Thursday, March 29, 2012

Six ounces of prevention...

   ~ A memory slip in performance

I think this happens to everyone at some point. As a teacher, this is really difficult to watch. Especially when a good student, who works hard, practices regularly, and has played the piece 47,000 times without incident, suddenly has an unexplainable memory lapse and can't recover. This is what happened to one of my students as they performed a competition piece in rep class the other day.

   This is not only frustrating for the student, but can incite pure panic when it happens in recital or competition. I work with all of my students on over-coming mistakes and recovering from memory lapses during a performance. There are a million and one reasons for this including, too much muscle memory and not enough aural memory, a slip of the fingering or hand position, or poor memorization to name three. Being video taped and recorded and having to play in front of classmates can add to an already increased anxiety level and disrupt memory.

   This link has helped me tremendously in the past when dealing with questions I can't find easy answers to and certainly helped me with this one as well:

Piano Pedagogy Forum

In order to get through mistakes and memory slips in performance, these are some of the things I do with my students regularly in lessons:

1. Red Light/Green Light
The student plays the piece and stops periodically, resting long enough to break their focus and concentration and then begins where they left off. Sometimes I actually stand behind them and lift both hands completely off the keys and challenge them to recover.

2. Freeze Tag
The student plays the piece while I stand behind them and tap them on the shoulders. When I do this they stop playing until I tap again. Sometimes we do this in real time- they continue counting or humming the piece or shadowing the piece with their hands until I tap again. Then they continue playing the piece where they would have been had we never stopped.

3. Act As If
The student continues to play through ALL mistakes, no matter how big, and acts as if that was EXACTLY what was written in the score! (I like this one the best for occasional wrong notes.) For these type of mistakes, we have 4 things we are forbidden to do.....
                            1. Stop and fix the mistake 
                            2. Replay the passage 
                            3. Justify the mistake ("I could play it better at home...") 
                            4. Apologize for the mistake ("oops", "sorry" or worse, "my bad")*

*"My bad" is particularly forbidden because we aren't allowed to talk like the cookie monster here.

4. Rewind
Go back to a place that they DO know. Go back to the beginning if they are still in the A section.

5. Fast Forward
Skip to the end. One thing I like to do is practice the ending before the piece is even finished in lessons. This way, if there is a memory lapse, they can jump right to the end. Having practiced it shortly after just learning the piece, they know it as well as they know the 1st two lines.

6. Hands Alone
When one hand forgets, another might remember. I have them continue playing with the hand that KNOWS the piece and eventually the other hand will catch up and remember what to do.

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