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I'm not talking about huge sonatas or even sonatinas. I'm referring to the pieces in the PA series or whatever method books you use.

I'm always unsure whether or not my student has sufficiently learned everything that they should've learned with a particular piece and I'm sometimes hesitant to even assign a piece for practice because they've played it so well during their lesson (without prompts and sight-reading).

What are the things you take into account to determine whether or not your student has sufficiently 'passed' their piece and can go on to the next one? Also, how many pieces do you have your students working on at one time? (Obviously this will depend on the student, but sending only one piece home every week feels like wasted time to me.)

I'm interested in hearing your opinions!

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Originally Posted by ChavoPues


Also, how many pieces do you have your students working on at one time? (Obviously this will depend on the student, but sending only one piece home every week feels like wasted time to me.)


I'm six months into adult piano lessons, my teacher assigns 2 technical exercises (Hanon, Czerny), 2 easy sight reading pieces, 1 piece from a method book, 1 blues piece, 1 easy jazz piece, 1 classical piece slightly above my level that might take 2-3 weeks, and a stretch piece that might take me 1 - 3 months to finalize. These are all pretty easy 1 or 2 page pieces as I'm a beginner, but the variety keeps the lessons interesting and each week the material is at different stages of completion. The expectation is that the technical exercises and the sight reading pieces will be finished each week, the rest stays in rotation until it's played well at tempo.


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I'm trying to give at least 3 pieces every time.

The piece feels complete when there's music coming out (though in the very early points, where the method offers only C and D to play with, this is a tad difficult! grin ).

Usually method works have single ideas bound in each work, so once you get your student to understand the new note, the new way of playing (legato, staccato, etc), or a "device" of sorts, it's time to move on.

I think.

And my English is reduced to the above, due to my lack of time. Sorry!

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Of course, like you said, it depends on the student. For the more musical/talented students, their sight reading of the piece will sound better than what other students can produce 2 months later. If I insist on note-perfect, rhythm-perfect performances from the plodders, I shall commit suicide pretty soon.

For the plodders, I pick one goal for them to accomplish:
1) get all the notes right;
2) get all the rhythms, or one particular rhythm, right;
3) play 4 measures perfectly; or
4) play one phrase with good staccato and legato.

I've taught quite a few students like this. At times, I had to get rather creative with what constitutes "passing." For certain students, it's better to focus on what ONE thing is accomplished rather than what FIFTY things aren't.


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Thank you!

I'm impressed! That's a lot of stuff to be working on!

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Usually method works have single ideas bound in each work, so once you get your student to understand the new note, the new way of playing (legato, staccato, etc), or a "device" of sorts, it's time to move on.


This makes total sense. So basically a student doesn't have to completely master and memorize the entire piece - they just have to understand the new technique/note/idea that the piece is teaching and then they can move on. What if the piece is teaching them to tie two quarter notes over a barline and they get that but the musicality of the piece is just terrible? Would you have them take it home for another week or would you say 'okay, you understand the technique, let's move on.'?

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For certain students, it's better to focus on what ONE thing is accomplished rather than what FIFTY things aren't.


Good advice.

But if a student continues on that track, at what point do you start insisting that they improve? Or do you ever?

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Originally Posted by ChavoPues
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For certain students, it's better to focus on what ONE thing is accomplished rather than what FIFTY things aren't.

But if a student continues on that track, at what point do you start insisting that they improve? Or do you ever?

Some students eventually make the turn-around and get more motivated to play piano. You have to make the judgment call when to start demanding more.


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I'd like to ask the question about what the actual goal really is? Are the lessons for the sake of mastering a piece, or using the practice of pieces to gradually acquire certain skills at certain times? A student who is not very advanced will not play any piece at the level of a master pianist, and I don't think that is the point. So what if you determine what you want your student to reach while studying that piece, and whether those things have been reached, and how much?

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I'd like to ask the question about what the actual goal really is?


This is a very good point I hadn't considered. Every student will have different goals and every piece should have a different purpose. If that purpose is to learn dotted eighth notes and the student demonstrates that they can play them well and with understanding then that piece is done.

But if the student is learning a piece in order to perform it for a competition or a recital then that piece will have different goals and different parameters for completion.

Thank you for pointing that out!

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Originally Posted by keystring
I'd like to ask the question about what the actual goal really is?

For some students, I require a piece to be completely polished and played artistically. This help them play entire pieces in the future with complete mastery. And I get them to memorize these pieces so they get used to memorizing music and performing without the book. Mind you, these are short pieces out of method books, and the great majority of students can memorize these pieces without even trying.

This also means going beyond the "purpose" of the said pieces. Some of these pieces were written for a specific purpose, such as teaching a ledger line note, or slurs, or dotted rhythm. The piece provides a musical context in which the said skill is utilized in a musical way. But if the student is a non-practicer, or struggles mightily, then it defeats the purpose of the piece if the teacher insists on the perfection of all elements. It's probably most important to get that one skill down and move on.


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Three pieces per student would be about right. I do think the piece should be able to receive 80% if it were marked by an adjudicator. If it's below that figure and the student is really tired of it, I might let it go. But generally, a piece should take four to six weeks to learn well. For advanced pieces, eight weeks. If the student wants to know how to perfect the piece, my job is to show them how. If I can't do that, I feel I'm remiss. Sometimes, I'll let a piece go at the 80% point, but mention how one would get a higher mark if one kept practicing it.

If the student has three pieces that are in different stages, he or she will be happy.

I think you need to choose pieces very carefully. If they can be learned in only two weeks, they are too easy. You can teach only a portion of a more difficult piece per week. This gives motivation to the student to keep practicing it.

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Originally Posted by keystring
I'd like to ask the question about what the actual goal really is? Are the lessons for the sake of mastering a piece, or using the practice of pieces to gradually acquire certain skills at certain times?


I agree that the goal can be development of core skills rather than mastery of the piece itself. But I tend to look beyond this too...

I often return to the metaphor that piano playing is a lifetime journey: it isn't about the destination, because there isn't one. It's about enjoying the journey itself - the scenery.

So I guess that I consider that the goal: the scenery.

Here's something on my blog site which explains it another way, which some may prefer:
http://pianodao.com/2016/01/28/why-learn-the-piano/

And to answer the OP - I don't ever consider any piece mastered. So it's more a case of knowing which direction to move and when.


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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Originally Posted by keystring
I'd like to ask the question about what the actual goal really is?

For some students, I require a piece to be completely polished and played artistically. This help them play entire pieces in the future with complete mastery. And I get them to memorize these pieces so they get used to memorizing music and performing without the book. Mind you, these are short pieces out of method books, and the great majority of students can memorize these pieces without even trying.

This also means going beyond the "purpose" of the said pieces. Some of these pieces were written for a specific purpose, such as teaching a ledger line note, or slurs, or dotted rhythm. The piece provides a musical context in which the said skill is utilized in a musical way. But if the student is a non-practicer, or struggles mightily, then it defeats the purpose of the piece if the teacher insists on the perfection of all elements. It's probably most important to get that one skill down and move on.

Interesting;

While I'm still in lesson books it is safe to say that every piece I learn has a purposes of some kind. My teacher is pretty insistent that mastery of the purpose must be demonstrated, otherwise I keep it. Once in a while she invokes the "mercy rule", and the piece is done. However, in these cases she invariably says something like "this will come up again in the future; at some point you will need to master it completely".

However, what I really like about my teacher is that she now knows what pieces I have the skill to really master at 100%, and which ones 95% is enough.

Here is a perfect example; After three weeks I was able to play Arabesque by Burmuller at 92 bpm, all sections. With the exception of two measures which my left hand does not quite have to skill and dexterity at this point to execute any faster, I can do the piece at 110 bpm. However, she passed me at three weeks and seemed delighted I could play it at 100% at that speed. At this point I completely trust her in this regard.


