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#929834 - 04/26/08 07:26 AM "Playing at home better" illusion
balalaika Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/19/06
Posts: 84
Loc: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Recently I found myself struggling with quite a few students that have “playing better at home” illusion.
They come to the lesson unprepared, play with stops and mistakes, but claim they can play perfect at their home. So in their view the problem is that they just cannot do it well for me. :rolleyes:

I believe it might be true sometimes but in most cases it is just an illusion. Usually, I ask these kind of the students to make a recording of their practice at home to prove their notion. Of course they never did but they stick to their guns.

I am wondering whether other teachers also have some “playing better at home” students and how they deal with the issue.

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#929835 - 04/26/08 07:42 AM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
Debbie57 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/27/07
Posts: 258
Loc: Kansas
I'm just an adult student, but maybe you'll enjoy this. When I started lessons I swear I really could play it better at home because it had been 30 years since I had been in a learning setting and I was nervous! I'm way over that now and amused my teacher no end recently when I was bombing a piece at lessons. I told her "no I couldn't play it better at home, but I could play the mistakes much more smoothly \:D
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A Hero is one who hangs on one minute longer. Author: Unknown

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#929836 - 04/26/08 09:32 AM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
Mistaya Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/29/06
Posts: 182
Loc: Alberta
This is not an illusion for many of us. I'm incredibly nervous playing in front of my teacher (1.5 yrs) even though she is very kind and encouraging - the issue is that I know she is listening critically - and my playing is being evaluated. Lately, she has taken to "just finishing something up" somewhere within earshot and asks me just to start playing something when she is not hovering. This helps somewhat. I do record myself to get feedback based on how I'm actually playing at home. She listens- and once I know she has heard my actual progress on the piece- we can get some good work done. I find the recording and listening process incredibly valuable for both of us. The upshot of this is that once I can play the piece well in front of her, I usually know it well enough to play it almost anywhere.

Adults have egos and we can be quite critical of ourselves. This causes much nervousness and in particular tension. Tension is of course devastating to playing well. Adults also have many more sources of tension in their lives than children do.

Understanding will be very important. For me playing for an instructor feels like a performance situation. My teacher does believe me, which is very kind of her - but she adds, that it only counts when I can play it in front others.
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#929837 - 04/26/08 11:13 AM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
glyptodont2 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/26/07
Posts: 45
One consideration here may be that people tend to play things faster than normal when they are tense or nervous. This is not planned -- it just comes with the nervousness.

When the student steps up the pace -- perhaps unintentionally -- at the teacher's studio, mistakes start occurring that would not occur at a slower tempo.

As a teacher, have you ever asked your student to "just slow down a little" ?
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[Same person as former Glyptodont -- Some sort of system problem with forum.]

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#929838 - 04/26/08 01:17 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
Wombat66 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/31/05
Posts: 262
Loc: Cornwall UK
 Quote:
Originally posted by Mistaya:
This is not an illusion for many of us. I'm incredibly nervous playing in front of my teacher (1.5 yrs) even though she is very kind and encouraging - the issue is that I know she is listening critically - and my playing is being evaluated. Lately, she has taken to "just finishing something up" somewhere within earshot and asks me just to start playing something when she is not hovering.... The upshot of this is that once I can play the piece well in front of her, I usually know it well enough to play it almost anywhere.

Adults have egos and we can be quite critical of ourselves. This causes much nervousness and in particular tension. Tension is of course devastating to playing well. Adults also have many more sources of tension in their lives than children do.

