A “Twist on Practicing Perfect” I think practicing is very much like a recipe. Add your ingredients in the wrong order and the entire dish is a disaster. For instance, what if you were to add too much of one ingredient and not enough of the other… like one of those German Pancakes that is supposed to be 10 inches tall? Have yours ever turned out an inch tall and much like a Frisbee? Mmmmm hmmmm. I thought so. Take heart, I too have experience in this department.
I also have experience in the “perfect practicing” AND the “not-so-perfect-practicing department.” Here are some guaranteed ways to keep your students practicing, succeeding and having fun while they do it the right way the first time!!
1. The Triple A list. I developed a way to incorporate older repertoire and still keep up on the new weekly assignments. Insist on a day off. That’s right…. a vacation day once a week from practicing. Your students will be shocked, and you will be one step ahead of them. Reward them PROFUSELY for completing this list WELL. The pieces performed must be memorized. They must be passed off previously by you. They must be played once a week because who knows when the whim for an on-demand performance will pop into your creative (and slightly devious) mind! You retain the right to ask for any piece on the list…. at any time. If they fail to perform, you may just have another devious impulse pop into your mind…. like throwing a one inch frisbee their way. I NEVER JOKE ABOUT FOOD DISASTERS.
2. The “crazy twister practice it right roll the dice” chart. Please don’t laugh at my artwork! I made this chart in ten minutes and it was honestly one of the best things I’ve come up with! Your student simply rolls the dice and whatever number they land on is how they will perform the new line they learned today. This chart requires some preparation…. dividing their music into sections ahead of time makes sure they succeed. You will need two dice. Then you are ready to “play” while they “play”! Snap… this job’s a game!
(Printing out this Jpeg will give you a full size game image.
Say the magic words: “Please”, “Thank you”, “I’m sorry”, “How can I help”? These have always been considered standard magic words at my house. I would like to suggest to you there could actually be a few more.
If you listen carefully to the unspoken language your friends and students use, you may learn a great deal by simply watching their reactions, and feeling your own.
Let’s start by taking an inventory of your own personal dialogue. What was the last phrase you remember hearing about yourself from someone you admire? Go ahead, take your time. Was it positive or negative? How did these words affect you? Kind of like a magic wand, right? Poof!
Are you like me … do you hear these words many times in your mind? That’s sort of the effect a magic spell has on someone. Whether it be positive or negative, it can actually magnetize them or change their perception of their own reality. Most of us tend to give a great deal of weight to the words others use about us, particularly if they come from someone we respect. How about your words…. when was the last time you went out of your way to give feedback to someone else?
How did that go? Do you think you were honest? Or were you a bit harsh? Were the words you spoke useful and honest… helpful and kind? Maybe, you didn’t even comment because you didn’t want take the time. Does this make you wand to think about the last student you taught? (pun intended!) I’m going to suggest that even if you don’t give a reply, the other person still heard you! Your feedback was actually saying “I’m not interested enough to notice you.” Not noticing is quiet. It’s passive. It may even be preferable to the ever popular “Welcome to Wanda’s Wonderful Wish You-Would-have-Worked-Well” practice page of notes. Guess what though…. you’re not really doing your student a favor. Let me explain what I mean.
I have found that the power of every lesson begins with your words, and even more importantly the effort you put mentally put into choosing them carefully.
So, let’s get to the point here. What do your words mean? In my studio, I strive to “Say what I mean, and mean what I say.” I take this a step further and I live this way. I believe that I should be the same person at work as I am in my private life. Then I truly resonate AUTHENTICITY. Nothing to hide here. Of course I’m not perfect. I do try to find the positive in each student. I do try to focus on the great aspects of the lesson because building self-esteem is SO important.I really appreciated the instructors I have worked with that gave me this gift.