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Here is a concrete thing to go with the philosophical one. smile

Let's take a given piece. To make it sound wonderful, a master pianist would bring out the melody line while keeping the accompaniment softer, that melody line would have varied dynamics, and he might employ subtle rubato on top of obvious phrasing. He can do subtle things with the pedal on top of the ordinary good pedaling. He has the knowledge and the skill to do all of that.

Let's take some students. One student has just learned to make his notes even without any fades or sudden loudness. He might start now for the first time to learn to play one hand loud, and the other soft. He is not yet ready to also vary the dynamics, or else it would fall apart. Another student is not at that stage yet. Each of these students will have done enough when he has reached what his growing skills have allowed him to do. For the one that might be without the varied dynamics but with bringing out the main voice, while for the other varied dynamics in the main voice might be the thing to reach. Each of them might take up that piece again at a later date, and aim to add more of the things that the master pianist might. This is where my thoughts were going about certain skills at certain times depending on where the student is at.

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Originally Posted by ChavoPues
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Usually method works have single ideas bound in each work, so once you get your student to understand the new note, the new way of playing (legato, staccato, etc), or a "device" of sorts, it's time to move on.


This makes total sense. So basically a student doesn't have to completely master and memorize the entire piece - they just have to understand the new technique/note/idea that the piece is teaching and then they can move on. What if the piece is teaching them to tie two quarter notes over a barline and they get that but the musicality of the piece is just terrible? Would you have them take it home for another week or would you say 'okay, you understand the technique, let's move on.'?
Bass line for moving ahead in a piece is for the student to be able to play it.

Now if we're talking about advanced works, then tempo, rubato, etc... the whole lot. But for method book works then things are a bit easier I think...

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Repertoire: the piece is mastered when it can be performed with confidence, very high degree of accuracy, good expression, no spots that are always a problem.
I have certain teaching points that I want to be incorporated into the expression as well. (balance, shaping phrases, articulation, etc)
Repertoire pieces are routinely brought back as "old favorites" for performances and additional polishing, or sometimes exercises involving transposition or improvisation.

But for your method book pieces, the closest analog in my teaching might be sight reading exercises. For those, basically, if the student can slog through the exercise without breaking down then we can move on to the next one. But the exercises are in books containing large numbers of exercises that are meant to be read through and then disposed of. (Marlais-Olson early on, Czerny and Bartok and others later.) So the whole point is for the reading exercises to be reasonably fresh. Marlais-Olson assumes two exercises per day.


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Thank you for the suggestion of the book! I had never heard of the Olson-Marlais sight reading series and I'm going to purchase some.

Just as an add-on to the question here, when sending home pieces for the student to sight read do you have them play it through in the lesson first (which I realize is basically sight reading and might destroy the purpose) or do you just assign pages for every day of the week and hope they can do them (assuming the pieces are within their level, of course)? Also, how do you ensure accuracy? With my younger students the desire is there but they don't always realize when they're playing a wrong note.

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^ I do not always have them pre-play at the lesson, but if there is a very new concept or if it's a student that I know will ignore key signatures and play all white notes or something, we will pre-play maybe one exercise so I can work with the student on the new concept, or review how to use a key signature, etc.

Whether they actually read at home is on the honor system. I do ask them how many they did. Some of the rhythm exercises involve written components like drawing in bar lines in the right places so I can see at a glance if those were done.
There's a "lesson day" pair of exercises at the end of each week-long unit, including a teacher duet, so we do play one or more of those, and if they've really been doing the exercises the lesson day ones go pretty well.


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To have to ask a question such as this tells me you are inexperienced or teaching above your level. If that is not the case, then you should not be teaching at all to be honest!

Last edited by JonHig; 02/25/16 02:38 AM.
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