Why Students Play Too Quickly at the Lesson
and What to Do About It

Why Students Rush Their Music

You won't be a piano teacher for very long before you find yourself needing to say, "Slow down! You're going way too fast!"

Why do students rush? Only a few of the reasons:

How to Deal with the Problem

Start early on to make students aware of the regularity of the beat. At the very first lessons and with the very first songs, instill an awareness of speed and pulse. Using a wood block (and beater rather than a pencil on the edge of the piano keys will protect them from chips.

Metronome use is a second key technique. It should not be considered "a crutch," but a valuable tool for the learning process.

As students continue lessons, continue to use the metronome and to tap at lessons as students play. Do not think that just because the student is playing Clementi sonatinas that she doesn't need to hear that constant, immutable tap.

Third, make sure your students know the difference between a practice speed and a performance speed! Practice should not be done at performance speed - - or something approximating it as best the student can slop through it.

Fourth, as the piece begins to take shape, establish a goal metronome speed. (Later, you and the student may change it, but for now, you select the metronome speed.) All practice should be done below that speed. As the notes are learned, sections only (particularly transition sections) may be taken at performance speed. The entire piece is to be kept at a speed which the student can control (read: student can control the most difficult section). Discussing speed and setting goals is another way to bring it to a student's attention.

Further discussion should address what an appropriate finished speed for the piece should be and why. What practice techniques might be employed to reach this goal? Which ones are particularly applicable to the task at hand?

What to Say During Playing

Just as you won't be a teacher for long before you urge a student to slow down and play more carefully, you won't be a piano teacher for very long before you hear yourself harping on the same things at lessons.

Here are some synonyms for, "Slow down!" I am sure some of them are in your vocabulary already! Sometimes just stating the problem a different way will "connect" with a student.

My favorite two are the last ones. "Working too hard" brings the student's attention back to what his playing sounds like and whether he's creating a musical result, as well as making him think about whether he's trying to do too much too soon and whether he should throttle back his expectations at this point in the learning process. "Shooting yourself in the foot" is to keep the overarching musical goal in the student's consciousness so damage is not done practicing only in the pursuit of raw speed. (In the earlier stages of learning, it's an implication a hard section coming up, which will be a disaster if the student plays it at that speed.) copyright 1999, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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