However, an equally important part of the practice puzzle is teaching students how to assess themselves as they practice. The majority of our students' work at the piano is done outside of our lessons--so it is important that students know how to listen carefully and how to critique themselves as they practice independently.
Read on for 3 ideas you can use to help your students learn the important skill of self-assessment!
I have blogged about this practice strategy HERE, but it bears repeating! I use the practice cake as a way to help students break each piece of music into layers and to focus on one element in the music at a time as they practice. By focusing on one musical element at a time, students can better listen to and assess each element in the music as they play.
My Practice Tips and Tricks page, found HERE, includes a few basic practice techniques for beginners, plus a series of questions about each musical element (rhythm, notes and fingerings, articulation, dynamics, and tempo) that students can use to assess themselves as they practice.
2. Is this piece "easy," "medium," or "hard?"
I have found that asking my students this simple question is a very effective way to help even young students learn how to assess their playing. This question is a great alternative to asking, "how do you feel about this piece?"-- which is a very open-ended question that I find many of my students have difficulty answering! "Easy," "medium," or "hard" gives students a clear metric for judging how they feel about a piece they are learning.
If the answer is "medium" or "hard," we talk about why that is. What elements of the music are tricky? What practice strategies can we use that will make those elements in the music easier?
The answer to this question can also be enlightening for me as a teacher and help me to better understand my students' personalities. Some of my students are perfectionists who find every piece to be "medium" or "hard" no matter how well they play! Other students gloss over fine details and call a piece "easy" even though there is definite room for improvement.
Knowing how my students feel about their music can also help me with pacing our assignments. If students rate every piece as "easy," for example, it might mean that they aren't being challenged enough and need a "project piece" that they can really sink their teeth into.
3. Listening to recordings
I encourage my students to listen to recordings--both recordings by others and recordings of themselves--of the pieces they are working on at home. In the beginning stages, listening to a recording can help students be aware of any mistakes they might be making with the notes and rhythms of a piece. Later on, listening to recordings of polished performances can provide students with a model to follow as they polish a piece themselves.
Listening to recordings can also be a great way to develop students' listening skills. Is the performer keeping a steady tempo/pedaling correctly/doing the right articulations?
Finally, I also like to use recordings as a tool to talk about interpretation. We might listen to two different performances of the same piece and talk about which one we like better and why. Understanding what we like and dislike about the performances we hear can help us to better assess and improve our own performance of a piece.
What do you think? How do you help your students assess their own playing? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments!