Failures in lessons

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    Mel Sandberg

    I hope somebody has a useful suggestion for me…. I have a harp pupil who is very talented and very advanced, and who works quite hard. Not as hard as possible, but hard enough for good results.


    Of course it can be the stage fright thing- not because you are going to shout or anything but because of the desire to do well for you coupled with the awful knowledge that you will notice each and every slip even if you don’t comment on them.


    First of all, she is young. Secondly, I am willing to bet that as a teacher when she is learning these pieces,


    I agree with Tayce on this one. If it is some sort of stage fright thing, it’s not for you to say it is or it isn’t. It’s entirely the student’s opinion. Talk to her. If she says you make her nervous or intimidate her, then THAT is the truth and you have to change the lesson dynamic to eliminate the tension.

    But I’m not saying that that is the case here and your post leaves open a variety of possible scenarios. Let me just throw them out here and you can see if any of them fit.

    Maybe your student, as hard as she works, has some gaps in her practice technique that is causing her to not really fix problems. I had a student who did this. As diligent as she was, when she made a mistake, she’d stop, kind of regroup, and then continue on without working on that little trip. I’m not a stickler for right notes in lessons, and if a student drops a note here and there, I assume they will fix this on their own time. That wasn’t the case with this girl, and I realized that if I had her play the same line 2 or 3 times in a row, the exact same mistake happened each time in exactly the same place. When your student makes a mistake, let her play a little further on, then stop her and ask her to play the same line again. Does the same mistake happen each time? Also, when she makes a mistake, ask her to stop and go back no more than a measure before the mistake and do it again. If she can’t start literally any place in the music, but has to start way back at the beginning of the phrase or page, then you know that she is not stopping and working out mistakes as they happen.

    Another possibility is that your student has some degree of Attention Deficit Disorder. What this means in this situation is that however much she may practice, she quickly gets bored with the music and doesn’t really focus on it until her back is to the wall and there is intense pressure, like a performance or exam, in 2 or 3 days. Suddenly everything comes together and the performance goes better than any lesson did. This is a classic text book symptom of ADD.

    I would not trust secondhand testimony concerning her performances. You should hear them yourself and then decide if what she did was much better than the lesson. Maybe in performance she still makes the mistakes but doesn’t stop and covers them quite well. you won’t know unless you hear a couple of her performances yourself.

    Sherj DeSantis

    Dear Mel,


    This describes me, I had to look and see if it was my teacher posting.


    There are also those who practice their lesson material a little, but spend most of the time on other things, as I once did, so the prepared work falls apart. It may be a lack of practice technique, insufficient drilling. I learned the hard way that every thing has to be repeated TEN TIMES RIGHT!

    One solution is daily lessons. Miss Lawrence insisted that twice-weekly lessons were the bare minimum. How can we expect young people to work as adults can?


    Many – maybe most – students come in to a lesson without having touched the harp yet that day, having been at school or at work prior to the lesson.


    You are absolutely right Diane. The university where I have my lessons doesn’t have more than one harp. I often wish they did, as I need to warm up before a lesson. Sometimes I can get home from work early enough to get 15 minutes on my own harp before I leave for my lesson, but most of the time it’s the first time I’ve had a chance to play for the day.


    Mel Sandberg

    Thanks to everybody who has posted in reply.

    harp guy

    I only skimmed this thread, so please forgive me if I seem repetitive.

    J P

    it sounds like your student is


    Here’s another point of view: maybe you are not tough enough on her, too soft and accomodating, which allows her to go on erring. Perhaps you need to be more no-nonsense, at least to see if that firms her up. I think at that age, they perhaps need to get used to the tough approach, as they will sink into any opportunity to do less than their best. At least you don’t have to worry about her tearing up, as it is already happening. That is another lesson that does need to be learned–how not to tear up when things aren’t going right.


    If they are truly random errors and do nor reoccur in consistent locations or come up in other situations such as concerts (masterclasses?) how much do they matter?


    J P – From what Mel has said, I don’t think the student is a ‘shiny object’ practiser (nice phrase by the way!).

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