By Katherine Fisher

Although the majority of my private students are studying intermediate and advanced repertoire, I also have a small class of six students starting in Piano Safari Level 1, and three of my private students are currently in Piano Safari Level 2. I enjoy teaching students of all ages, but find that teaching beginners really helps me hone and develop my teaching skills the most. Recently, I have noticed that my youngest students, in their boundless enthusiasm for new pieces, have not yet come to value mastery and refinement in their playing. As I was considering how to develop this as a priority in their own minds rather than just reviewing repertoire because I assigned it, I decided to try something new. Instead of passing them through each unit unceremoniously, I now ask that they play the entire unit as a sort of “mini-recital” for me and the parent(s) that attend the lesson. I have found that this spurs them on to actually practice and refine their review pieces rather than play through them more or less thoughtlessly as a mindless sort of finger exercise. I believe this greater degree of mindfulness comes as a result of having a longer term goal to work for, but also because they have greater motivation to bring newly developed skills back to older pieces. When a student begins learning a piece, they are primarily distracted by mechanics such as the technical requirements, notes, and rhythms. When these become automatized, the student is able to refine the sound, phrasing, and overall mood of the piece. This is the point when making music (and practicing, even!) becomes enjoyable. It is a stage that is too easy to skip when we are too focused on beginners just plowing ahead to the next step.

This idea is not a new one, and finds it pedagogical roots in the Suzuki philosophy. Many Suzuki teachers require their students to play a recital composed of every piece in their current book before passing to the next. I love this idea because it builds the student’s confidence and ability.

I have a student who is currently working on a Repertoire Book 2 Unit 3 “Mini-Recital.” He has a quick and lively mind and a great deal of potential as a pianist. He does not, however, love to review pieces! When I ask him to play a previously learned piece, he looks at me in astonishment and says “don’t you remember? You heard me play that last time!” After the notes and rhythms are learned he is keen to move forward. Providing him with the goal to play an entire unit (memorized) seems to have given him fresh incentive to review and refine. I hope to post a video of at least part of his Unit 3 Recital soon. Stay tuned!

I would be very interested to hear your ideas: what are some ways you keep your students interested in reviewing and refining their repertoire?