Issue 69: A tough evening’s learning

Here is an account of a piano pupil’s lesson: (name, gender, age, all identifying details removed!)

I am still working on persuading her to learn, and practise, her pieces in a way that leads to “deep learning”. She will skitter through the scales, and then the pieces, correcting all the myriad mistakes as they happen along the way. On a second play-through, she will make different mistakes, repeat the same mistakes, and things are no better than the first time. We are still learning the first 8 bars, hands separately, and every bar contains at least one mistake.

So, the lesson was spent on breaking the piece down into tiny fragments, starting with the first note and the first fingering, and building it up. I invoked “the rule of 6“; you have to play the fragment correctly 6 times in a row before moving on. Each fragment is linked to the previous one, until, after a short period of concentrated work, the you can play whatever it is you are working on securely, and without errors.

She managed to enter into the spirit of the “the rule of 6” as a kind of challenge or game. After a few false starts, she metaphorically rolled up her sleeves and got properly stuck in to the business of learning. By the end of the lesson we’d had quite a few laughs along the way, but the scale of A flat major was a triumph of fingering and flats, and the horrid intricacies of the first section of the Waltz were reduced to a mere bagatelle.

I would much rather that my pupils learned a few bars really well, than they produced a page of erratic, self-corrected, unrhythmic mush. I would infinitely prefer them to practise for 10 minutes with intent and purpose, than flail around in front of the music for half an hour. “Less” can be so much more than “More”.


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