I’ll admit it: I am not the perfect parent. My kids are too kind to remind me of this fact, but now and again, I can see it in their eyes.
It’s that “Dad has no idea what he’s doing,” kind of look.
With that said, I get better every day. And, when my kids teach me a parenting lesson, I like to apply it to the piano world and then share it with you.
So, what did my kids teach me this past weekend?
They taught me that constantly fixing their mistakes can get very, very annoying. Furthermore, I discovered that mistakes rarely need correcting.
If this thought sounds crazy, I hear you. It sounded crazy to me as well, until I dug a little deeper and realized that there is a big difference between mistakes and errors.
For the most part, you can leave mistakes alone, but errors need attention.
In today’s post, I’m going to show you how to identify your piano students’ mistakes and errors and what you should do when either one of them occurs.
Mistakes Vs Errors: Not The Same Thing
Mistakes and errors are easy to define but a little harder to identify in your piano studio. Simply put, a mistake occurs when your piano student messes something up that they are fully capable of completing.
Mistakes are often made because your piano student is nervous, is playing too fast, is feeling tired, or is losing focus. Mistakes do not indicate a lack of musical understanding.
An error on the other hand is a bigger deal. An error in a piano piece occurs when a student does not have a fundamental understanding of a musical concept.
More often than not, an error will reveal itself when a piano student “guesses” while reading notes on the staff, or playing a new rhythm, or exploring a new time signature.
An error is not an accident. An error will occur over and over again.
Learn To Ignore your Students’ Mistakes
Piano students will rarely tell you when they are feeling frustrated. This doesn’t, however, mean they are not frustrated. And one of the easiest ways to frustrate piano students is to fix every, little mistake they make while performing a piano piece.
Remember, mistakes are not conceptual errors. Piano students will likely know when they have made a mistake; they do not need to be reminded.
Fixing mistakes will do very little good but can do a lot of harm. Nothing crushes a student’s confidence like being told they have made a mistake when they already know they made a mistake. Often that mistake will be fixed in the next play-through of their piece. Mistakes usually sort themselves out with practice.
So, if you tend to be a mistake fixer, it may be time to let a few things slide. While your students may not look frustrated with mistake-fixing, this doesn’t mean they are not frustrated.
Little kids will likely start to act out when feeling frustrated. But your teens and tweens will stay silent. And it is these students that you should be concerned about, because they may already have one foot out the door.
How To Fix Errors (And Mistakes)
As mentioned, mistakes rarely need fixing. However, when you see the same mistake happening over and over again, your student is likely making an error; and this needs correcting.
There are two ways you can fix errors: 1. Stop and fix as the student plays, or 2. Fix the error when a student completes the piece.
Both methods mentioned above are effective ways to fix piano student errors but they should be used in different scenarios.
Let’s take a closer look:
1. Fixing Errors As A Student Plays
When a student is learning a new piano piece, feel free to stop, fix, and teach as your student plays. The introduction of a new piece of music is a teaching opportunity. Since it is not a performance, your piano student will not feel frustrated by your interventions. Your piano student will probably be very pleased with your help.
Remember, it’s all about avoiding student frustration by maintaining confidence and self-esteem. When a student is learning a new piece they expect to make errors. Therefore, they take no offense when you help them correct errors.
Fixing errors mid-piece does not always have to occur only as a student learns a new piece. Fixing errors can also occur when a piano student is asking for help, whether explicitly or implicitly.
Helping a piano student mid-piece when they are clearly “asking” for help is another time when your interventions will not lead to frustrations.
Identifying “asking” behavior is usually not very hard. Your students will look visibly frustrated, their faces will show pained expressions, their shoulders will slump, and all of the energy will drain from their bodies. When this happens, run to the rescue.
2. Fixing Errors After A Student Plays
Waiting until a student has completed a practice performance to fix errors should occur when a student is playing a piece that they have been working on for at least a few weeks.
It is okay to jump in and fix one error if it is a big deal or occurs over and over again, but most errors can wait until the end.
By waiting until the end, you give your students the satisfaction of completing the piece, even if it had an error or two. Often piano students are proud to show you what they have practiced and if you jump in and correct them, you take the wind out of their sails.
It is more effective, both as a teaching tool and as a confidence saver, to wait until the end of a practice performance before correcting an error.
By doing so, you can give your piano student a ton of positive praise before moving on to fix the error. Also, once the pressure of a practice performance is over, and your student knows they do not have to play through the entire piece, you can more effectively move on with practicing the little musical chunks that caused problems.
Further Reading: The DO’s and DON’Ts Of Talking To Struggling Piano Students
“Errors” Teachers Make when Fixing Errors
No matter how hard you try, you will make errors when fixing your piano students’ errors. So, to give you the best shot of doing the least damage 🙂 … here are the biggest errors teachers make when fixing errors:
1. Coupling Punishment With Error Correction: Correcting errors should be done in a positive, constructive way. Errors are a teaching opportunity and should be addressed as something to be thankful for. Connecting some sort of punishment with an error (ie. If you make an error you must repeat that line 10 times) is a quick way to crush enthusiasm.
2. Correcting Errors Too Soon: Piano teachers are a helpful bunch who tend to rescue their students before a rescue is necessary. When piano students are in the midst of an error, give them the time they need to work out the problem on their own. This strategy is far more effective than immediately jumping to their aid. Read more about the importance of letting students work things out in The Piano Teacher’s Four Second Secret.
3. Correcting Too Many Errors: Nothing is more disheartening than having to fix error after error after error. When teaching piano students, be selective in the errors you correct. Make sure you are maintaining their self-esteem while fixing only the most important issues.
4. Wasting Time On Mistake Correction: Remember, mistakes rarely need intervention. You only see your piano students for a short time each week; make sure that time is well spent by fixing the things that they truly do not understand.
Fixing Note Reading Errors
Sometimes it is easy to tell the difference between an error and a mistake, and sometimes it can be more challenging.
Take note reading for instance; did your piano student just hit the wrong key, or did they simply guess?
One way to rid your piano studio of note reading errors is through repetition. And the most effective resource for note reading repetition is Andrea And Trevor Dow’s Timed Note Reading Tests For Piano.
Click on the covers below to preview Book 1 and Book 2 in this exciting series. If you like what you see, click the Buy Now button below each book.