Wednesday, June 29, 2005

I am a Bernhardist

No, not THAT Bernhard: the one on Piano Street. He is a piano teacher who has really amazing ideas. His posts seem very smart and trustworthy, and I am trying out one of his ideas (modified to suit my own style, of course).

Bernhard likes to start his new piano students, not with weekly lessons, in which the very first lesson is followed by six days of flailing around attempting to practice, but rather with five consecutive daily lessons. This makes a lot more sense in my view than the traditional method of starting a complete beginner with one lesson in a half hour, and trying to get them started and putting the entire burden of figuring out how to practice on their little 6- or 7-year-old shoulders.

Bernhard charges the same amount for a week's five daily lessons as he does for a traditional weekly lesson--but with the daily lessons, he simply goes for a shorter time. And he keeps this up until the student is ready in his view to work for six days without supervision. He says that he does daily lessons for almost a year with some students.

I think this is a great idea. (It is also not without precedent: some great pianists like Claudio Arrau had this kind of lesson setup. And people whose teacher was their parent or someone else who lived with them often had daily corrections and advice, as did Arrau.) So since this is summer (I am writing this at the end of June 2005), and many kids are out of school, this is a perfect time to try out my new Bernhardism.

My first experiment was Ivana. She is seven and the best friend of another seven-year old who is taking from me (Ilse), and has been begging for lessons ever since Ilse started.

This morning was the second day. I started Ivana out teaching her "Two Black Cats" from Piano Adventures, to get her aware of the black key groups, and finger position, and switching hands at the center of the keyboard, and stuff like that. Then I taught her to write whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and double bars, and how to clap them all using my clapping method. Then we made flash cards (with a special metallic purple pencil I gave her as a gift) for each of those concepts, so she could practice testing herself with the cards after I left. I practiced some short two-measure pre-notation (that means "floating notes, with no staff") pieces from Alfred IA Sight Reading book with her, and I asked her to practice each of the four pieces on the page after I left. On my practice sheet I put each piece in a task box, so that she would practice each one and check the box after she practiced it. This was largely to get her used to my practice sheet, and to the idea of checking the box when she practices each task. Finally I wrote on the sheet that I wanted her to listen to the Suzuki CD (her best friend Ilse is using the Suzuki CD and learning pieces from it, so I want Ivana to be able to play them too--it'll motivate both of them).

This morning when I returned for the second daily lesson, Ivana had put checks all across the page for each item! She was into it. And she had remembered very well all the little things I had told her about finger position, how to sit, how to cross her ankles, etc.

Today I brought her some books from the Alfred Prep A course: instead of the Lesson book, which has too much explanations, I decided to try the Solo Book. Each page is less cluttered with explanations, and the pieces are fun. I also brought her the Theory, Notespeller, Activity, and Christmas Joy A books. Her mom for some reason had made a big point of getting Ivana started ASAP on Christmas music. I am all for it, but usually I wait until September to start. But today I taught Ivana about repeat signs vs. double bars, and taught her how to read the diagrams that show where her hands go for each piece; and then I had her play Jolly Old Saint Nicholas. She was very good at it.

Tomorrow I will do the last daily lesson with her, and see how she did the written and practicing assignments I gave her today. Based on that and on what we accomplish tomorrow, I will give her a week's worth of work.

Just from today's experience, it seems very positive to have these daily lessons. I think new students who are given a week after their first lesson lose a lot of emotional momentum and forget a lot of what I tell them. Another issue has been: most of my students eventually get into the habit of putting their check marks (on the practice sheet) ON THE DAY THAT I COME BACK. In other words, they don't check off each task as they do it, but instead present me with a sheet empty of check marks. I invariably make them put the check marks when this happens, and they just keep doing it every week, no matter how many times I tell them that I want them to check off tasks WHEN THEY DO THEM. Maybe these daily lessons will have some effect on this...although I don't see why it would.

More after tomorrow's lesson...


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