Issue 26: Play it again, Sam. And again. And again…

Repetition is a cornerstone of learning – that is, Intelligent Repetition, where each time you repeat the phrase or bar, or section, you play it accurately.

I feel I have made a breakthrough with one of my teenage piano students this week.  For the last month or so there  has been no progress at all on his Bach Three Part Invention.  It is clear that the number of notes crammed into 32 bars over two pages has become an insuperable hurdle.  In spite of everything I say in the lesson, his method of practice seems to be to play through as much as he can, scrabbling to find the notes and correcting mistakes without pausing, until finally his thought processes and his reserves of patience come to a grinding halt.

So, yet again, we went through it very slowly, one or two bars at a time, counting four semiquavers in every crotchet, hands separately and then together.  We added each new bar of learning to the previous bar, slowly building it up, watching and listening to make sure that the fingers were no longer struggling to find the notes and were moving smoothly and easily into place.

After about fifteen minutes, he found to his amazement that he had more or less got to grips with the first eleven bars, which is one-third of the whole piece.  The rest of the task suddenly looks far more feasible.

Before he left, we discussed the process by which this miracle had been achieved, and I made sure that he understood the need to go through the same process each time he worked on the Bach.

He left, tired from the intense mental effort of concentration and exercise of self-restraint, but heartened by the progress. I heard him muttering “should have listened and done it that way from the beginning” as he left…


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