“We as teachers are not running a house of corrections.” – Frances Clark
Natalie Gibson’s excellent article has really caused me to re-evaluate how I address corrections in the studio. (Please read that article before reading this short post!) I do tend to spend time working with the student in the lesson to “discover” any errors and to experience the new habit in the lesson. Perhaps this is taking valuable time away from vibrant music-making!
Our job as teachers is not to spend the lesson correcting errors. But I believe that Frances Clark and Louise Goss were very interested in guiding students to establish good habits in learning new music and to prevent errors. Frances was fascinated with the power of habit. In one of our studios a framed quote of Arthur Noyes graces the wall: “Develop good habits early in life because the older one gets, the more like himself he becomes.” As a pedagogy student, I heard more than once about the impact of the first performance of a new piece. Important habits are developed very quickly. I have a silly way of looking at things sometimes: there is some antiquated quote about it being as easy to marry a rich man as it is to marry a poor one. Somehow this idea seems analogous to it being as easy to play correctly the first time as it is to play incorrectly.
Steps to foster accuracy in a first performance:
1) Careful choice of repertoire: the student should possess the “prerequisites” for learning the piece. For example, if the student is learning his or her first Bach Invention, he or she should be able to hear two voices independently. If a student is learning a Sonatina, he or she should possess fluid scale technique, know how to balance the hands, and so on.
2) Effective practice strategies:
– Rhythm First: Marvin Blickenstaff recently stated that he imagines these words, “rhythm first” emblazoned on each student’s forehead! Frances Clark used to say that an incorrect rhythm is the most difficult error to correct, going as far as to say that a student has learned the rhythm incorrectly, the piece should be dropped. Tapping and counting a rhythm, examining how many different rhythms exist in the piece, counting aloud, and movement activities that can aid in correct rhythm. Frances never stated why an incorrect rhythm is so difficult to “fix.” I suspect that once one hears and has a kinesthetic sense of the piece, he or she inwardly senses the incorrect sound and feel as “correct.” Anything else will seem incorrect. To prevent hearing mistakes, Frances often encouraged the following practice strategies:
– Silently play the piece, or the moves in the piece: If a student silently traces a move incorrectly, he or she will not hear this error; therefore, the sound habit will not be created.
– Create a toolbox of effective practice strategies: Slow practice, small sections, hands separate, difficult parts practiced separately and away from the rest of the piece are examples of these strategies, which may vary from instructor to instructor. The idea is that students will need to discover effective practice strategies. The topic of effective practice will likely need to be approached again and again. My former teacher, Lee Luvisi, used to tell me that our fingers are simply “trained seals” that do what the brain tells them to; desirable or undesirable actions are received as equally valid. Our “trained seals” do not evaluate, they just perform what we tell them to. I have told my students that every time we play, we’re storing information into our personal computers. Students can be shown the power of habit in a variety of creative ways. Once on board as a partner in the learning process, our students will be on the way to developing the important habit of approaching new pieces with clarity and care. We teachers will as a result not be participating in a “house of corrections,” but rather, a “house of music-making.”