Every year I encourage students to participate in the WA State Music Teachers Adjudications and the National Guild of Piano Teachers Auditions. Both are events where students prepare pieces to perform and receive feedback from a guest teacher. It’s a wonderful way to help students set and reach goals and learn from another musician.
One student participated every year, but always dreaded it. She realized she dreaded it because she didn’t prepare well. In the few weeks before the event, when I would see that she wasn’t prepared, I would find new pieces that were simple enough for her to learn quickly and perform so that she could still participate.
One such time, I told her, “When you come back next week you’ll be giving a mini-concert for the student who has a lesson just before you. So start preparing today when you get home. Do not wait.”
The next week came, and I knew her pattern of not adequately preparing and then having a miserable time. However, when she walked in the door, I was happy to see her, and said, motioning toward the piano, “Here you go. Go ahead and give us a concert.”
I didn’t give her an opportunity to say anything, or do anything except sit down at the piano and start playing. To my surprise, she did. Instead of playing the easy piece I gave her the week before, she played her difficult piece from start to finish, by memory. I had never heard her play the whole piece, let alone from memory, until that day. I was shocked.
What was her secret? After a short time practicing by playing straight through the piece at home, she realized she wasn’t getting anywhere. Adjudications were just around the corner, and the hard parts were still hard. She decided that she needed to practice a different way, the way I had been telling her for the past four years. She went back to her assignment notebook and looked at all the ways I had been telling her to practice. She made herself a plan on what she was going to master each day so that at the end of the week she would know the entire piece.
She practiced every day, about an hour each time, seven days in a row. She went slow. She practiced hands alone. She practiced transitions from one beat to the next beat over and over. She worked out hard parts, rather than just play through the piece. Her parents weren’t even sure she was practicing because it sounded different from anything she had ever done over the past four years.
At the end of the week she could play the entire piece. She got the results she wanted. She realized she could do it. She was happy. For the first time in her life, she now was looking forward to playing at the adjudications. She couldn’t wait to see what new ideas she would learn.
To see the transformation in her from dread to joy is one of the reasons I keep teaching. I am an eternal optimist, and believe that our abilities sometimes lie dormant. We may not even be aware of what we are capable of. A good teacher of any discipline sees the potential in the student and is willing to stick it out through thick and thin until one day it come to the surface. Once a student experiences it for themselves, they will carry it with them for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t get any better than that.
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