Question: What is the best way to encourage a child to work on a technique that the ‘lesson book’ has already moved past but the student didn’t really master?
Piano students working out of piano method books have approximately two to three pieces to learn and master a concept before the book moves on to something new. For some students this is plenty of time, but for others this pacing is way off. Sometimes it’s so far off that your poor piano students are left frustrated with their inabilities… never a good way to be feeling as you learn something new. This is an issue to be conscious of as you structure your lessons for each student. Just because the book told you they were ready to move on does not necessarily mean they actually are. But what are you to do if your piano students have been left in the dust?
Do I have to Play This Again?
We all know that leaving pieces hanging on for weeks on end is a sure-fire way to extinguish any enthusiasm your piano students may have had. It’s like eating cookies for dinner every single night. Eventually you’re going to start hating cookies. So the answer does not lie in re-assigning the same piece week after week. Quite the opposite! For students learning to read books, the answer is not to re-read the same book over and over. They need exposure to the same words and the same rhythms of language, but in different settings. The same is true for your piano students… but replace “words” with “musical concepts”. Your students need variety – but carefully chosen variety.
Line The Pockets of Publishers Everywhere
Struggling students benefit from the supplemental books that most (good) piano method series offer. Look for Popular Repertoire, Technique and Artistry, and Performance/Recital books that follow the levelling of your method books and USE them! These companion books are a clever way to vary your piano students’ repertoire without progressing in concepts or difficulty. Now, instead of only two to three pieces, your piano students now have four to six pieces to figure out what it is they were missing (and for you to figure out why). If you are already using these books with your piano students and they still need more time, then head on out to your music store and check out the sheet music stacks. Find supplemental material that reinforces what it is they are working on at that moment to give them even more time to mature into their abilities.
Get Creative…Get Composing!
Supplemental books are great – but I also choose to go one step farther with my strugglers. I’d highly recommend getting creative and delving into some composing with your students. This accomplishes two (major!) things:
1) You can carefully direct the composing so that it focuses in on exactly what it is they find difficult.
2) As you compose with your students you will be explaining the very concept they are having troubles with… but from the standpoint of the composer, rather than the player… adding another layer to your teaching that may make it “click” for them.
Your piano students will be thrilled to have a piece of their very own. Give it a fun name and they’ll feel such ownership over their own learning that it will be hard to pull them away from their newest creation.
By varying their repertoire, but keeping the concept constant, your piano students will be given enough time to fully understand new skills without feeling as though they are continually playing catch-up with their piano method book. Allowing students to spend the time they need on technique will result in happier students and better pianists. There is always another piece out there (previously composed or not!) that reinforces a concept your student may struggle with. It’s up to us as piano teachers to serve up a varied diet of pieces that meet both the learning goals and the emotional needs of our students.
Want to increase your student enrollment this year?… then be sure to check out our teacher’s guide, Piano Hands Shouldn’t Flip Burgers.