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Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
#2721143 03/14/18 12:49 PM
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Her playing isn't a disaster, such that she should withdraw from the district contest, but the event is at the end of next week, and her piece at this point is a considerable distance from state-qualifying capacity. (She is a senior in high school, and she made state last year with her piano solo, and told me months ago that she would really feel bad if she didn't qualify this year, her last opportunity. I tried to dissuade her of the notion that one has to make state in order to gain a sense of accomplishment in one's playing.)

We had a talk shortly after that about going deep versus going wide (intense focus on one or few activities versus broad exposure to many things at a more superficial level). I told her neither is right or wrong, it just depends on how you want to approach life--or the present season of life.

She has chosen to go very wide, but has extremely difficult college-prep work that requires a lot of time. She also studies three musical instruments, plays in church, and has a job. She can't go deep on all of those, and piano is one of the things that has suffered. She has also been missing more lessons lately, which is unlike her.

She comes for a lesson tonight. One week from now she'll be three days away from contest. This is too late to gain any significant ground with the piece, I realize. I'm just wondering what my role is at this point.

What would you say or do, or not say or not do, to be both encouraging and realistic at this point?

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Re: Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
Andamento #2721173 03/14/18 03:10 PM
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You write, "We had a talk...," and, "She has chosen..."
Sounds like you've done everything you can reasonably be expected to do under the circumstances, but you think it's not enough.
Could it be that you would like to protect your student from the consequences of her decision -- in effect, to protect her from herself?
If you insist on offering protection where it is not sought, your offer will most likely be rejected.

So much easier to recover from mistakes made in youth than in maturity.

To answer your question, my suggestion is that, tonight, you teach a lesson.


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Re: Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
Andamento #2721210 03/14/18 05:42 PM
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My suggestion as a student, because I am one: I would hope my teacher would be honest with me tonight, ask me if I feel prepared for the contest. I might well admit I are not prepared but would like to drop or would like to proceed anyway. At the least, there would be an open discussion between me and my teacher


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
"I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

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Re: Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
Andamento #2721245 03/14/18 08:18 PM
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I think you should tell her straight out that you don't think she is prepared and ask her how she wants to handle that.

With a younger student who'd never been exposed to that particular competition before, I'd say just pull her out, but this one can make a choice.

It's uncomfortable to have those conversations with students, but so much better for the student than to experience participating in a big event for which she is unprepared. Yes, some students can come back after failing miserably in a performance or competition and learn from the experience and be better and more motivated in the future... but those are the scrappy, passionate students who will be future professionals and teachers. The students who just want to have music as a beautiful part of their lives will only feel horrible that they failed and not gain anything.


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Re: Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
Andamento #2721259 03/14/18 09:29 PM
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Thanks much for your replies, Aspiring, Dogperson, and Heather. I appreciate all your perspectives.

The good news is she played her piece tonight more musically than she's ever done--improvement in leaps and bounds in several key areas, particularly expressive elements, as compared to two weeks ago, when I last heard it. I was pleasantly surprised and thought to myself, oh ye of little faith. smile

There are still a number of technical deficiencies, to be sure, that will be next to impossible to iron out in a week, but she recognizes them (and correctly identified the most challenging aspects of the piece when I asked her what is her opinion on how she's playing the piece).

She was very articulate about what she felt were her weakest spots, and worked with a great attitude on those and other parts of the music I wanted to address tonight. Her lesson was an hour and a half, and 2/3 of the time was spent on that piece. She did not tire, and we got a lot accomplished (and she had, too, in her home practice the previous two weeks--YAY!).

Honestly, she seems like she's matured six months in the last two weeks. From talking to her tonight, I sense she is quite a bit more accepting of the fact that the highest level of piano is much more difficult than the highest level of her band instrument repertoire, and she no longer thinks of state piano as a must-have achievement to find joy in the process.

And then--after her lesson--she and I stood in my stairway/entryway for an extra 15 or 20 minutes talking about her college plans. smile

An overall great night! Transparency without tears, and a wonderful sense of moving forward, even as we near the end.

Don't you just love students like that? A way cool youth. cool

Re: Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
Andamento #2721426 03/15/18 11:38 AM
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I don't think I have enough information to provide you with any informed advice. I can only speak from experience.

Competition is not for everyone. Some students enjoy them. Others enter them with an inflate sense of their own ability.

I try to prepare all students equally without putting them in panic mode. Even if they are definitely going to crash and burn, I try (yes, I do try) to maintain neutral. There might be two students in all my years of teaching who actually pulled out of a competition due to a reason other than illness or injury.

My point is that we shouldn't make such a big deal out of piano competitions. Life goes on.


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Re: Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
AZNpiano #2721486 03/15/18 02:31 PM
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
I don't think I have enough information to provide you with any informed advice. I can only speak from experience.

Competition is not for everyone. Some students enjoy them. Others enter them with an inflate sense of their own ability.

I try to prepare all students equally without putting them in panic mode. Even if they are definitely going to crash and burn, I try (yes, I do try) to maintain neutral. There might be two students in all my years of teaching who actually pulled out of a competition due to a reason other than illness or injury.

My point is that we shouldn't make such a big deal out of piano competitions. Life goes on.

The problem is that often "competitions" are more about the ego of the teachers than about anything good happening for the students.

I never worry about performances of any kind. I prepare students to play where they want to play, and if they are serious I do everything possible to make sure they are solidly prepared and will not have negative experiences that might stay with them for years.

More than anything this includes asking students NEVER to play from memory, in a pressure situation, until they have successfully played in front of people about five times - with music. Then we talk about how to memorize so that no matter what goes wrong, they can always safely and confidently recover.