I was lucky enough in my University days to attend a lecture given by Dennis Alexander in which he stressed the point of planting the seed within the student to meet “OUR EXPECTATIONS”. It’s amazing, as I’ve instilled this advice in my pupils over the years I’ve watched them reach to new heights. When I tell them they will become one of my best performers, or one of the best counters I’ve ever met, guess what magic happens over the years? They grow into exactly what they believe I expected they could become! There is no place for anything but useful constructive criticism in the teaching field.
I’ve even been judged in competitions where judges were less than helpful and said things like “You’ll play this piece much better when you’re 35”. Well, this criticism was not particularly helpful to me at the time as I was only in the 9th grade. Now that I am 50 I find this a hilarious comment. One because I still remember it and two because the judge who said this to me actually felt so bad about the criticism years later that she called me on the phone and took me to lunch to apologize. (Apparently she felt worse than I did! We are very close friends now and I still love her dearly!)
The moral of this short article is this: your words can and will be a creative force, even a MAGIC WAND for good in the minds of those you teach. You speak what you create, and decide if you are helpful or hurtful.
Sometimes I feel like I need to be a psychic at my weekly lessons. Sometimes I feel like I should just go see one. I will say this: if you don’t understand what’s going on in the mind of your student and even their parents you are probably going to be in for some ugly sounding static coming your way.
I love to tell stories. This one has NOTHING to do with piano teaching and EVERYTHING to do with good service.
When I was in my 20’s I had the opportunity to attend a seminar taught by a sales representative back east who represented a fortune 500 company. I earned this seminar as part of being an outstanding salesperson in a small company I worked for. This speaker was very…..charismatic. She came bustling up to the stage in a leopard skirt and heels, with a portable microphone and proceeded to campaign at full stadium volume for at least three hours. I had a pounding headache by the time she was done yelling at us about good service, closing the sale, overcoming the objection and smiling while we answered telephones (because people can hear you through the phone line you know.)
I did take notes, and I tried to pay attention. I eventually lost the notes and I really can’t remember anything but her outfit and one important message. Thankfully it made all of my listening worth it.
“Everyone you meet, ” she repeated “in someway or another (yes even your three-year old) is tuned into a radio station called w.i.i.f.m.” I was a bit puzzled, but I kept listening. “That’s right ladies, it’s called w. i. i. f.m. radio. Just pretend it’s stamped right across everyone’s foreheads.” Now that had me intrigued.
W. I. I. F. M. stands for “What’s in it for me?” Clever, huh. It almost made my migraine worth it. I have used this over and over. For years. It works, believe me. Please humor me while I give you an example.
Let’s say you have a new student who is a bit stubborn. Suppose she is sitting across from you with a remotely repulsed expression on her brow when you introduce her to a lovely chorale from Bach. Just at that very moment, you happen to notice (because you too are a clever person) that her father is wearing an Elton John T-shirt. “My my,” you comment. “did you know that Elton John composed over half of his songs around Bach chorales?” “You’re kidding,” comments Dad as he sits up and looks surprised. “No, I’m not!” you say. Suddenly his daughter perks up because she knows Dad likes Elton John. Maybe Dad’s not a nerd after all…… ? “There’s a great show about Elton John and his music on You Tube”, you add because you have done your homework.
This may be a slightly ridiculous example, though I’ve really had this conversation! Notice what happened here. My student suddenly found something useful in the Bach piece I played because I took the time to bridge a gap between her Dad’s musical experiences and her curiosity. I gave her something to connect with. What’s in it for Dad? Time to share with his daughter. What’s in it for me? Something else to teach about. I went on and taught this student how to play ‘Yellow-Brick road’ AND we learned the four chords in the piece, plus we learned a Bach piece. That’s a win-win.
We have to ‘Tune In’ to the situation , the individual, and to ourselves as teachers. What does this student need from me today? Help with last weeks music? New music altogether? A hug? Am I even LISTENING to this student? Do the parents know exactly what to expect from you in your policies? Last but definitely not least, are your needs as an educator being met? Does everyone know what you need from them?
Tuning in is about noticing . Let others know you care and understand that they have needs and you will know them better as people. That’s what’s in it for you.
