Helping Restore a Spotty Playlist
Found in: Practicing & Playlists
Gail J., Washington
I’m wondering if you have any suggestions for a student who has taken a sabbatical from lessons due to a house remodel. She is a 10 year old girl, gone from lessons for about 4 months, returning next month. Her playlist was always a bit weak and spotty due to living with 3 different parents/homes. She loves to play and catches on to songs quickly, but had hit a wall with Sonata in C before her “break” when she didn’t have access to her piano as the remodel began.
I’m wondering if you have any suggestions to getting her playlist back in shape without frustrating her. I know she’ll be looking forward to new material, but don’t feel she’s going to be ready to move forward with Sonata just yet. Any thoughts to manage the recovery process? And/or some simple yet fun assignments to inspire her while she works on the playlist?
Robin Keehn, Washington
Playlists can be very challenging to manage but I think you can recover them! I’ve certainly had students whose playlists have slipped. First, I have to acknowledge that I am ultimately responsible for the quality of my student’s playlists. It is like everything else–we really train our students (and coaches) to behave in certain ways. It comes back to requirement versus request.
I know I have talked about this a lot but it is something that comes back again and again and gives me many opportunities for personal growth 🙂 If I have a requirement-based studio, I get to decide what those requirements are. I’ve had several teachers ask me for a list of my requirements so here you go (this is not a comprehensive list):
I require that you:
- Pay for lessons at the beginning of the month
- Pay with autopay (monthly charge to your credit card or to your checking account)
- Purchase all required SHM for whatever programs I require you to learn
- Are enrolled for a minimum of two months
- Inform me, in writing, if you decide to discontinue, 30 days prior to your last lesson
- Are on-time for your lesson
- Call me for your homework if you miss a week
- Come prepared: have your playlist on your lap when you are seated
- Come with a coach (unless you are an adult)
- Coaches must participate in class (no texting, talking, reading, etc)
- Do not take notes other than the notes on the board at the end of the class
- Leave on time (since my next class starts the minute your class ends)
- At home: have a set practice time
- Practice at least 20 minutes most days of the week
- Watch your SHM videos
- Do not go ahead on the videos
- Do all of your assignments
- Mark your playlist
Those are the really obvious requirements that I have for students. There may be others such as no eating or drinking in class or use the restroom before class but those are implied or discussed in the Foundation Session.
My point here is that I am 100% committed to those requirements. I don’t have any wiggle room. I am not open for negotiating. I am clear and direct about these requirements and so it is quite simple and non-emotional for me when someone cannot or does not comply. I don’t let these things slip–not even for a week. If I do, then I have to fix whatever problems I’ve created.
Let me give you an example. Let’s take Mary and the video. Mary is an adult student who is quite intense. She is used to having her way and unaccustomed to having another adult require things of her, yet she has willingly entered into a coaching relationship with me. One week, Mary decided to go ahead on the video. She is in a shared lesson with another adult who is highly motivated but coachable. I demonstrate the piece and Mary quickly takes a seat (without me asking her to) and plays the whole piece. I say, “So, Mary. I take it you went ahead on the video. Can you please tell me why you decided to do that?” She says, “Because I wanted to be better than her” as she points to her classmate. (This is a true story and the names have been changed!)
I say, “You are both very capable and I understand how you feel, but right now, because you went ahead, you are both at a disadvantage. Amy is at a disadvantage now because she feels that she is “behind” and you are at a disadvantage because you learned the piece without my instruction and without all the tools AND, this is the piece I am teaching today. I want to tell you now that I require that you do not ever go ahead on the video again.” At this point, I was very calm and I spoke casually but with authority. I did not skirt the issue. I was very direct. Mary turned red, made some little joke and Amy had the tiniest smile cross her face. Since then, Mary has never once challenged me on ANY issue or requirement. She has become a model student.
Onto the Playlist! The playlist is something that creeps up on us. Unless we are checking the playlist each week, hearing a variety of pieces (including arrangements), it is easy to let it slip. As Gail and Karolee mentioned, sometimes the playlist falls away when a student takes some time off. When it is because I haven’t been diligent about making the playlist a requirement, then I really have to take responsibility for its decline. The problem here is that by not being diligent, I am doing my students a real disservice. If I let it slip but I still require it, students have to work hard to recover the songs that fell away. That isn’t fun for anyone, so the better way is simply to require it, check it, and stay on top of it. Hearing just a portion of several pieces each week and then checking off those pieces on the student’s playlist in red pen is the way I manage hearing the playlist.
So, now you have a student who is missing songs from their playlist. First, if it is my responsibility, I will say, “The health of your playlist is important and we have let it slip. It is my responsibility to make sure your playlist is healthy, and I haven’t done a good job with that lately so I am sorry. I am committed to your success and reaching the goal of having music as a lifelong companion. With that in mind, we are going to get back to maintaining your playlist. We are going to start today!” If, on the other hand, the student has had a break and is just getting back to lessons, it may be a different conversation but with the same results.
How do you revive a playlist? I’ve found that slow and steady progress is the best way. Determine from each level the pieces that need to be addressed. If you have an extensive list of pieces that need work, assign two or three to work on each week until you have them all back. I like to mix early levels with the current level. If a student is in Level 4, take any piece from Level 4 that needs review along with a piece from Level 2 and have them work on those in addition to their other assignments. If you have a private lesson, you might want to even spend five minutes each week reviewing a piece that needs work so that there is less to review via the video. This is very easy in a private lesson.
In a group setting you can help students catch up by having other students play for each other. For example, if my student Eric has lost Ballade, I ask, “Who knows Ballade and can play it for Eric?” I invite the student who feels very confident to play it while Eric and the rest of the class watch at the piano. This is quite effective in giving Eric a review that he can continue at home with the video. I am not making anyone wait while I reteach Eric–the student who plays Ballade has now demonstrated that he knows Ballade.