Sometimes my students land up on the piano stool with a string of muttered “It’s been a busy week” type of excuses. This needs some unpacking.
- Maybe it really has been a busy week and they really haven’t had much time – exams, holidays, school trips, extra homework, illness – these are all reasonable reasons for not getting much done. Sympathy and understanding suitably adjusted lesson would be a good response for the first time this happens. However, if this is happening regularly then some kind of conversation about how to proceed will need to happen.
- Maybe they don’t like the pieces that they are working on. If they are set pieces for an exam, it might be possible to change them. Or maybe it is actually a good learning point to enable a student to get on with the business of learning something even if they don’t like it. This would apply more to an older student who is considering music as a career. After all, as an accompanist, I often have to learn accompaniments that I don’t like!
- Maybe, and this is often a “buried” reason, they are in difficulties with the pieces. This is a very common problem. The student is over-faced, and cannot bring themselves to work on something that seems too hard and discouraging.
Now we are getting somewhere. So, rather than responding with whatever my usual response to “I haven’t done much/any practice this week” with irritation, annoyance, or a stern lecture, I try and hold back the deep sigh and “if you don’t practice you won’t get anywhere” response until I have found out a bit more.
That isn’t to say that I won’t end up delivering the “if you don’t practice blah blah blah” spiel; a tough response may well be appropriate, and making it abundantly clear that I won’t tolerate this kind of laziness or lack of organisation or disrespect or timewasting could deal with the problem quite effectively. However this is entirely the wrong response to a pupil who is in difficulties for other reasons, and showing them how to overcome the hurdles and “challenges” that the pieces are presenting is far more motivating and encouraging.