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4 minutes reading time (752 words)

Teaching students not to rush

by Michelle Conda 

Brianna, one of my graduate students, had a student who wouldn't slow down—even with the threat of the "Practice Police." I had my own student who was fast and furious, but sloppy. This concerned me because he wanted to audition for music schools, and that would not be acceptable. I decided to ask my friends from the Facebook group, "The Art of Piano Pedagogy" for their help. Here are a few suggestions they offered to the question: "What do you do when a student plays too fast and sloppily, yet refuses to practice slowly?" 


I have my students do a lot of singing to help teach them how to listen and what to listen for. I will challenge them to play the melody in one hand and to sing it as they play. I also challenge them to sing parts of the bass line. Another extremely challenging thing to do is to play one part and sing the other. Just the act of attempting to do these steps forces them to slow down because it is so difficult to do!

—Donna Gross Javel; Waltham, Mass. 


I like to have a student try different rhythms when practicing. We can change a passage of straight eighth notes to a dotted rhythm, try playing it in triplets, and group particular passages that the student CAN play up to speed with clarity. Octave displacement might be an option in other passages. The goal is to be sure to incorporate a change big enough to cause the student to focus more intently on HOW they play. 

—Alexandra Jones; McKinney, Texas 


I encourage students with this problem to follow five steps to success for control of tempo and details in fast playing: learn the foundational elements of the piece slowly and carefully; actively listen as you play; repeat this process; count fast to go fast; and play a bit more flowing. 

—Beverly Serra-Brooks; Portland, Oregon 


"... the "Piano Police" would show up at his house and write him a speeding ticket with a fine ..."


Challenge students to "D.R.E.A.M"—"Do Respect Everything About Music"—not just "Notes" (Pitch).

—Ennio Paola; Pickering, Ontario 


My solution to this issue is to practice with them during the lesson. Many times, students just need a refresher on the different techniques they can use to solve their issues. The key here is to go slowly so that the student is successful almost immediately. 

—Kassandra Weleck; Tucson, Arizona 


Although I am not opposed to students listening to recordings, I think it makes them rush, as they want to copy what they hear without putting their own interpretation into the performance. I always start my lessons with warm up exercises in diminished seventh arpeggios in a slow tempo. This provides an excellent opportunity for each finger to warm up as it plays in equal intervals. 

—Elena Cobb; Hixon Stafford, United Kingdom 


I play along, asking students to match my sound, phrasing, dynamics, articulations, etc. This works very well, and it not only helps with the sloppy playing, it helps them hear how they sound compared to an aural "ideal." Beyond that, I use my Disklavier to record them, and then we play it back at different tempi so the student can hear what is happening. I also use my iPad to record video to show them. 

—Linda Christensen; Wayne, Nebraska 


I tell them they're wasting their money taking lessons with me and not following my guidance. After all, the phrase "student refuses" doesn't exist in sports. Of course, I'd first try to work with the student at the lesson, playing slowly, counting out loud and with the metronome as necessary. 

—Rami Bar-Niv; Raanana, Israel 


One solution might be to transpose sections in order to disrupt the physical expectations associated with the pitch functions. If it's not about teaching the student how to plan for engaging in careful practice, then it's about crafting scenarios where the challenges are so high the student deliberately slows her practicing to allow for more care and clarity. 

—Elissa Milne; Sydney, Australia


I warned a student that if he continued speeding the "Piano Police" would show up at his house and write him a speeding ticket with a fine, payable via extra practice minutes or losing a small percentage of his weekly allowance. This got him to slow down—but only for a short while. Next I recorded him on my iPhone. What the iPhone offered was the chance to hear himself with the ears of an outsider. 

—Brianna Matzke; Cincinnati, Ohio

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Making practice records work
 

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Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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