Monday Mailbag – How to Cure Students of the Incessant Compulsion to Repeat Measures Until All the Mistakes Are Fixed

What do you do with a student who replays measures again and again? I can see that he is thinking through each measure and wants to correct a rhythm or note mistake, but it’s as if he’s in his own world making it right. Help!

I assume you’re looking for an answer something other than “scream and pull my hair out”?! 🙂

This type of an approach is detrimental on so many counts. I can’t think of any reason why one should play a piece this way. In fact, here are the various approaches I can come up with for playing a piece of music:

  • First read-through. You are primarily sight-reading. The most important thing is to grasp the overall tenor and flow of the piece. Try to maintain a steady pulse and capture the mood.
  • Practice. Identify the most challenging spots, determine what elements contribute to the difficulty, and use specific strategies to make those areas musically and technically strong.
  • Performance. You have to make it sound like you know what you’re doing and convince the listener that you are doing it well. Whatever you do, don’t stop. Keep going and play convincingly.
  • Improvisation. Anything goes. Just play and have fun. Incorporate any mistakes into your piece and pretend like you meant to do that. 🙂

Perhaps try establishing a list like this for your student and have him decide how he wants to approach playing the piece. It sounds like he’s almost always in practice mode, but he’s doing it ineffectively because it’s not improving. Consider using resources like Philip Johnston’s books or The Piano Student’s Guide to Effective Practicing by Nancy O’Neill Breth to to help him acquire better practice tools.

It’s also probable that he doesn’t realize how bad it sounds when he plays with so much stopping, correcting, and repeating. Try either imitating him and having him listen to you, or audio/video record him and let him listen to it for himself. Using the Personal Performance Evaluation Free Worksheet might be a good way to facilitate this.

Any other suggestions? How do you work with students who are insistent on stopping and fixing mistakes while they are playing?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

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