One thing that seems to vary amongst piano teachers is the idea of what constitutes a “finished” piano piece. At what point is okay to move on? Are a few occasional mistakes okay or should it be perfect? Do you insist on memorizing?
Every teacher has a different opinion when it comes to defining how “finished” is “finished”. The idiom of the carrot on a stick comes to mind; how long do we dangle the completion of a piece before our piano student loses interest and decides they don’t actually like carrots anyway?
Finding a balance between dopamine and diligence
The key is in finding a careful balance between achieving goals vs. diligence. When we achieve a set goal our brain releases dopamine; our “feel good” hormone. Interestingly, the release of dopamine then turns on the areas of your brain that make you want to set goals again.*
As a piano teacher it’s a good idea to keep this chain of events happening! Finish piece… want to learn more! Finish piece… want to learn more! It seems as though we should all be firing off check-marks (read here about why I actually never use check marks) at increasingly frequent intervals!
However, those of you who have worked with children for many years know that kids are keenly aware of how hard they have worked to achieve a goal. The less value we place on their hard work by being too quick to reward… the less the reward ends up meaning; cue the lowered levels of dopamine and therefore lowered desire to start the process again.
So What Are We Piano Teachers To Do?
The answer is actually really simple: do both. Be quick to move on. Be a stickler for details. The key is in doing these two things at different times. Approach pieces in each of these two ways; have some pieces that don’t require a “performance-ready” preparation and have some that do require a “performance-ready” preparation.
Before assigning a new piece to your piano student ask yourself:
a) Do the benefits of learning this piece long-term outweigh my student’s desire for instant gratification?
b) Will the enjoyment potential of this piece be enough to sustain long-term work? (When working with children we have to ask ourselves this question or we’ll all be without students very quickly!)
c) Can the learning outcomes of this piece still be accomplished without expecting perfection?
Explain your criteria for each individual piece to be considered finished so your piano student knows your expectations and watch them rise to the occasion!
Have you discovered “The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo”. If not, click here to learn why a teacher recently wrote us to say, “He is thrilled with the pieces in the first book. I don’t have to do any encouraging, tempting, helping, selling, no holding my breath, no hoping and praying-he is just PLAYING THE MUSIC, with appetite. BRAVO!”
*according to Psychologytoday.com