The next Pedagogy Saturday session was an excellent session by Hans Boepple discussing issues and strategies related to practicing. Below are my notes.
The core of our pursuit in music is based on that solo activity called practicing. At the lesson, the teacher should help the student set attainable goals. When students do their homework, they know exactly what the assignment is and what they have to do in order to finish their work. For piano study — do our students know what exactly they are doing when they practice? An assignment sheet can be a great tool in this regard.
At the lesson, ask: So, tell me about your practice. The student should be able to respond and tell you how far they got with last week’s goals/assignments. The teacher listens and assesses the previous week’s work and then makes the plan for the next week.
It would be silly, of course, for students to come back without following the set assignment goals. It would be like going to the doctor for a follow-up without having followed the directions from the doctor to cure your ailment.
As students become more advanced, they will learn more and more how to solve problems by themselves.
How much time should students spend practicing? It depends on the goal of the student. Playing for amusement doesn’t require much of a regiment. Preparing for a competition requires regular practice and a very good teacher. The problems begin when people have goals but don’t put in the necessary time to meet the goal. Then they say, “I don’t have time.” Really, though, people have as much time as they want to have. It is about budgeting time.
Making Big Skills Into Habits:
Sometimes we feel the weight of following so many details in every measure — so much ink on the page! But all those markings really fall into four larger categories:
(1) Do what the music says to do.
(2) Play the rhythm accurately. Being able to count outloud is one of the most important things:
– It ensures that the rhythm is accurate.
– But it is also an internal metronome. Counting is verbal conducting.
– It builds awareness of meter (playing with a heavier beat one, etc.). This leads to shaping. Mr. Boepple encourages something he calls hypercounting: Count first with “and’s.” Then just 1-2-3. Then 1-2-3-4-5-6. Then count once a measure, 1-2-3-4. This process allows you to increasingly see and understand the larger levels of rhythm/form happening in a piece. Counting is hardly a beginner activity.
– Counting can help with all kinds of rubato.
(3) Bring out the melody.
(4) Shape the melody. This one is difficult to relegate as a habit, but the other 3 categories can more easily be made into a habit. Shaping a melody means that no two notes can be the same dynamic in a row. So, we must make decisions: will the next note be louder or softer? Try writing pluses and minuses to indicate whether each note is building or dropping.
Wouldn’t it be great if we (and or students) could form a habit to do those four things automatically? That should be the goal.
Practicing is about solving problems. Solving problems is about first figuring out what is hard about the spot and then making it harder. These strategies can help students become increasingly more successful with their practicing.