Teaching the Importance of Technique
Ask any teacher whether technique is important, and you'll receive a positive answer. Ask just about any student whether technique is important, and you'll get a look of confusion. Huh?
We as teachers know that technique is vital because it trains the hands in certain patterns that will be needed for literature. It encourages flexibility, agility, strength, and endurance. It's also important as a warm-up to "get the blood flowing" in the hands and arms.
To communicate this to students is sometimes difficult. I always mention the pattern training and the warm-up aspects to children and teens (using their favorite sport as the warm-up analogy). To adults, I discuss the flexibility/strength issues as well because many adults worry that their hands are "too stiff" and/or "too weak and untrained" to allow them to be successful pianists. Technique, for adults, is a very logical solution to a problem which vexes them, and they usually embrace it willingly.
Now as to getting children (and some teens) to -do- their technique at home, well, that can be a challenge! Some ideas:
Present technical material thoughtfully and in appropriate doses, and your students will profit from them by actually -doing- them.
- Call for technique first thing at the lesson and list it first thing on the assignment pad. This tells the student that (1) technique is important to you; and (2) it will be requested first at the lesson, so it should not be neglected at home. Ask the student to begin with the technique at home practice. If the practice time is split, tell the student to split the technique assignment, too.
- Assign one type of exercise only at first. Do not burden the beginning with several different things to do. The beginner will be overwhelmed. I like to start with what I call Finger Builders. Systematically I add more sorts of drills, including reading-type exercises, arpeggios, chromatic scales, octave exercises, etc. Eventually we get to etudes. You will note that diatonic scales are nowhere to be seen early on!
- Assign exercises which directly relate to the student's music. Does a beginner truly need diatonic scales? No. A beginner is really busy doing other things such as learning how to read notes and figure out how to get a certain finger to play at a certain time and in a certain place. Are diatonic scales boring? Yes. Will enforced boredom encourage the beginner to see the joy in playing? Of course not! There's a better time to introduce diatonic scales because of the next point.
- As the student plays the pieces, and especially when reading through them the first time at the lesson, point out where the current/previous technical studies are being brought to bear. (I like to say things such as, "This measure is brought to you by Schmitt." or "Do you see that this is just part of a chromatic scale? You already know how to do that quite well.") When students see that technical labors yield fruit, they are more likely to do the exercises at home.
- Don't use the same books you used as a student unless they -truly- are the best ones for the job. Take the effort to explore what's out there in today's market before falling back on your own tattered book. Don't like what's out there? Ah ha! Write your own! -You- know what your students will encounter in the music you like to use to teach specific things. Prepare them for it! Who knows your students better that you do? Yes, this takes effort, but what worthwhile things don't?
copyright 1998, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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