Once again we are in the last run-up to piano exam with the usual nerves and anxieties for teacher and pupil alike! If only children realised the stress they put their teachers through. When I was a child I can remember thinking how lovely it would be to be the teacher, immune to the worry of approaching exams. I wish!!
I think one of the biggest worries for the teacher is the unpredictable nature of children. I never seem to learn this, after many years of teaching. Once exams are over I seem to have amnesia, as with childbirth, and I forget the process entirely. Then here we are again. My carefully planned timing is completely undone, and with weeks to go there are children still painstakingly learning scales and notes, never mind my imagined meticulous polishing and adding exciting touches. So what goes wrong?
I think I am an idealist. In an ideal world all children would practise efficiently every day, they would delight in the musical adventure, laugh at the joy of speeding up scales and eagerly anticipate each new piece. Unfortunately there are very few children who fall into this category. These children are a real joy, and like other music teachers I see my teaching excelling as our enthusiasm feeds off the other. But some children are there only because their parents insist, and many more, while they like playing, are only too willing to fore-go the practice. So while we think pupils are making steady progress, there comes a week when other things get in the way, and then another happy-go-lucky week, and suddenly your plans are ruined and we are into damage control, our tense and tight voices panicking the child who is then ready to bolt, like a startled horse.
I wish I knew the answer… Allow more time seems a sensible idea, but I’ve found it often means the child delays doing anything. Some children just will not work until their backs are against the wall, and then it is often too late. Children are not good at planning ahead and assume teachers are old and fussy and all will be well in the end. I had one pupil who timed it to perfection. She started working about 3 weeks before the exam and walked out with a distinction every time, to my great annoyance and increasing grey hairs! Alas, this doesn’t work for many who usually scrape through, but never really achieve anywhere near their full potential.
Mastering the piano is a skill, and like all skills there are many hidden elements to be mastered. Every Olympian must have complete control over themself in order to succeed. We witnessed this year just how many great athletes failed to reach their personal bests because of faulty timing.
I guess these hidden elements are:
- self-discipline – ensuring daily practice comes first
- Taking the right steps, looking at detail
- Picturing the goal and being determined to get there
- Believing in yourself
Many of these fine traits lead to success in other things and are well worth cultivating. But to acquire them needs commitment from the child and great support from the home. So teachers – we can only do our best, the responsibility is then with the child.
Time for a glass of wine!!