Monday, May 23, 2011

Five Vital Skills for Piano Students

  1. Time management + the ability to say NO! Everyone's time is valuable.  You cannot get good at piano and everything else at the same time.  We recommend that our students limit their extra-curricular activities to a total of 2  (if you have piano lessons and church youth group, you've reached your quota).  
  2. Consistency.  Practicing for 2 hours twice a week, every other week is far less effective than practicing a little each day.  Also, taking the summer off is a bad idea.  In two months of missed lessons, all of the skills that we work so hard on during the year atrophy.  Even worse, students can develop bad habits of technique and practice that are difficult to fix when they return to lessons.
  3. Focus.  Work on one thing at a time and be clear about what it is you are working on.  Know the limits of your attention span, and shift your focus to extend your productive time at the piano.  Awareness of one's mistakes arises from this kind of deliberate focus, and you can't fix your mistakes without knowing they exist.
  4. Critical listening (and thinking). Piano students need to learn to listen in a thoughtful way.  Listening for specific elements, like dynamics or articulation, is a good way to start.  Before critical listening is developed, students will play a piece, and not hear their mistakes.  After a student performance riddled with wrong notes and rhythms, and stops every other measure, I'll often ask the student how they felt about it.  If they say something like "I thought it went pretty well, but I think I missed a note somewhere in the middle", they weren't listening critically.  The best students are sensitive to every blemish, and are often pessimistic about their performance, while the worst students are ignorant of their mistakes and frequently have inflated ideas about their musical ability.
  5. Delayed gratification.  The understanding that practice yields results over time comes from experience, but students benefit when parents model delayed gratification through saving for things they want, planting a garden, or learning a skill.  When kids are also encouraged to engage in activities like this, the idea of practice will seem natural and logical.  When kids never have to wait for, or work for, anything at home, the idea of practice will be foreign.  The idea of talent is best abandoned as well; nothing will undermine a teacher's efforts faster than a student who believes he is talented.