The music lesson as a template for mindful practice RSS

Parents / 01/04/2017
The music lesson as a template for mindful practice

Music Parent Guide: Part 4

starting a new piece - what happens in the lesson

Ellie and Edward begin a new piano piece this week in the lesson. First, the teacher plays the piece for them to listen and then he begins teaching it, often demonstrating very short sections and asking them to copy, like a call and response. No two teachers teach in exactly the same way and there may be a whole range of fun, creative activities connected with the initial stages of teaching a piece. Here we will focus on a fairly standard way of teaching a piano piece from notation. The principles apply broadly to most instruments.

How Edward learns

Edward and the teacher study bars 1 - 4 together, noticing note patterns and rhythms in the printed music. When ready, Edward plays a very short section, maybe bars 1 - 4, with right hand and then with left hand - always using correct fingers. He plays it again to practise doing it right.

The teacher asks Edward, once he's confident, to play bars 1 - 4 with both hands together, very slowly because it's twice as difficult with two hands. Then Edward does it again to practise getting it right. This 'hands together' stage may happen this lesson, or maybe next lesson depending on Edward's progress. They move on to the next four bars, going through the same processes as before. The teacher asks Edward to play these bars quietly - that's what it says in the music because quiet playing suits that phrase.

The teacher asks Edward to practise over the next week, just the way they played in the lesson.

How Edward practises

When Edward practises, he replicates what happened in the lesson - so he practises all the stages of getting it right. At his next lesson, he shows his teacher that he can do it right and they move on to the next eight bars. Edward remembers in his practice that the teacher asked him to keep his fingers in a natural, gently rounded shape instead of resting them flat on the piano keys - this means that his playing will be evenly controlled and he demonstrates this in the lesson.

How Ellie practises

Assuming Ellie has the same teacher as Edward, she will be taught in a similar way, although good teachers do take into account children's individual learning-style preferences.  The teacher may well have begun the piece in the same way as for Edward but, when Ellie practises, she plays through all eight bars as quickly as she can, often using the wrong fingers and making some mistakes. She plays it again because she thinks it will go better the second time. She makes the same mistakes and she forgets to play bars 5 - 8 quietly. She rarely keeps her fingers in the helpful shape that her teacher asks for, so her playing starts to sound untidy - but she's not really listening so she doesn't notice.

Ellie is practising getting better at doing it wrong! At Ellie's next lesson the teacher spends time correcting the mistakes so they cannot move on to the next eight bars. Her progress is slower than Edward's but she doesn't know why. She might soon become disheartened and give up playing.

What you can do to help

It may be useful for you to sit in on some of the lessons if possible so that you know what your child has been asked to do that week in practice time. In this case, you could ask the teacher to explain to you too, just before the end of the lesson. If observing is not practical, the teacher might have written practice instructions in a notebook so it is helpful for you to go through this together with your child after the lesson. The teacher might not use a notebook but may write reminders on the music and also explain verbally what to do.  After each lesson,  you could ask your child to tell you what, and how, she has been asked to practise.

The teacher may have recommended a good Youtube video to help keep your child working along the right lines in between lessons. You could enjoy watching this together and it will be helpful for you to hear how the piece or song should sound.

Important points

  • Practice does not necessarily Make Perfect - Practice Makes Permanent.
  • Edward practises getting it right; Ellie practises getting it wrong.

Sandy Holland 

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