Ability and Mastery

09 Oct

Ms. Becki…

How good is good enough? This is a question that we all struggle with in every area of life, and the essence of your teacher’s thought process during your child’s lesson. The quest to balance the need for accuracy, technical development, and musical development while preserving the child’s love of music is daunting and exciting. It is a juggling act throughout a lesson and from lesson to lesson. So how do we do it?

Today I asked a book 3 student to play a book 2 review song. The student generally plays with good technique and a beautiful tone and knows the pieces well. However, when she got to the third section of the piece, which also happens to be the hardest, I noticed her left hand clamped down on the instrument and her position was compromised. I realized she still felt that the section was hard, causing her to tense up and temporarily lose her technique as she struggled to get through the piece. Would an uninformed audience have discerned her struggle? Probably not – there were no mistakes and her tone was still pleasing. But to me, her left hand gave it away. She admitted she didn’t feel confident about that section and agreed to play it three times every day this week. Her mother is charged with keeping an eye on that left hand to make sure it gains skill and stays relaxed in this challenging passage. I look forward to celebrating a higher level of mastery in her lesson when she performs it next week! When the finger patterns from this piece show up again in future repertoire, we will be confident that she is prepared for the challenge.

As this story indicates, teachers look for ease, which indicates mastery. We want the child to be able to more than “get through it.” Has the student practiced a piece to the point where it is accurate and fluid? Has it become easy enough for the child to play with good posture or does the bow keep sliding off the road? Can they shape the phrasing or are they struggling to get through the piece? When something becomes easy, it is a sign of mastery. When songs are not truly mastered with strong technique, the child gets to a place where everything feels hard because nothing is really mastered. Who wants to do something that feels hard all the time? Not me! Warm-ups and review are meant primarily to be a place where the child can enjoy the ease of making music, gain confidence and skill and exhibit mastery – in contrast to the struggle of learning a new piece. It’s always a good idea to begin the home practice with a warm-up just as stretching before a work-out relaxes you for the work at hand. End the practice with a loved review piece so the child has a fresh memory of success to which they can return the next day!  Let me know how that helps your child’s desire to practice…

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