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A Sense of Quality

I've noticed another subtle change in my students after the introduction of the review chart.  I find this change the most interesting so far because it was something that bothered me as a teacher but I didn't know how to word exactly what it was that was bothering me.

The issue boiled down to having an internal sense of quality.  Before I go any further on this topic I'd like to clarify that I have completely realistic expectations when it comes to children and their artistic sensibilities.  In no way did I ever expect an 8-year-old boy to feel the romantic yearning undercurrent to Brahms' Waltz.  Girls are still totally gross... I get it.

But as I teacher I do feel that it's my duty to plant the seeds of quality in their brain.  In other words, it's important to establish a standard.  They need to know how far others have pushed the boundaries of an instrument in order to have something to strive for.  I don't feel like musicians should berate themselves for every little mistake but it's necessary to have that internal filter.  You have to be able to objectively ask yourself, "Ok, that didn't sound all that great, what went wrong?  How can I fix it so it sounds better?"

Therein lay the problem.  Many of my students were totally fine with the piece sounding "average" and then just leaving it at that.  By average I mean playing the piece without much expression or dynamics and maybe missing a handful of notes that could have easily been cleaned up with five minutes of drilling.  Unless I demanded a higher standard from them in the lessons, they were ok with that "C- work."  There was no incentive for them to strive for "A+ work."

This did concern me but I always assumed it was a maturity thing.  So long as I maintained an "A+ standard" in the private lessons then they would eventually learn when they were old enough to understand, right?  Well, yes and no.  I still think this is true to some extent.  Age and general life experience definitely has an impact on what you can pull out of a piece.

But there's another subtle element to this that I was missing and that was being able to hear yourself play.  All this time I was so focused on having students listen to other people play (which is very important, don't get me wrong) that I missed the importance of just listening to yourself.  And that's what the review chart has really brought to light.

It's now been about two months since I started using that review chart and cracking down on students knowing all of their review pieces.  I think the most noticeable change happening now is that they are now starting to hear the difference in their playing.  Most of them are now beyond the relearning notes to pieces they forgot phase and, consequently, they are now starting to hear themselves play at a much higher level for more advanced pieces.  They now know that they are capable of "A+ work," which, in turn, makes them more motivated to strive for that level.


  1. I have had the same difficulty! My students seem to be content with less than optimal performances of their review pieces (and sometimes new pieces, too!) I am curious to know how exactly the review chart has changed their practice habits? Is it simply the consistency of reviewing older pieces that has led to this change in their awareness? Or do you have guidelines for the practice of the review pieces to help them along the way?

    1. I told them, "know the notes, rhythms and bowings." So I kept it basic and then I used the lessons to spot check or help if a piece was totally forgotten.

      In retrospect (this didn't occur to me at all when I first handed out the charts) I think the most powerful part about the chart is that fact that they start to remember how they played a piece.

      Think of it like playing mini golf. You go and you mess around and you probably have a terrible score because most people don't mini golf regularly. Most likely a lot of time goes by between games so by the time you play that same course again, you don't remember how you played the last time. So you approach it with the same low expectations.

      If you were to play that exact same mini golf course 2-3 times a week you would start to remember how you performed on specific holes. Performing 3 strokes worse on a hole compared to the other times becomes obvious and the next natural question is, "wow, what happened there?"

      The same thing happened for review pieces. It wasn't just ME remembering when they played the piece better. THEY noticed.


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