Here we go again. Another lesson starts with my 9 year old student Matt, who blurts out before I can say hello that he’s had an awful week of practicing because he’s been playing a lot of video games this week.
“Really?” I ask.
“Ya, so my wrist really hurts.”
‘Interesting’ I thought. Not even ten minutes this week to learn something creative, something he can point to in the “3D” world and say….. “LOOK! I did that” to me or his parents later on. Matt chose to spend his time where he felt comfortable and safe.
Next came Gabby and her brother Nick.
“How was your week?” I asked.
Gabby went first. “I learned one song to pass off. ”
“Did you enjoy it?,” I asked.
“Kinda” she offered.
“Let’s hear it!” I challenged!
Gabby played well for me. We corrected any errors, I complemented her as I began to see a pattern here. She confessed she spent 10-15 minutes a day playing what she liked and knew. Gabby spent about 5 minutes a day working on the new assignment.
Then Nick had a turn. “Here is a note from my mom.”
I thought “Oh oh….. what’s up now!” We’ve all had THOSE notes before, right?
‘Dear Miss Suzanne…. I am really worried that Nick is not passing off enough songs at his lessons . He says he doesn’t understand practicing at home. Please help him fix this. Thanks. Mrs. _________’ Nick showed me his work. He had learned two of his four assignments, hands together. He said he played these because we had part done at the lesson last week.
I’d be thrilled to fix this….. in 30 minutes without support at home. It might be tricky, but I’ll tell you my game plan…. and guess what! It worked!
As I began my research for this week’s project and spoke with several other teachers as well; I viewed research on You Tube, Ted Talks, books on Child behavior (New kid by Friday…. a personal favorite!) and then thought a lot. I discovered that our adorable and lovable children and teens have four basic needs and some important brain chemicals at work here. If you don’t know what the game is then how will YOU PLAY TO WIN?
They must feel loved. They need to feel accepted, valuable, heard and successful. I repeat….. they need to feel accepted, valuable, heard and successful. These are powerful emotions generated by the internet and any video game in such a mass amount that the operating system of the brain is basically HI-jacked from the moment they pick up their phone and look at it until the t.v. goes off at night.
THIS IS YOURCOMPETITION.
Times have changed . I started teaching in 1989. Yes, I’ve been working with several generations of students now. We as rewired teachers must change our strategy or deal with a communication disaster.
This generation of student’s brains are simply wired differently. I like to use the analogy of a crock-pot dinner vs. a microwave. These guys don’t understand the word “harvest” very well if you catch my drift. Not unless they had had the rich learning that comes from investing in some thing they started and waited for.
For the past two weeks, I have offered my students a different option. To actually come to “Piano School”. Kinda corny sounding, isn’t it.
Come watch, listen, say, know and play. That’s it. Learn it here guys….. then go home and repeat. I dare you NOT to “Play” your piano. See…. the word “Play ” actually has a very different connotation and vibration (if you will) than the word “practice”, don’t you think? We learn and study here. We’re understanding and creating and learning together here.
So far, they are all taking the bait. In fact, they may need longer lessons soon because we need more Piano school time to learn it here so they can get it all in. It’s really fun too. I help them on all different levels because they are literally all different ages. Some are teachers, some are 6 year olds.
The main point is this though:
I must teach them how to learn HERE.
I must teach them how to practice HERE.
I help them learn to love to learn HERE. This is my school.
When they come here, I don’t ask “What are you bringing me today?”, I think “What may I give you today?”.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Play with me and I learn. ” Benjamin Franklin.
By the way…. it’s been a real GAME CHANGER at my studio.
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See you next week!
Recommended Reading: “Who Moved my Cheese” by Spencer Johnson
You may be asking yourself as a pianist, teacher or student…. what does waiting around for good technique, playing endless Hanon exercises and Chopin etudes have to do with Golden Geese? It’s really quite simple in my mind, just ask Willy Wonka
Golden Geese are special creatures. They require a lot of work, and you must wait around for them to mature…. only then will they start to lay their golden eggs for you! But you must be willing to do the preparatory work, put in the hours, be patient and accept failures along the way.
