Writing Notes, Managing Projects and Practicing
In response to “…Some of my students have 4 to 6 songs they are working on as well as variations and arrangements. My “notes” seem to be too busy and overwhelming to some of these students, because they still need to work on all of the pieces to play them well, I have been writing what they need to work on for each song….”
There are a number of issues here, and not all of which are easily woven into a comprehensive but clear response. Ideally, I’d be better equipped to address this question in person, getting into specifics for each student etc., but I have a long, general response that I hope helps.
Firstly, in the early stages (Levels 1 and 2), I have students ‘working’ on no more than 2 or 3 projects at any time.
With our Level 1, 2 & 3 pieces, if a student is doing focused practice (15 to 20 minutes a day, most days of the week), on any given piece, then they will have that piece down within 1 to 3 weeks, and by that time, should be playing it reasonably smoothly.
Provided that I am not dealing with a student who is very young, very old, has a physical or emotional disability or a brain injury, I have never found an exception to the fact that if this type of progress is not being achieved, then the student is not practicing as I have directed them to.
So given that I am talking about the ‘average’ student (which for the most part means all of our students), here’s how the ‘task list’ would be built:
I start with Dreams, and this would unfold over 1 or 2 lessons. If the student comes back, and for the most part is playing the entire piece accurately, but not yet quite musically (evenly), then I ask for continued, focused attention over the course of the coming week. In addition to this, I would usually be comfortable introducing another piece (most commonly Night Storm).
By the following week, I would expect to see measurable progress with Dreams, and obvious, measurable progress with Night Storm. If Dreams had not improved significantly, then it is ALWAYS a practice issue (other than with the exceptions that I listed above).
I NEVER, EVER proceed without now addressing the practice issue. This has to be done, clearly and decisively, with very specific agreements being made (but that is a topic for another discussion).
In certain situations, I have had students come to their lesson having not practiced sufficiently over the previous week, and I have simply had to remind them that I can only proceed as quickly as their practice allows me to. I have talked to them and gotten clear about what happened and why they didn’t practice, and have then had them agree to rectify this over the forthcoming week. With that being clear, I have then sent them on their way and finished the lesson within 10 minutes of starting. It is a very direct approach, but a very positive thing to do, and has certainly surprised both student and parent. Needless to say, this scenario only happens once, and if it happens again I have a very different conversation (but that too is a topic for another discussion).
So getting back to our ‘average’ student, assuming Dreams remains fragmented and uneven etc., it means that they still have both Dreams and Night Storm as current projects, and I am not moving on until at least one of those pieces is ‘under their belt’ and coming together in a musical fashion.
Assuming Dreams did progress well, but still could be a little stronger/smoother/more expressive etc., I may only write the word ‘Dreams’ in their (Reference) Notes Book. I tell them to keep playing it, and specifically ask them play along with their audio recordings and/or the video, and get their agreement to do that. The home materials become increasingly important in this situation.
Generally speaking, there is a seemingly endless number of projects that we could continue to focus our attention on inside of any given song. I tend not to ask for anything more than:
- Accuracy in the actual notes played
- A good sense of evenness
- Once 1 and 2 are achieved, a reasonable degree of expression.
Beyond that, I continue to develop the pieces, but more ‘invisibly’, doing so over an extended period of time, and mostly by developing a repertoire that consists of a large body of pieces that meet the above criteria. In Simply Music, quantity of material is the vehicle that is used to improve quality of material. (And this, yet again, is a subject for another discussion).
Trying to bring all of this together, here’s the summary:
Students will have pieces in their Playlist that can always be smoother and stronger. I don’t classify them as individual ‘projects’, but rather see these as a collective ‘Playlist project’. In their Notes Book, I am ALWAYS writing in the word ‘Playlist’, and students come to know that this means to continue to play everything, work at getting things smoother, and generally make progress in their ability to perform their repertoire.
My generalization is that in the first year, the project list should include a ‘Playlist’ project, an accompaniment project and 1 possibly 2 others. In year two, 4 or 5 projects at any time is routine, and in year three it could be more.
If anybody’s circumstance appears to fall outside the guidelines that I have outlined, then I am happy to speak with you further, but individually.