Re: Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
AZNpiano #2721723 03/16/18 12:07 PM
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AZN, thanks for your input. I totally agree with this:
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Competition is not for everyone. Some students enjoy them. Others enter them with an inflate sense of their own ability.


This particular student has a strong drive to play in contest, though she was very nervous with them while studying with her previous teacher, her mom told me. (Music not chosen until too close to the performance date, they said, and, IMO, repertoire that was too far above her skill level at the time she came to me.)

Quote
My point is that we shouldn't make such a big deal out of piano competitions. Life goes on.


Exactly. For my students who want to enter competitions (I always make it optional), I remind them that there is a big picture beyond the one score they get based on one playing of the piece on one day for one judge. While there can be good feedback from the judge that may give a student new perspective, contest itself is just one small part of the overall picture.

What did studying the piece help develop in you? How have you grown in your overall musical understanding and interpretation by virtue of having studied this piece?

Contest performance is but one tree in a vast forest of other repertoire, all of which develop your musicianship. Not to mention how it teaches life lessons beyond the music studio.

These are the sorts of things I talk about with kids who choose competition.

Re: Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
Gary D. #2721725 03/16/18 12:09 PM
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I prepare students to play where they want to play


Yep, me too. See my comment to AZN above. They are welcome to play in competitions, or to opt out. Totally their choice. Same with recitals, and playing at church or school or wherever. If they're serious about these things, I am happy to help.

Re: Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
Andamento #2722009 03/17/18 01:25 PM
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My most serious concern is memory. I've seen many people try to play from memory and freak, and the damage can be permanent. This actually happened to my aunt, also to my best adult student (long before coming to me.)

I warn every student: "Don't play from memory the first time you play in front of people. Let me test your memory."

That said, some people are fearless.

One of my students just played at church. He chose to play from memory, and it was fine. However, I check everything in sections.

If he had asked me if he should do this, I would have told him to use music, have someone turn pages, and to do this several times.

The problem is that IF he had bombed, had a lapse, gotten embarrassed, he might not have been able to overcome the fear the next time.

But I don't worry if people make mistakes, or if they do not play well, so long as they have positive experiences and want to play again in the future.

My ego is not on the line. I don't feel that it reflects badly on me if things go wrong. If anything, when things go wrong, it's just a learning experience.

Re: Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
Gary D. #2722019 03/17/18 02:21 PM
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That's a good idea, encouraging performing with the music before performing without a score.

The student I mentioned in this post will be performing with the music in front of her, which is what most students do for the particular event she's entering. She has played from memory in the past (for other competitions and recitals), and done well, but given her time constraints this year, paring down the number of pieces she's performing and not going the memorization route were wise decisions on her part.

Re: Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
Andamento #2722344 03/18/18 07:55 PM
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I would restrict the conversation to what you feel would be the most use of her next three days and how you can help. She sounds like a very bright and energetic student and already knows when she does right and wrong. No need to labor anything and make her more uncomfortable than she already may be.

All the best. Hope you let us know how it turns out. / Steve


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Re: Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
Lakeviewsteve #2722536 03/19/18 08:54 AM
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Thanks, Steve. Yes, she is definitely bright and energetic, and I enjoyed listening to her practice while I wrote on her assignment sheet. (I encouraged her do some spot work where she felt it was needed while I would be writing, and I was pleased to hear her play in rhythms and do other things we'd done in the past to fine-tune specific problem areas. She's an attentive worker, and, as you said, knows where things are going well, and where things are not quite there yet.)

I'll let you know next week how it turns out this weekend.

Re: Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
Andamento #2724747 03/27/18 09:27 PM
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What "district" competition is this? Federation? If so, it's a fairly forgiving environment. What piece is she playing?

You seemed more worried about potential emotional damage than the student. If her ego isn't brittle and fragile, and she knows her current limits and deficiencies in the piece, the downside seems limited. You work to help her get better and then things play out, so to speak. As you noted, you saw real improvement in a week, and more may be possible in the current week.

Re: Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
Piano*Dad #2725030 03/28/18 09:07 PM
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Hi Piano*Dad

Originally Posted by Piano*Dad
What "district" competition is this? Federation? If so, it's a fairly forgiving environment. What piece is she playing?

You seemed more worried about potential emotional damage than the student. If her ego isn't brittle and fragile, and she knows her current limits and deficiencies in the piece, the downside seems limited. You work to help her get better and then things play out, so to speak. As you noted, you saw real improvement in a week, and more may be possible in the current week.



It was a district solo and ensemble festival for our state's school music association, and her piece was Beethoven's Rondo in C Major, Op. 51/1.

She's got perfectionistic tendencies, and cries easily when things aren't going as she wants them to, or when they don't end as she'd like, so I try to choose my words carefully and remind her of the big picture, whether the event is in the future, or is already past.

(The event is now past. For anyone interested, see my next post...)

Re: Student Unprepared for Upcoming Contest
Andamento #2725033 03/28/18 09:15 PM
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Hi all,

The student I mentioned above played this weekend and had a respectable finish, albeit not quite enough to qualify for state (missed it by two points--when it's possible to miss it by 42 points). Her not making state doesn't bother me at all.

I wasn't able to see her play this weekend, because I had to work a different music competition the same day. (They are usually in separate months, but this time both ended up the same day.) She admitted, unprompted, to me tonight at her lesson that she was upset to see her score. She'd hoped for a clean sweep (she did qualify for state in all her other music events this year). She's taking it more in stride now, a few days post-contest.

All in all, she made some wonderful gains with her piece during the time she practiced it, especially in the last few weeks. She will also perform it in a piano recital next month, and for a special church event in May. I am glad she has these additional opportunities coming up, and she is continuing to enjoy playing the piece.


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