When the parents or students are not educated about the amazing things golden geese can do after years of practice and showing up, bad things happen. Sometimes bad eggs happen. Just ask Veruca……
Truth be told, there is nothing in the law of nature, nothing in the process of reaping and sowing that includes instant gratification. A long term investment is always what reaps the reward of the harvest. There is a waxing and waning period for every moon, and planting and growing season for flowers, and learning and knowing time for every knew skill.
Pianists are trained and taught, not entertained and bought. We cannot master a thing with a new shortcut, without a sacrifice of significance on our behalf. It’s called balance. We cannot have what we don’t give…. which in this case would be discipline and wisdom. A great student and pianist knows that hours of preparation and perspiration pay the price at any performance, and provide the confidence inside to perform at a peak level, anytime for anyone.
You just know that now is the time you are ready. It’s okay to “want it now” when you’ve paid in advance. Preparation is always worth it’s weight in gold.
Is your piano practicing a PAIN IN THE NECK?
“No Pain No Gain” is a motivating phrase to your average vampire. It’s just an occupational hazard that the pain is someone else’s problem. For a pianist, “No pain no Gain” should NOT BE an occupational hazard… EVER!
We all know that pain is never a good sign when we are practicing, right? Did you also know that it is possible to protect yourself from even the smelliest, strongest, and meanest vampires? You can outsmart them with a secret ingredient! GARLIC!
Here is the recipe:
G: Get your posture correct: get the pain out of your neck. (Every one knows Vampires are a pain in the neck!) Sitting too close too the piano will encourage raised arms and high tight shoulders… a deadly combination for tension headaches the rest of your life… ma ha ha ha ( insert evil laugh here)
A: Arms out: If your arms are Straight out when you sit down at the piano, you will be assured that you will have plenty of room to play back and forth, and with room to drop using gravity and no tension which causes problems and injuries later.
R: Relaxed and Right positioned Rists!
(wrists ha ha) If I've experienced one painful place more than another,
(and fixed one more often than another) it's those tight or dropped wrists. Just keep
them supple, bendable, and return them to a level keyboard position when in use. You
will save your self tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, arm pain, weird aches and other comments at Festivals from well meaning Judges. PROMISE!
L: Let go: I always ask my students, “Why are you still holding on to the
keys? “ after they have already played the notes. “Let your foot do the work for
you”, I remind them. “You have a sustain pedal”. Or, maybe the notes don't need to be sustained at all... just LET GO and keep moving. Holding on to every thing in a stretched out tense position is an un-natural position for anyone's hand and can be pain
producing after an hour or two of practice.
I: Ice Cream Cupcakes...... Yummy! What on earth does ice cream and cupcakes have to do with injury avoidance and vampires? Absolutely nothing. I do
like to eat them when I take a break from practicing and feel like being lazy! I
recommend chocolate with Reese's peanut butter mixed up inside. :)
C: The Curve of your arch in the hand is last, but not least. It is so
important to maintain support throughout the hand. 1. All of the fingers round out to become the same length and therefor produce a nice even tone on the keys. 2. Rotation becomes much easier and you can play scales and fast chord patterns much easier,
and use your forearm to do the work for you!
Use this SECRET RECIPE WISELY....
and vanquish yourself of PAIN, INJURY and
VAMPIRES when you perform on the piano!
Oh Joy! My new 2015 Christmas C.d. is FINALLY done!
I am so pleased with how it turned out, and appreciate literally the hundreds of kind comments I have received from all of you. I forgot how much I missed composing and performing, and I plan to keep at it from now on. I hope you enjoy the music as much as I have, and that it really means something special to you…. the hours of love I poured into this project reminded me that nothing of worth comes quickly or easily yet is always worth the wait.