by Jamey Mann, Catoctin School of Music
0ver the course of my playing and teaching career I’ve developed a couple rules. These rules are simple, but effective for the students that follow them. I’ve developed these rules to help students think about and process the information they are seeing in their music, to help them understand the importance of listening to what they are doing and help them realize they need to be engaged with the music while practicing.
Unfortunately, these rules are often brought up when the student may be underperforming in their lessons. I often bring up my rules when the student has past the beginning stages where they should be gaining some independence, working and thinking their way through assignments on their own. This is where the student should not need help identifying notes or need an explanation for fingering designations and other symbols. I am still there to help with new techniques and concepts, but I am not explaining basics anymore.
Much of the time I know exactly what is going on. I give students these rules to help self-correct their practice habits. Often the students are missing, not understanding, or ignoring crucial information in the music and making the process far more difficult than it should be.
- If it feels harder than it should, you might be missing something- Students are going to miss some details in music while they are practicing. These missed details can often make practice excessively difficult. I’ve witnessed students making crazy leaps and stretches across the neck of the guitar to play notes. Some will tie their fingers in knots trying to work out a chord. Often these students are missing, ignoring, or not trying to look at the information that is on the page to guide them through their assignment. Missing fingering indication, position indications, and key signature/changes that will cause this. While the guitar is difficult, the student should be starting to realize when it is overly complicated. I make sure to let the student know that I am not assigning music they are not capable of learning.
- If it sounds worse than it should, you might be missing something- One minute you are listening to your student play a basic piece and the next you’re hearing something out of a contemporary music class. This might be a one off mistake, but you ask the student to play again to find whether they learned these mistakes. Again, the student is missing some major piece of information that is causing them to play wrong notes.
However, this might be an indication of a much larger problem. Not only is the student not paying attention to indications in their music, but they are also not listening to what they are playing.
- Stop going through the motions- If rules 1 and 2 fail then I move onto this rule. Going through the motions is when a student is not paying attention or not putting in the effort. They are simply going through the motions of practice with out really practicing. This is something which teachers and parents need to be aware. Some students are tricky and can get by for a good amount of time going through the motions, fooling teachers and parents. However, this type of attitude will catch up with them. I let the student know that I recognize exactly what is going on at home. And I let them know if they want to excel, they need to change their practice habits and engage with their music: simply pay attention and listen to what they are doing.