Frusterated – how picky is too picky?

Posted In: Teaching the Harp

  • Participant
    unknown-user on #88562

    Hey all.

    I’ve been playing harp for about three months now – just picked it up again after a long absence. My teacher plays harp with the symphony, ect… so she’s one of the best players in the area.

    Recently though I’ve been very frusterated (and stopped playing this week as a consequence… bad me) beacuse I can’t seem to progress. After three months, I’ve worked on five songs. One is “finished”, the other four are not finished, according to her. This is with me seriously practicing, spending anywhere from an hour to two hours day on harp. I’m 17, so there’s a lot of other commitments on me… school, debate, teaching, and church. It seems when I sit down to play for my teacher, I forget everything I’ve learned. My fingers get naughty and refuse to hit the right notes – even if I’ve played the same piece almost from memory yesterday!

    This is VERY frusterating. Is it just me, or is the teacher being overly picky?

    I mean, I want to play the harp – badly. But I don’t want to spend hours “perfecting” a piece that I will most likely never play again in front of anyone.

    Maybe I’m wrong. If so… tell me, please.

    Participant
    Briggsie B. Peawiggle on #88563

    Is your teacher giving you technical exercises? In my opinion, the best way to progress is by practicing well thought-out exercises given in the proper sequence. After working on technical exercises for the past 2 months (along with a few nice little pieces that are at my level) I have made great progress. I am convinced it is because the right exercises were given to my by my teacher at the right time,

    Participant
    unknown-user on #88564

    Hi Carla, I’m sorry you are feeling discouraged. You did mention that
    your teacher is one of the best players in your area. I have studied music with
    many teachers, and have generally found that it is healthy and useful
    to adapt to the teacher’s style as much as possible, and when teaching
    to adapt to the student’s learning style as much as possible. “When is
    a piece finished?” This is a difficult question to answer, but if your
    teacher is giving you good information, take what he/she has to offer.
    Two ideas come to mind that might alleviate some frustration: first, it
    would be useful to play pieces of varying levels, so that everything is
    not challenging you to the extreme. Always have at least one or two
    pieces that are a focused challenge, then some that are a moderate
    challenge, and finally, some that are relaxing. This way you can start
    your lesson with the easier pieces to warm up. A second idea is to make
    a recording of yourself practicing, so you can let your teacher hear
    when you are able to play your best. The majority of students,
    including me, have felt some frustration at playing a little below
    their potential at lessons. I used to ride the train three hours into Chicago for
    lessons and felt stiff and nervous, put my whole heart
    into it, but always felt a little disappointed in my performance. Such
    is life, never a perfect process.

    When you have a technically superb teacher, the only reason I would
    suggest switching is if there is a negative emotional dynamic that
    cannot resolve because this can burden the learning process. If you can
    honestly say your teacher wants the best for you and is expert in
    playing, then I would suggest doing what you can to adapt to his/her
    method of teaching because it is thought out, and you have not been
    able to see the whole picture until years of experience. You sound so
    dedicated, and I deeply hope you will find encouragement. btw you
    should certainly plan to perform all the pieces you work hard on. There
    is no reason not to set a goal of a solo recital to play at a school or
    church by the time you graduate high school. It will give more meaning
    to your efforts! Good luck!!

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #88565

    There are two possible reasons that I can think of that would cause you not to make progress.

    Participant
    unknown-user on #88566

    Well, it seems to me the problem is a bit obvious. You are expecting too much progress for the relatively small amount of time you are practicing. If you are really serious, I think you will eliminate some of your other commitments so you can spend at least two-and-a-half hours a day with the harp. Then I think you will find your fingers will land on the right notes and your memory bank will grow. Not to scare you, but the harp simply needs more time and attention from you to develop as you wish. Do choose pieces you want to perform. There are plenty that will develop your technique and musicianship, especially if you use exercises profitably. Five songs-I mean pieces-is quite a few to do at the same time. Three are enough, with half-an-hour on exercises. I suggest something like one Dussek Sonatina, Pavane from Solos for the Harp Player or one of the Rameau or Corelli pieces, and something by Handel or Salzedo; or Grandjany’s Frere Jacques.

    Participant
    erin-wood on #88567

    The only high school students who spend 2 1/2 hours practicing each day are the ones that are VERY serious about the harp and plan to be harp majors.

    Participant
    unknown-user on #88568

    Thanks so much for all the lengthy replies. This has been really helpful.

    My teacher gives me exersizes to work on my handposition, fingering, ect. LOTS of scales, ect. So that’s good.

    Trouble spots – how do you go about working on those? You said

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #88569

    A trouble spot is any place in the music where you don’t know EXACTLY what is going on.

    Participant
    rosalind-beck on #88570

    Click on over to Amazon and order “The Practice Revolution” by Philip
    Johnston. (See link below.) You may have some practicing issues that
    are preventing you from reaching full reliability with your
    pieces.

    Participant
    Tacye on #88571

    Talk to your teacher- as an adult you have a right to know why you are
    asked to practice anything to a given level and how it will affect your
    goals.

    Quite possibly you would benefit from playing easier music (instead of,
    or as well as the pieces you are learning).

    Participant
    unknown-user on #88572

    do you practice with a metronome?

    a metronome can be useful, in certain situations…

    for tricky passages, i think it’s very important to play it VVVEEERRRYYY SSSLLLOOOWWWLLLYYY at first. find a tempo where you can get all of the notes, with the right rhythms, change positions comfortably, use the right technique, etc… it should be slow enough for you to pay attention to everything.

    then, gradually increase the tempo. but don’t go too quickly! at each tempo, make sure you practice enough so that you know it in your sleep. if you find that you’re starting to make too many mistakes, that means you’re not ready to play it at that speed. so decrease the tempo and go from there.

    Participant
    unknown-user on #88573

    Hi Carla,

    I am just a beginner in harp, but I have been playing piano for 2 decades and have dealt with over 20 teachers… so guess I can share my feelings with you.

    I have also met some very picky teachers too. There are so many reasons for the teachers to be so strict or picky, some are reasonable, while some are not relevant. When I was young, I could only tolerate that as I could not express my feelings clearly and persuaded my mother that the teacher wasn’t right for me. However when I got older, I started to pick my own teacher.

    I have had lessons with a few of the best players in this area; they were all teaching piano in different universities. Technically speaking, all of them were just perfect, but not all of them know how to handle students, esp a very amateur one like me. Just like you, I got lots of commitments in school and extra curricular stuffs. When I was in colleage, I worked very hard on my studies in order to fight for a place in grad school as well. Therefore, it’s very unfair to me when my teacher expected me to practice 5 hours a day like her other students major in music — in fact I squeezed 3 hours for practice already, but my progress was not up to my teacher standard. Then it was just like a bottle neck. I got stuck with the same piece for 3 months. I could do perfectly at home, but I felt so scared to play in front of my teacher. When I got a little flaw, then I just felt like cry out and lead to all other mistakes, my whole piece just collapsed.

    I felt very depressed and finally stopped my lessons. Few months later, I found another teacher. He’s also a prof in music dept, but he’s more open-minded as well. He understood my situation and never put too much pressure on me. I felt happy to learn from him, and it helped me to learn a lot.

    I think no one is wrong between you and your teacher. Just like other relationships, sometimes two people may just can’t form a compatible match easily. If this situation prolongs, I guess you can really consider taking a short break or looking for another teacher.

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