Monday, April 2, 2012

A Musical Journey

   In my studio on the wall, I have a road that illustrates my student's journey as they progress in lessons. This is an important visual for both my parents and students. This road allows me to describe to my parents the general "ups and downs" of piano lessons.
   When a new student starts their lessons with me (see top photo) they begin on a small uphill slope. They learn a lot of material in a short period of time that includes all the basics like how to sit at the piano, hand positioning, note values, the list goes on and on. Its not too difficult to muster enthusiasm in the beginning because my student is excited about taking piano lessons and learning how to play piano.

   As my students progress uphill, they continue learning new material and struggle to master that material. They begin to realize what taking piano lessons is all about; practicing everyday and going to lessons every week. It is rare that they are playing with real musicality yet. This is a difficult time and can cause some of my faint-of-heart students to want to quit and some of my faint-of-heart parents to allow it. The road gives me a visual to show their parents and to inform them that this uphill struggle is expected and its perfectly normal to want to quit and this a perfect opportunity to encourage their child through to the top of the hill. Parents need to act as in-house cheer-leading squads. Letting them quit in life whenever anything doesn't just come naturally won't build good character. Remember The Little Engine That Could....? I can and do provide enthusiasm for my student while in lessons at this stage, but eventually this enthusiasm will have to emanate from them if they are going to continue successfully with piano.

   At levels 3 and 4, (around 4th or 5th grade because I don't take them until the 2nd grade) I begin students on a classical curriculum. I expect a student to have mastered note reading, all major and minor 5-finger scales, triads, inversions, etc, basic articulations, and the ability to play and count eighths before beginning classical music. Theory shifts into analysis at this stage and lesson books are a thing of the past. Attention is paid to technical skills and repertoire. My students are excited at the notion that they are progressing and get to play classical music. They are enthusiastic -- for a while -- until middle school kicks in.
   When my students encounter the downhill portions throughout this journey, skills are well mastered and they can really feel that they are accomplishing quite a bit. They are satisfied with their playing and welcome each new piece. This road of hills and valleys continues right up through Level 10.
   I think the ups and downs could also parallel that of any professional players as well. I know I have encountered times of struggle and times of ease. I am aware when I am on the uphill when I am suddenly no longer satisfied with my playing- a sure indication that I am progressing to a new level of the piece.

  The uphill battle at levels 5 and 6 are the hardest on me. My students are approaching or are already in middle school and daily practice just isn't much fun anymore. In my studio creativity is crucial to keep things interesting and prevent quitting at this stage -when they are on the edge of really playing well. They are too old for games and too young to treat as an adult. I don't treat them with the kid gloves of an elementary student, and I won't flatter them when they are playing flat (without musicality).  I encourage them to keep working and let them know that I believe in their talent.  I offer era-based classes and teach them them same stuff I teach my college freshman students. They seem to thrive on the challenge. We do lots of critical listening and more complex analysis fascinates them. The hills and valleys of the road on my wall don't seem to affect them as much.
   I do what I can to keep them motivated, but this is a crucial point- they either take pleasure from classical music or they don't. There is only so much I am willing to do to provide the student with enthusiam if the self-motivation just isn't there. They have listened to a lot of music and are connecting with and expressing the music on the piano at this point in their career. If not, and they just aren't enjoying it anymore and they decide to quit (with their parents blessing), at least I know they will play for the rest of their lives and they are more likely to encourage their own children to take piano lessons. And for some, I am happy to transfer them to another teacher- sometimes this is a necessary step if they may want to further their studies in something I am just not able or willing to teach as well as someone else could. Every teacher has their specialties.

   When they emerge from the difficulties of middle school and arrive at levels 7-10 (in high school), we are off and running to prepare their college auditions and academic portfolio.
   Years ago when I originally designed the road, I had each student represented by hikers traveling up and down hills and mountains because I saw all this as a journey. I really wanted the students to be represented as riders on a roller coaster, but lacked the creative ability. I think when I re-do my road next time, I'll have it depict the roller coaster as I intended in the first place....maybe with some more loop-de-loops, and a whole LOT of FUN going up, down, and all around!

1 comment:

  1. greetings from linkedin,

    i love your cheery blog, and i am sure your students adore you!
    lots of great interesting material thanks for sharing