Above Photo: Our 6-year-old student, Enzo, preparing for his competition recital at Carnegie Hall, NYC
There's a secret to making amazing progress, sticking with it, and becoming great at playing music!
To understand how to be great at playing....let's take a look at what happens (and doesn't happen) during a traditional lesson....
Nothing against our childhood music lessons, but the traditional private lesson is BACKWARD! If you've ever experienced private lessons, they were most likely 30 minutes once a week (mine were, too). During the week, on your own, is when you were expected to make the real progress - to remember what was taught during the lesson, figure out new songs, make improvements to the old ones, memorize stuff, drill on exercises and scales. Then, at the next lesson, the pressure was on to present all that...as well as grasp some new theory concepts, and do a little sight reading on the new songs for the upcoming week. Let's examine some serious and obvious flaws with that model...and how to fix them!
Flaws with the traditional 30-minute weekly lesson:
LESSONS ARE TOO SHORT Thirty minutes is simply not enough time to cover everything necessary to make fast musical progress, or to allow the student to make a true physical connection to music (at any age!). It might be, if perhaps a student consistently showed up to each lesson ready to play the assigned songs at tempo perfectly, completed all exercises flawlessly, took initiative to work on sight reading new songs during the week, correctly completed pages in their theory workbook, memorized the upcoming recital song. More likely, the student practiced something incorrectly that will then need to be fixed (there goes the rest of the lesson time), ran into struggles and didn't practice everything, forgot about the sight reading, left the theory workbook at home, or didn't practice at all (the lesson is then spent repeating everything from the previous lesson).
LESSON NERVES There's a bit of pressure on students during a 30-minute lesson. What they practiced (or didn't) during the previous week is about to be closely examined and critiqued for mistakes. Personally, I recall being so nervous during my childhood piano lessons that most of what my teacher said was white noise. Nerves during a lesson can severely inhibit students from truly absorbing new information and making a deeper connection and understanding of their music.
UNSUPERVISED PRACTICE Unfortunately, unless you happen to be the child of a piano teacher, all practice during the week (if there is any) goes unsupervised and unchecked by the teacher. Even the most dedicated practicers work in mistakes and poor habits that need to be "un-practiced" at the next lesson. Another common occurrence is that students may not realize how much time should be spent practicing, and will simply skim through playing their songs rather than mastering them.
LACK OF MASTERY In traditional 30-minute lessons, the bulk of the time is spent either fixing mistakes or introducing new concepts and music. There is very little remaining time for the student to play repeatedly and to truly absorb something new. Repetition and mastery of songs must be done during home practice, and the student is left to decide where that barre is.
LITTLE OR NO SIGHT READING With little or no time during a lesson to practice sight reading (sight reading is the skill of being able to play through a new piece of music almost perfectly without having practiced it beforehand), this skill is often neglected and very underdeveloped in most students. As sight reading becomes more challenging, it's not likely students will put it in their Top Five list of things to work on during the week.
LITTLE OR NO PERFORMING We're not talking about actual formal "performances" here, like recitals or competitions. We mean there is little or no playing in front of people (friends, family, other students). Students may get used to playing comfortably and privately in front of their teacher, but any other playing is probably done in solitude. Performing and learning to be comfortable playing for others is a skill rarely practiced (no wonder recitals can be such nerve inducing events).
So, what's the solution?...and the secret to amazing progress, and becoming a great player?
The solution (and the secret to getting really, really good) is in a lesson design and restructure that addresses the issues of lesson length, nerves, unsupervised practice, lack of mastery, under-developed sight reading skills, under-developed performance skills and anxiety....and promotes confidence and independence. But, there's more! We also want PARENTS to feel that "Lesson Success"...to make sure students have conquered any musical and practice issues during their lesson so playing at home is actually FUN -- never a chore, and never a battle! At The Music Studio, THE LESSON INCLUDES THE PRACTICE, and PRACTICE BECOMES THE PERFORMANCE.