There is an article by Dr. Noa Kageyama called “8 Things Top Practicers Do Differently.” It states, “A group of researchers led by Robert Duke of The University of Texas at Austin conducted a study several years ago to see if they could tease out the specific practice behaviors that distinguish the best players and most effective learners. Seventeen piano and piano pedagogy majors agreed to learn a 3-measure passage from “Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1”. . . . That led to a few interesting findings: Practicing longer didn’t lead to higher rankings. Getting in more repetitions had no impact on their ranking either. The number of times they played it correctly in practice also had no bearing on their ranking. What did matter was: How many times they played it incorrectly. The more times they played it incorrectly, the worse their ranking tended to be. The percentage of correct practice trials did seem to matter. The greater the proportion of correct trials in their practice session, the higher their ranking tended to be.”
This study validates my own practice strategies through my years of music making and my teaching style. I stop students and correct them so that they can practice it correctly at home, so that ultimately they become better at their instrument. If a student isn’t taught what to do correctly in the moment of learning something, they won’t be able to carry the concept correctly into the next piece they see. For example: rhythms. If a student learns a rhythm or technique incorrectly the first time, it will be difficult to change later what they think is right. So SOMETIMES when a student comes to me from a different teacher or from having no teacher at all, I have to be very repetitive in correcting technique or rhythm for years. Prentice appreciated this deeply. I thought he would quit after I worked with his articulation for a year. He didn’t quit. He played from seventh grade through high school with me as his teacher and went on to become an art teacher who then emailed me years later and thanked me for making him into a decent clarinet player. Every kid I listed has had me correct them. Every kid improved and enjoyed improving. When my students become better at their instrument over years, they appreciate my teaching, and their confidence in other areas of life flourish, also. They end up enjoying working hard to become good at their instrument, and then, they learn that working hard in other areas of life can be beneficial, too. Playing an instrument well does not come overnight. It may seem frustrating to have to be corrected and stop and correct oneself in one’s own practice room, but it’s the way to one’s potential.
In that same article, “there were three [strategies] that were used by all three top pianists, but rarely utilized by the others. In fact, only two other pianists (ranked #4 and #6) used more than one: 1. The precise location and source of each error was identified accurately, rehearsed, and corrected. 2. Tempo of individual performance trials was varied systematically; logically understandable changes in tempo occurred between trials (e.g. slowed things down to get tricky sections correct; or speeded things up to test themselves, but not too much). 3. Target passages were repeated until the error was corrected and the passage was stabilized, as evidenced by the error’s absence in subsequent trials. What’s the common thread that ties these together? The researchers note that the most striking difference between the top three pianists and the rest, was how they handled mistakes. It’s not that the top pianists made fewer mistakes in the beginning and simply had an easier time learning the passage. The top pianists made mistakes too, but they managed to correct their errors in such a way that helped them avoid making the same mistakes over and over, leading to a higher proportion of correct trials overall. And one to rule them all: the top performers utilized a variety of error-correction methods, such as playing with one hand alone, or playing just part of the excerpt, but there was one strategy that seemed to be the most impactful. Slowing things down.”
Some students do tend to play many exercises or pieces fast, believing that a faster tempo is more impressive to the teacher and maybe even a panel of judges at an audition. This is incorrect. A piece or exercise played accurately and with expression is much more appreciated by me as a teacher than anything played faster with mistakes and less nuances. This is why, when a student does practice only two or three times in a week but comes in and listens to me, slows a particular assignment down, and plays nearly everything accurately or does play everything accurately, I do move them to the next piece or exercise in the book or on my mental list of music. I’m not looking for perfection. I’m looking to see if the student has understood and become better that week at the concept that was in the assignment. If the student has grasped it in a physically technical and mentally or emotionally artistic way, I usually move them on. This encourages a student. They are happy to get a sticker for trying and learning. That said, the students that practice four or more times a week learn more music building blocks faster and get to learn more music and get to play more pieces they want to play, eventually. And if the student will be using the particular piece for an audition or an upcoming recital, then, we practice together until it is at the best the student can play or sing it at the appropriate tempo and beautiful level of artistry.
By the way, I don’t write note names under notes in the music the students are learning. I don’t believe this helps a student at all. Theory books are helpful, and writing note names in those books are essential but not in the music the student is practicing. Students will look at the letters under the notes instead of the notes themselves, and this defeats the purpose of having notes on a staff at all. There are many teaching tools to help students remember the notes on the staves, and I give them those tools. Once in a while, I ask a student to name notes, and if they can’t remember the notes, then, I remind them about the tools I have given them to help them learn.
To read the whole article mentioned in my essay, please go to http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/8-things-top-practicers-do-differently/
Ann Marie Falcone BM, MM