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Student Spotlight

Learning a musical instrument is a lot like cooking a meal. There are tons of recipes and it's not uncommon to adjust them as needed. Some people hate cilantro and others add cayenne powder with their heart. In a music lesson some students like to play scales and some teachers insist on memorizing every piece. Sometimes you find that delicious recipe, my grandmother's roast beef with stuffing and gravy for example. Instantly I'm salivating and feeling nostalgic.

You can benefit by observing how a successful music students' lesson recipe is working.

The success of music students is often dismissed and quickly explained away as mere talent. It's an easy thought which can also function to affirm passivity. After all, if good musicians are only successful due to talent, then burdens like practice and effort are handily removed from our ever-increasing to-do lists. Those tasked with nurturing a music student's growth, teachers like me for example, have no need to acknowledge their own agency in the music learning process if the only ticket to Pianotown is talent.

Mary, who recently turned seven, will complete one of the hardest beginning piano method books after less than one year of lessons. Each week she comes to her lessons prepared, her music thoroughly practiced. She can read all notes in the bass and treble clef, and many other symbols like rhythms. She has developed the automaticity to sit down and play simple music perfectly with both hands on her first try. Also developing prosody, Mary can inflect music based on her analysis of symbols- that’s great for a student with just under one year of lessons.

So, here are a few things working well in Mary's lesson recipe:

First, without her Steinway grand, Mary could not have learned how to make the sounds required to play piano music even if she was the most talented person ever to find Middle C. Small tinny-sounding pianos and digital instruments hinder student growth because they lack the full range of expressive capabilities enjoyed by musicians using nicer acoustic pianos.

Next, Mary’s routines are crucial. She never misses a lesson. Mary attends birthday parties and doctors appointments like other students. However, time is set aside on the schedule for weekly lessons and that time is defended.

When Mary’s lessons began, her father set a daily time for their practice sessions and sat with her during practice. Now that the routine has been set, Mary practices without being supervised. Because the practice session was scheduled by event, after school every day, each time Mary gets home from school the schedule reinforces the practice routine. Without the support of Mary's parents, our success would not have been possible

I was delighted by Mary’s greeting at a recent lesson. She turned the metronome off. Looking at me over the music stand she said, “You’re right on time! I just finished [learning] my Fingerpower.” The pride Mary feels in her own growth has been deeply rewarding for me too.

Congratulations Mary! Keep up the good work!

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