Pretend you are at home practicing

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

As piano teachers, I assume we have all heard from a student at one time or another, hopefully not on a regular basis, “I did not have much time to practice this week.” Or even worse, “I did not practice at all this week”. Occasionally I will say, especially with new students coming to me from another teacher, “Pretend you are at home practicing. Work on your music assigned and do what you do if you were practicing at home. I am not going to stop you until I am ready to discuss what I have heard.”  I will let the student play anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on the size of the assignment(s), complexity of the music, or the age of the student. 

Observations of what they do and what they don’t do can be quite revealing about their approach to practicing. Were problem areas acknowledged before or after playing through the piece? Did the student mark their music if the situation might have warranted it? Are they aware of missed flats or sharps in the key signature, articulations or how they are phrasing the music? Is the younger performer focused more on fingering than noticing changes in hand position? Complex music may require more time to discuss observations so be prepared to talk about broad aspects or to determine an order of importance of specific issues with the remaining time available in the lesson. 

Were there issues that carried over from one piece to another?  Were they aware of such issues? A student who focuses on fingering and not noticing shifts in hand position will probably continue such habits until forced to deal with the issue. In such a case, I have the student analyze each fingering printed in the music by the composer/publisher and ask if it represents a shift in position, and if so, that they circle the fingering. The circle alerts to the shift and forces them to read the note(s).  This is a good place to start for such individuals before sight-reading as well.

While there may be plenty to discuss, I never overlook an opportunity to compliment good practice habits. Encouragement of any kind can go a long way, especially to the perfectionist who only hears the problems in their performance. When time allows, I will reinforce the compliment(s) again at the end of the lesson when speaking to the parents.