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Topic Options
#2039889 - 02/26/13 09:53 PM Unlearning
Brinestone Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/06/10
Posts: 381
We've all been there: A student comes to their lesson so excited to share something they've been practicing like crazy the past week. You listen eagerly, and they HAVE done a good job, and it IS pretty polished—only they're swinging the 8th notes when they're not supposed to, or they're counting one section wrong, or every time they're supposed to hit a high B, they hit a high D instead, which is in the chord, but which isn't right.

And it's deeply ingrained at this point because the student has practiced it so hard. You point out the error and work with them on it, but the following week, they return, still doing it wrong.

What strategies do you have for unlearning something? The only thing I've found that works is to make them play the offending measures right about 20 times DURING the lesson while I'm watching and then downright forbidding them to ever do it "their way" again. Is there a better way?
Piano teacher since 2008, member of NFMC

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#2039898 - 02/26/13 10:26 PM Re: Unlearning [Re: Brinestone]
bzpiano Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/10/11
Posts: 1090
Loc: Irvine, CA
The only thing I've found that works is to make them play the offending measures right about 20 times DURING the lesson

Sound good to me.

Here is what I tried:
1. Mark it on their music books.
2. Write detail practice spot to watch out in their homework book
3. Make a video with their smart-phone
4. Email parents which "dangerous spots" to watch out at home.

If those above doesn't work, then I get angry and scold the kids, then next week usually they will come with excellent works. If scolding the kids won't work, then my last resort would be scolding the mom. It usually works. tiki
Piano lessons in Irvine, CA
Follow my 4YO student here: http://bit.ly/FollowMeiY

#2039900 - 02/26/13 10:35 PM Re: Unlearning [Re: bzpiano]
Brinestone Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/06/10
Posts: 381
Hahaha! Good idea (scolding the parents, that is).
Piano teacher since 2008, member of NFMC

#2040006 - 02/27/13 07:42 AM Re: Unlearning [Re: Brinestone]
TimR Online   content
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3880
Loc: Virginia, USA
This happens to all of us occasionally, doesn't it?

What I do personally is to alternate playing it deliberately wrong and deliberately right. This makes the contrast clear, and makes the wrong version my choice rather than my habit.

It's very hard to "not do" something, much easier to "do" something else.

I use this with my handbell ringers too.
gotta go practice

#2040024 - 02/27/13 08:25 AM Re: Unlearning [Re: Brinestone]
ten left thumbs Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Does it always matter? If it's not a performance piece, not for exam, might you just leave the mistake?
I am a competent teacher.


#2040025 - 02/27/13 08:27 AM Re: Unlearning [Re: Brinestone]
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 15471
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
First, I will try to get them to see what's wrong in that passage - sometimes they can't see it, but I try to give them hints so they can actually find the error.

After we identify the problem, I have the student mark their scores. If I mark it they can easily ignore it, but if they mark it they will be more likely to adhere to it. I let them write whatever they want to write - it's quite humorous sometimes to see what they write or the pictures they draw smile . Then I have them play the passage again. If they still mess it up then I tell them to write something more to help. Usually they can get it by the 2nd time they have to write something.

In the case of swinging 8ths or something that affects the entire piece, I will play a few measures twice, one way their way, the other way correctly. I'll ask them what's the difference between the two, and then which one was the way they played it. Then we'll devise a strategy for helping them to remember the sound of the difference when they're practicing at home. This isn't always easy to correct, and I will point out to the student that when something is learned wrong it is very, very hard to undo it. Best to learn it right from the beginning, and we'll talk about what things they can do when learning new pieces in the future to avoid this. In most cases, they will only be able to do a passable rendition of the piece correctly in the end and we move on.

Really, the BEST way to correct something learned incorrectly is to completely put the piece away for 6 months or so (less for easier pieces) so that it's mostly forgotten and try again. Often the student has moved on and it's not worth returning to.
private piano/voice teacher FT

#2040094 - 02/27/13 11:22 AM Re: Unlearning [Re: Brinestone]
AZNpiano Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 7034
Loc: Orange County, CA
You have to first determine how flexible/stubborn the student is. The flexible ones can change their wrong ways pretty fast, and most of the time the problem is with a mental understanding of a concept (note, rhythm, etc.) and not necessarily a physical/technical problem. BTW, "problem" does not mean "disability," just some issue that needs to be fixed or addressed.

The stubborn ones usually have more than one mental and one physical problem combined, so that changes come slowly and painfully. Students who are weak in rhythm do not play with an internal pulse, so any attempt at fixing a rhythmic problem will be met with resistance and/or frustration.

There is no instant cure for the truly stubborn ones. The best solution is to drop the piece and move on. If you diagnose a stubborn-minded student, the best course of action for you is to teach each piece bit by bit, maybe 4-8 measures at a time under your strict supervision. In 30 minutes you can easily teach 4 measures of notes correctly, and have the kid play the same 4 measures correctly 20 times. And that kid will work on just 4 measures this week. Do not allow him to go beyond the 4 measures.

