Crooked Uphill Progress

A couple times a year I have an adult student (usually) come to a crisis point in their lessons. Frustrated they always tell me that they think they are not doing well and are even regressing; losing skills and knowledge where they used to be strong. This is something that happens to all students regardless of age or skill level.

It is important to let students know that progress on an instrument or any new venture is never a gradual uphill climb. Your progress is more like a line graph with giant leaps up and dives down. But if students are consistent with practice and coming to lessons that crooked line will still creep up over time despite the dives downward.

When a student tells me this I let them know its okay and it is a good thing that they notice skills slipping. This means that they are aware of their abilities and conscious of weaknesses. When a student is aware of these things they are easily remedied. Often time these perceived weaknesses are more likely linked to work, family, or other personal issues and not really a weakness at all. If a student is dealing with personal issues it can take a heavy toll on their cognitive and motor function abilities. Here are a few tips I give to students when they reach this point.

  1. Review- Return to basics for a while. Flash cards and sight reading are a great way to help rejuvenate the mind. Often students that do this realize that their knowledge has not gone anywhere they just have a lot on their mind.


Going back over technique exercises that someone used to struggle with can be a good reminder that they really have come a long way.


  1. Take a break- This is especially important for students that are becoming very stressed out. Sometimes life can’t be helped and the best thing to do is put the instrument down and come back later. Practicing stressed out is counterproductive and often students are learning mistakes and reinforcing poor habits.


  1. Try something new- Sometimes I will tell students to try something new without my help. I have them take their skills and knowledge and apply to a piece of music or technique where I am not helping them. Often the student comes back with much more accomplished then they thought they could. This realization gives a boost of confidence and helps students realize they are not in the dire situation they thought.               
Catoctin School of Music
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