That set me thinking. Is it a matter of proportions ? I got out my proposed timetable for next year.
Tuesday five pupils. Four are regular practisers. One is only fairly regular but he is very musical which tends to compensate
Wednesday morning six pupils. One is new, so it remains to be seen but her three sisters all practise regularly. The remaining two also practise conscientiously though one is a very slow learner.
Wednesday afternoon eight pupils. Two are new so I don’t know. Of the remaining six five practise – one of them is an avid practiser. The eighth was not very motivated the year before last and did a minimum, but last year took Grade one, was well motivated and got a Merit. He is obviously one who likes the challenge of an exam.
Thursday five pupils. Two are excellent practisers, one practises as much as he can but has had serious health problems. One practises adequately – just. One is an interesting but difficult pupil who practises only what he likes and it’s not always easy to find out exactly what that is.
Friday five pupils. One only moderately motivated, one sometimes highly motivated and sometimes much less so. Two quite well motivated and the last one very keen indeed this last year, though it took a while to get there. Got a merit at Grade 3 in June and at the next lesson asked me for the Grade 4 scales
Saturday six pupils. One who practises quite a lot but not what I give him – always wants to play difficult and showy pieces that are way beyond him. The remaining five are all weekly boarders at a school where their piano practice is timetabled and they certainly do it – all very keen.
I lost one in the middle of last year. I failed to motivate her and she had other interests which were more important to her.
I seem to be fortunate in that the majority of mine do work. I think the secret is to enthuse them with one’s own love of music. It won’t work with all of them and we just have to accept that. But when it does work they do respond. I don’t think there is any other long term motivation than the love of music. Exams are good short term motivation for many pupils as are concerts, but the real motivation is to get them to love it. I don’t think it’s possible to do that unless you observe each pupils very carefully and try to respond to their individual needs. While doing that I think right from the start you just have to make it plain that some evidence of work is needed every week – even if all that has been set has not been achieved. It mustn’t just be another “school” lesson. We have to actually, as Atarah ben Tovim once said to me “touch their souls.”
That reminds me of a nice incident last year when a teenage girl was learning an arrangement of the minuet from Handel’s “Berenice”. She had worked hard at the note learning but it was just one chord after another. So I played it too her and did my best to make the music really say something. When I finished playing I turned to her and we both exclaimed “It’s beautiful!” Then of course we laughed at our simultaneous reaction. But her eyes were shining and at the concert she played it with heart and soul. compared with some of the pieces this was long and slow, but she had the audience spellbound. And this is a girl who was once so lacking in confidence she would hardly speak to me. We simply have to get them to understand that in this business of learning something as difficult as a musical instrument, we are actually on their side.
Incidentally, I respect the views of those who use practice charts – heaven knows, we all have to use what works for us. But after giving it a go once I have never resorted to it again. I found them more trouble than they are worth. Mine have a notebook in which I write the aims and methods of work for the week. If they haven’t done the work we do it together there and then. I stop being a teacher and become a répetiteur – but again, it always has to be with the attitude “OK, I’ll help you to do it now” rather than “this is a punishment because you didn’t do it.” Teaching is not telling them to do something or even telling them how to do it. It’s finding out how you can get them to do it. It can be a big challenge but it’s worth it. We mustn’t despair!