Nip the problem in the bud. Don't allow bad habits to foster.
Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member

#2040887 - 02/28/13 04:18 PM Re: Unlearning [Re: Brinestone]
manyhands Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/19/12
Posts: 177
Loc: Md
Is that ironically like fester? smile
many hands many smiles

Big Mama Yama U1

#2041397 - 03/01/13 02:46 PM Re: Unlearning [Re: manyhands]
RBMusik Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 42
Loc: Philadelphia
I tend to agree with the camp that would say, put the piece down and return later, if it's important enough. Use the lesson as an opportunity to teach those incorrect points and move on to another piece that challenges the same skill. Playing it correctly 20 times during the lesson seems like an inefficient use of precious instruction time. I would have likely used that time to teach some exercises or theory. If it's fingering mistakes, try to show them why certain fingering might be important to economy of effort, for example. Once it's in the hands, we all know how the brain locks on.
As someone who teaches his own children, this is where I see advantage.... easier to nip mistakes like this in the bud before they become ingrained wink Good luck.

#2041572 - 03/01/13 07:26 PM Re: Unlearning [Re: Brinestone]
Brinestone Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/06/10
Posts: 381
I totally agree. I often wish I could see my students more than once a week so stuff like this didn't happen.
Piano teacher since 2008, member of NFMC

#2041657 - 03/02/13 12:30 AM Re: Unlearning [Re: RBMusik]
Amy B Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/23/12
Posts: 78
Loc: San Francisco Bay Area
RB Musik.....I am also teaching my kids (mostly my nine year old son, as 12 year old daughter is quite busy). I am really enjoying it, and am seeing a huge advantage in being able to nip problems in the bud. We have lots of 10-15 minute mini-lessons throughout the week.

I also try things out on him, to see how it will work with other students.

For the rest of my students, the unlearning issue is a tough one. If they just can't seem to fix their recurring mistake/s, I will sometimes just scrap that piece, and look to another piece that will teach the same concept, and start from scratch.
Shigeru Kawai SK6 (as of 10/22/12!!)
Ivers and Pond upright

#2041665 - 03/02/13 12:55 AM Re: Unlearning [Re: Brinestone]
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4264
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
We've had cases like this before ... it would appear that the hard-wiring of the brain locks whatever it hears into the memory ... and making erasure practically impossible.

The only solution is to start again on a fresh piece of keyboard music ... but making sure to get
the sight-reading absolutely right ... with a slow
initial tempo and steadily working up the speed.

#2067826 - 04/21/13 12:21 AM Re: Unlearning [Re: Brinestone]
red-rose Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/20/13
Posts: 177
Loc: Cleveland, OH
Maybe I'm a bit more laid back than I should be, but I don't see much benefit to beating the correct rhythm into them when I know that they *can* do it (as in, I've seen them play 8th notes perfectly correctly or whatever,) and damper their enthusiasm. (Unless they would play that piece for a recital.)

#2068093 - 04/21/13 03:22 PM Re: Unlearning [Re: Brinestone]
Brinestone Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/06/10
Posts: 381
This was a long time ago, but this was a case where the student was preparing for performance (NFMC solo festival). The piece was in 3/4, with half notes followed by quarter notes in the left hand. She did fine at first with the rhythm, but then two weeks before the festival, she started playing two half notes, making it into 4/4. I talked to her about it as soon as it happened, got her to play the correct rhythm at her lesson, and sent her home. The following week, just days before the performance, she was doing the 4/4 thing again. It was obvious that she'd now fully memorized it the wrong way. We spent the whole half hour playing it the right way, and I guess she did okay at the festival, but I know that if I asked her to play it now, she'd revert to her 4/4 rhythm.

So the short answer is: if you're willing to spend the time (and if it's worth it), short-term unlearning might be possible. Long-term unlearning probably isn't.
Piano teacher since 2008, member of NFMC

#2068273 - 04/21/13 10:10 PM Re: Unlearning [Re: red-rose]
Bluoh Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/20/11
Posts: 421
Loc: Canada
Originally Posted By: red-rose
Maybe I'm a bit more laid back than I should be, but I don't see much benefit to beating the correct rhythm into them when I know that they *can* do it (as in, I've seen them play 8th notes perfectly correctly or whatever,) and damper their enthusiasm. (Unless they would play that piece for a recital.)

It goes back to how the pianist feels the music and how the composer felt the music. Both are valid. And if you want to get 'technical' about playing what's written, then half the time, pianists who play jazz aren't playing it 'correctly' anyways.

I think it's okay to let the student experiment a little and play pieces how they feel it should be played, but it's also very important to know all the theory behind it.

Forcing students to conform to something makes them really boring and technical (ahem). Also it takes away their ability to improvise (I know all about this).

It's a balance, but when you're trying to 'unlearn' something, you're definitely fighting against muscle memory--the best thing ever, or your worst nightmare...

#2068318 - 04/21/13 11:16 PM Re: Unlearning [Re: Brinestone]
Piano*Dad Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/12/05
Posts: 10780
Loc: Williamsburg, VA
Hey, I still mess up certain spots in pieces I learned forty years ago.... smile

Swinging eighth notes ... what if it's Gershwin??? grin


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