I recently started teaching piano lessons to a transfer student. She’s 6, she has pigtails, and she is the most honest child I’ve ever met.
Me: “How did your practising go this week?”
Anna: “I really wanted to practice but I have a new coloring book”
Me: “Okay, well lets work on this song together then so you can go home and play it a few times before you start coloring each night.”
Anna: “Okay, well, I didn’t practice this one… but I just know it.”
And she did. Anna is one of those fortunate children to whom things come naturally. You need only explain something to her once. Her brain process the information, stores it away for future reference and she’s ready to move on. At this level of her studies (very beginner), she sees no need for repetition, explanation or… practice.
As I watched her perfectly plink her way through her beginner piece I realized that, for Anna, practice needed to take on a new meaning. I needed to shift my focus. Practice to her was not going to be “Play this until you know it well”… because she already knew it well. Without practising.
And then I couldn’t help but think about Liam. Liam who requires me to explain every new concept in at least six different ways – most of them requiring a lot of props and hands-on activities. Liam who, although he sits and practises the piano diligently four nights a week, often returns to his next lesson with the same level of understanding as he left with the week before. Liam really needs repetition, explanation and… practice.
It is an odd twist of fate that Liam’s lesson is immediately after Anna’s. You can’t help but compare the two. And they are like night and day.
But I am left wondering who will end up truly “knowing it” in the long run. The student who breezes through her method books with hardly a backwards glance, or the student who methodically processes every bit of info and repeats, re-learns and reviews with dogged determination?
And then… does it even matter? Is the true value of piano lessons found in the process… or in the outcome?