Friday, May 1, 2009

A Swagger in Your Step

I was reading an article today that had helpful tips for engaging students in music lessons to "make it fun". There were many cute and helpful ideas such as rewards, computer time, performance opportunities, a newsletter to showcase student accomplishments, supplemental music, parties, and composition. I was impressed with the length to which some teachers will go to appeal to young children, right down to making their own studio "money" that students can spend on trinkets from a treasure chest.

Ingrid Clarfield once told me to "work as hard as your student". She explained that when the student has come in prepared, she better be too. When the student comes in unprepared, she feels differently about the lesson. I admire this philosophy.

At one point, the article stated that students sometimes need their pieces for more than a week. If they haven't gotten it mastered after 3 weeks, give it up and move on. I was flabbergasted. Don't tell my students, but I think 3 weeks is not a long time. A caveat needs to be stated here-some of my students are intermediate to early advanced and their pieces are longer than perhaps the beginners that the article may have been addressing. But really? One week?

What skills can you master in a week? You were at home without your guide/teacher at your side. Certainly both the teacher and you know that you didn't "own" it in a week? I love to hear from my students that they are now playing a piece for their upcoming auditions better this year than last year. YEAR, I tell you. Living with something gives you an insight into its soul, and ultimately, your own soul. Again, the reminder that some of my students are playing sonatas, preludes and fugues, and bigger romantic works. The younger ones may revisit a piece in February that they learned last year, to really perfect it.

When we watch the Olympics, the ice skaters and floor gymnasts have been doing their routines for years. They are polished in the moves so that they can focus on the fine details.

When you don't ever truly master it, do you play with confidence? Will it be "fun"? When will piano become "fun", if you feel like you're playing schlocky. By Schlocky I mean messy, less than your best, wrinkled. (I'm not sure that's a word outside of the studio, but it is a word here.)

I love the swagger of a student that knows they are gonna nail their performance. It radiates from their eyes, whether it's Chopin or Ten Little Indians. And for me, I can't teach swagger in a week.


  1. I love your blog, which I stumbled upon it via a link from The Gold Puppy. As a former (and future) piano teacher I totally relate to everything you are saying. I'm doing something else right now but I'm sure I'll get back to it one of these years.

    I used to do a thing called the Practice Club and each student was required to be a member. There was a chart on the wall and they'd get different colored stars based on how much time they put in each week, or no star if they goofed off. The ones who practiced above a certain number of hours got an award at the end of the year. It seemed to work pretty well and most of them liked having a public record of their practice achievements. Or maybe the baseball bat with "PRACTICE" written on it that hung next to the chart kept them motivated. Fortunately they all understood that the wooden "practice club" was a joke!

  2. Welcome Cyndy! Maybe we'll meet someday-I go to conventions all over - you never know!

  3. Swaggering is an art. You "get" a thing when you "get" a thing. You "get" a thing when all the neurotransmitters jump the right way not by the calendar. Your students are lucky.


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