions like: "Did you add in all the dynamics?", "was the rhythm correct here?", "were you counting", "what is your hand position in this measure", etc. and together we'll discover if the piece is really truly learned.

You see, I believe that learning a piece is about more than just getting it 'crossed off'. There's more than just the printed notes. There are the extra details that make it come alive. And there's a difference between a performance where the student painfully struggles to make it through at even a slow tempo with half-hearted execution of dynamics, articulation, and hand position changes, and a performance where the student confidently incorporates all those details at a steady tempo that assures me they have a firm grasp of the piece. And more than that, that they have a firm grasp of the concept the piece was written to teach.

Each piece in a lesson book teaches or reinforces a concept, and as teachers we need to be aware of just what that something is and whether or not our students understand it before we cross off the piece and move on. Jason over at The Piano Pedagogy Page had an excellent post on just that issue that I stumbled upon the other day. As a teacher, there are times when I give in to the 'Cross It Off and Move On' syndrome, because it's the easy way. Students tend to gripe when they have to work on a piece for another week. But if we want our students to have a firm musical foundation, that's a small price to pay.

I've made it a goal to start making sure each piece is learned, and learned well, before we cross it off and move on. This involves talking through the piece with each student after the performance and helping them to discover (with a little help from me!) just how well-executed their performance was. Hopefully over time my students will not only become better performers, but better critical listeners as well.

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