Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Teaching the Obvious

I live in California, and the biggest, most well-known music examination program here is called the Certificate of Merit. It is run by the Music Teachers Association of California, and approximately 30,000 students from all instrumental disciplines participate annually. For my town, the exam is held in early March, so the month of February is final count-down time for my students.

I am writing this post, because as I help my students with their exam preparations, I notice a common thread: what is obvious to us is not always so obvious for the students! Here are some common areas of concern:

1. Memorization. Most exams require students to memorize their music. To do this, we all know that we need to practice with the score in order to consolidate our memory. Very obvious right?! Students do not always know this! Once they think they have more or less memorized their pieces, they often practice from memory at home, and as such, their memory collapses. Even when told to use their music to practice, they often just put it on the music stand, and their eyes are not actually looking at the music, but at their hands and fingers instead. Everyday I have to remind someone to practice with their music, instead of from their not-so-reliable memory! Students often think they have memorized the notes, but they fail to memorize other details such as phrasing and dynamics.

2. Practice hands separately. Again very obvious right? Many students do not do this. They feel it is too boring, and they are “good enough” to not have to do something as basic as this!

3. Practice slowly. It is painful to play slowly. Students do not like it! “But the piece says Allegro”, I often hear, or “I heard someone play this fast on YouTube!” It takes so much patience to practice slowly, and we all know how important this is in order to consolidate technique, not to mention solidify the memory. Students do not know this, or they often forget to do it!

4. Practice with the metronome. In order to practice slowly, and keep the tempo slow, we need something to keep us steady – the metronome! I have a saying in my studio – the metronome does not lie! Students often get faster and faster and they do not realize it. Metronome practice requires discipline and patience – very important skills!

What are some of the things you have discovered that are so shockingly obvious to you, but you find your students forgetting to do? If you are also preparing students for exams, good luck!

About the Author

Yiyi Ku
Yiyi Ku is a pianist and teacher. Born in Taiwan, she grew up in New Zealand and obtained her Master of Music degree with Distinction in Composition and Piano Performance from the University of Canterbury. Yiyi also holds a Licentiate in Piano Performance from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. She is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music in Piano from Music Teachers National As... [Read more]

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