Sunday, 4 March 2012

Sunday 4th February; Music practising - or rather, not practising

The big problem with being a piano teacher, is teaching all the piano lessons...

File:Upright piano inside.jpg

I have a lot of sympathy with pupils who don't practise - after all, I was one of them once! Most activities that children do out of school, like swimming, ballet, brownies, choir, happen once a week, and then you can forget all about them until next time.

Not so with music lessons. There is an expectation that the child (or adult!) will do a considerable amount of work, on their own, in between the lessons. I know one teacher who issues a contract specifying that the pupil is expected to practise every day for the same length of time as the lesson; so, if you have a half-hour lesson, then she expects you to practise for half an hour every day. (It takes real talent to play like this)
Learning an instrument is a complex process. You build up skills in note reading, agility, coordination, listening and the physical and mental stamina to play the pieces. You need strength to maintain the posture required by your instrument and an ever-increasing capability to remember complex physical movements to play the notes. This is only acquired by intense, concentrated repetition, like the drills that sportsmen do, or the rehearsals that actors commit to.

So, when I have a pupil who has done zero practise, cannot remember the notes and movements that I painstakingly taught last week, and sits there making spaniel eyes at me, I have to fight down the temptation to roar at them, rip the music off the stand and belt them over the head with it!

What should I do with them?

If they have decided that they want to enter for an exam, then they MUST commit to all the elements of the exam; three pieces, scales, sight reading and aural, all to be completely learned by the deadline. I used to try and move mountains in order to get them ready. Now, if they don't practise, I am more ruthless. They can either go for it, and take their chance, or withdraw. The aforementioned teacher refuses to give extra lessons before an exam (apart from exceptional circumstances)- she has done her bit and it is up to the pupil to do their share of the work.

Many of my pupils don't want to do the exams - that's fine by me. Some are workers, and we go through the popular repertoire. It's the others, who just dawdle along, not getting to grips with anything, that frustrate me.

Maybe I should just chill? I know a parent who told the music teacher that all she wanted was for her child to have a pleasant, relaxing, musical half-hour, as a break from all the intense academic effort that he was putting in, and that she wasn't concerned about progress or practising or any of that stuff. Can I be content to take the money for half an hour of relaxing music making, without making any demands on the pupil? Perhaps I should give it a go. Either that, or just tell the particular pupil I am thinking of to leave!


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