My favorite life skill is, “Take what you do know, to figure out what you don’t know.” I have it posted on my piano room door just high enough for a student’s eyes to see it over the piano. As a student gazes wearily at the sheet music, trying to make sense of all the lines and black dots, we review all they do know including the alphabet, sentences, math, colors, and musical notes. I encourage the student to use their current knowledge to work their way to the answer.
“Use your strengths to overcome your weaknesses.” One bows their head at the piano and in a small voice says, “I just can’t get this”. Together, we overcome the problem by focusing on all their strengths such as: acquired technique, scale skills, hand strength, hearing notes, muscle or note memory. Suddenly, their weakness is gone, and victory has arrived!
“Perception changes everything.” You have a bad day, a stuffed up nose, practice all week, the puppy is sick, and you keep playing the same wrong note. It’s when you really know what to do, but it just isn’t working. Well…..let’s look at it this way, the notes are really connected like a long string, or like words in a sentence. Sometimes, I create a funny sentence to connect the notes. And then presto! The fingers fly over the keys and the right note happens. A change of perception becomes practical.
“It’s not that you can’t, it’s just that you’re skipping something.” One follows all the directions, analyzes the music, listens to the recording and for some reason the song just doesn’t sound right. We search the passage and find a skipped note or beat. An easy fix, but hard to find. Add the missing piece, and the song comes together like a puzzle. When we can locate the missing piece in order to solve a problem, that’s a good life skill.
“Follow the directions.” Play soft here, loud there, slow down at the turn, rest on that beat, smooth, now separated! The composer does provide the directions for success, our task is to follow them in order to achieve it. A wise master teacher once said, “If students would simply follow the directions from the start, then they would successfully complete their song sooner.”
“The last notes heard are the least notes practiced.” Often one performs a song perfectly, and then on the last eight notes, a mistake happens, you trip over your fingers, and the last note is wrong. Everyone knows it and it is their final lasting impression. The thought, “I knew I should have memorized the ending,” scrolls in front of your eyes. You stand, smile, bow to the audience, and walk off the stage with dignity. Well, at least you planned your exit. The lesson learned is to practice the ending as much as in the beginning. If the ending looks tricky, I often practice that first and put it to memory. Planning and rehearsing your ending is key to completing a project.
“Patient persistence pays off.” Sometimes, we want results too quickly. Our expectations are too high, and we simply give up. The words “It’s too hard,” with a helpless tone are spoken. That’s when we patiently review the music one note at a time, checking finger numbers, note names, counting and play that small section for a week or two. “No worries, no hurry, you’ll get it,” I say. Suddenly, fingers are flying over the keys and a smile appears. The look of reward from one’s persistent hard work is seen. I knew the student could do it! Patience is a two-way street, one way by the teacher, and one way by the student. That is a life skill.