with younger pupils, do you always enforce technique or, realizing that it’s sometimes difficult enough for them to find the correct notes, let them get away with, let’s say, an immature technique ? I know what I struggled with when young – but then the technique that I use nowadays wasn’t really part of my lessons as a child. I think it depends on the pupil and their dexterity and willingness to try, after all good technique should make it easier, more secure and the sound better.
I would hope that young kids are being taught using pieces of music that allow them both to get the right notes AND use proper technique. I’d say that a comfortable, healthy handshape would be the most important thing, because if that isn’t reinforced as habit, it could outright damage them.
When I learned piano, I started out with typical student pieces that fit a growing hand. I did shoot up quickly and was soon playing pieces that required full-handed, large chords, but not until my teacher judged that my hands could handle them.
Good technique is what is going to get you into more difficult repertoire. We learn whatever we do over and over again. So if a young student is playing with bad technique, he is going to develop muscle memory for that, making it more difficult later on to eliminate this muscle memory.
Make sure the pieces you are assigning are easy enough for the student to play correctly. If he can’t focus on the technique, then the piece is too difficult. My rule of thumb is that a student at any level should be able to learn one page of music in a maximum of 3 weeks. If it takes longer than that, then the music is too difficult for him. On numerous occasions I have assigned a piece of music and then withdrawn it a couple of weeks later because the student was having too many problems learning it, or couldn’t learn it correctly.
I would also strongly recommend using etudes on the student, which focus on one pattern at a time and work it long enough to develop muscle memory for that pattern. Your student might find those easier to play correctly.
That is the million dollar question for teachers, right?
I am not harp a teacher, but I hope to be one someday. I am, however, a mother, which involves a lot of teaching. So take my comments for what it’s worth.
I agree with the responses so far. Good technique is important from the start, as I am learning with my 7 year old fiddle playing son. 🙂
I often find myself saying, if you don’t want your kids to do something a hundred times, don’t let them do it once. (Do I regret letting my 2 year old have a piece of gum? Sometimes.) jokes aside, I think this concept had application here.
That being said, maybe you have to make some allowances sometimes. If you get too tied up in things being perfect it can be frustrating for the child and they may want to give up.
I think it is somewhat dependent on the age and maturity level of the child, as well as his/her goals with the instrument. When you say young, are we talking 4-5 years or more like 10? Or perhaps even older.
I like Janis’s comment about keeping hand size (and for harp, body size) in mind when choosing pieces.
So my short answer is, don’t let technique suffer too much, don’t let them do it wrong, but some slight deficiencies in technique can perhaps be refined later on, as the child grows and matures.
Have you read anything about suzuki method? It is all about learning correctly from the beginning. I read the book (its title escapes my memory) about how Suzuki developed his method. An interesting read.
Andelin- I agree with you. The point is not to tie the child into knots nor to make the learning process intimidating. That serves no purpose at all. I’m not saying everything has to be perfect either. I think that often, as with anything in life, you have to pick your battles. As far as harp teaching is concerned, which is the original question, keeping the pieces short and simple, combined with focusing on the major issues(pulling the fingers correctly down into the palm, keeping a stable hand position, etc.), should help a lot to keep the child on track and prevent the forming of bad habits(bad muscle memory). The beauty of a good set of etudes as the basis for forming and developing good technique is that the player only has to focus on one type of pattern at a time, allowing him to work on only one or two technical points at a time.
The basics of playing the harp are actually rather simple. But many teachers adopt a piece-meal approach, letting the student do things their own way, apparently, and then trying to fix errors one-by-one. It is inefficient, and results in bad habits becoming permanent fixtures. I have seen too many harpists play with the thumb and second finger while 4 and 5 are curled up in a tense ball. This has to be terrible for the body in the long run. The issue is maintaining the simple basic principles of a good, rounded hand position and the fingers going in and out smoothly. The answer is to not let a single note go by played incorrectly. The more you correct and reinforce good technique, the more ingrained it is. Most musical errors, I have found, are the result of a technical error of some kind. Another technique I find makes me very nervous to watch is when a student is playing in the position of fingers upward, palm on or by the strings. In this position, the fingers should still be relaxed after playing, but I see the fingers pulling away backward, working against the wrist, with the back of the hand tensed and tendons visibly straining. If you are playing octaves, for example, with the flat hand, you should come away from the strings just enough for the fingers to close in and downward to relax. If you close the thumb and fourth finger toward each other, 2 and 3 must stay relaxed and not tense up. I am sure this can cause tendonitis. Any playing the puts pressure on the wrist in EITHER direction is pressing the tendons and I believe will lead to tendonitis.
Unfortunately, there are not enough etudes that teach both hands equally, but there are some. And etudes that are too long, with too much of just one pattern also risk strain. And if you emphasize strength and control over relaxation, those etudes will lead to a muscle-bound kind of hand. Therefore, they must be worked in phrases and sections until thoroughly learned and comfortable, before attempting to play the entire thing.
What is most helpful is creating exercises to reinforce what is being learned in a piece, and to make them interesting enough to tolerate playing. That, and learning to play every possible pattern comfortably, following the logic of LaRiviere, which then equalizes the difficulty of most pieces.
It is necessary for the teacher to demonstrate, and most of all, to hold the student’s hand in the correct position, to guide the fingers in and out, so the student can FEEL what it is supposed to feel like, to EXPERIENCE the goal of correct playing. Only by learning to play well from the first, or as early as possible, will a student really have a chance of being competitive. I have been able to fix students with harmful, inadequate or uninformed techniques in three-to-six months by vigilant use of what I described, but having to do that is still a waste of time compared with playing well from the first.
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