For me playing for an instructor feels like a performance situation. My teacher does believe me, which is very kind of her - but she adds, that it only counts when I can play it in front others. [/b]
This is so true. I have terrible problems playing in front of my teacher. I too have gone down the recording route but have never shared any of my recordings with my teacher. I have had pieces to a stage that I can play them several times in a row whilst recording, producing results that I am quite happy with or even pround of and yet still completely bomb out in a lesson. The problem is of course massively exacerbated by lack of preparation and ineffective practice techniques but it certainly isn't completely due to lack of preparation - in fact I spend so much of my spare time banging away at the keyboard that if there were any justice in the world it would be him coming to me for a lesson!
My children however, who go to the same teacher, never do any practice despite incessant nagging from me. Not long ago I suffered the ignominy of my wife being taken aside at the end of my kids lesson and told how pleased he was with their progress, he then said "but I'm a little worried about how little progress your husband seems to be making".
When this was relayed to me I felt like going round with an axe, removing one of the legs of his Steinway and inserting it somewhere where it doesn't easily fit, but of course the problem is entirely mine and not his!
I'm told that it is much more common in adults, and every adult I speak to suffers from the same problem to a greater or lesser degree. I'm told that we use different parts of the brain when learning pieces (mainly the cortex) compared to when we know a piece well (mainly the cerebellum) and that when under stress the cerebellar pathway is inhibited so that we revert to the cortex and it's back as if were sight reading, if anyone knows more about this aspect of it I'd love to know.
I'm hoping that with time the problem will regress and that as my sight reading skills improve, even when I do bomb and go back into "sight reading mode" during a lesson it won't sound so bad. In the meantime I'll just keep playing it better at home and as well as I can in the lesson. Quitting to take up stamp collecting instead isn't an option.

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#929839 - 04/26/08 01:29 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
theJourney Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/22/07
Posts: 3946
Loc: Banned
If your setup would allow it, why not give students 10 minutes warm up while you "step out". Encourage them to play their pieces slowly to get "their fingers warmed up." Say you need to step out in the meanwhile and will come back in 10 minutes.

Postion yourself to hear and see how they play when you are listening but not there to see if there is anything to their claims.

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#929840 - 04/26/08 01:36 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
Knabe26 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/27/06
Posts: 221
Loc: Northern California
I think also any difference in touch between their practice instrument and the instructor's can have an affect. It can take a couple of minutes of warming-up on the teacher's piano for that to subside, then it's all about the nerves! ;\)
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#929841 - 04/26/08 03:57 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
My perspective is that even when you're nervous at your lesson or in performance, this is how you play your piece, this is how well it is truly prepared; you should still be able to play well, or the best you can, under those conditions, if not, more practice is needed.

The reality is, is that this is really how you play. So students that say I play it better at home, imo, are making excuses.

Recording ones self, to me, if done with only one take, can be just as nerve wreaking as performing for your teacher. So to me this can be a great way to practice performing and to see where your piece needs to be worked on so that you can play under those conditions.

The other side of it is too, is that I feel we are not as critical when we are at home and really it is an illusion that you can really play it better when you are at home. So yes students, make your recording... remember only one take!

With that being said, when you are at your lesson, you are not performing anyways, with that in mind you may become more relaxed. If the teacher, like I do, feel the piece is ready to be performed I then ask my student to perform it for me. This is different. I then sit back away from the student and be an audience. This is the time (if at all) to be nervous, otherwise it is silly to be nervous at your lesson because, you are learning, mistakes are to be made.

So yes, to me, "playing it better at home" is an illusion as well as an excuse to poor preparation and/or not seeing things in the correct perspective.

EDIT: Yes, you are playing on a different instrument than the one you play on at home. But this is just the way it is for us pianists!
Warm up first with scales to acclimate yourself with the piano and then do just that, acclimate. It is part of learning to play the piano well on any piano tht you come across.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher,
member MTNA and Piano Basics Foundation

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#929842 - 04/26/08 08:02 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
Mistaya Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/29/06
Posts: 182
Loc: Alberta
Wow, I feel very offended by this attitude - I know my level of preparation (average 2 hrs practice/day) and progress is reflected in recordings. I know how to practice effectively. However, this progress is not always apparent when having a 'nervous' lesson day. Something else is going on with adult students, perhaps along the lines of what Wombat mentioned. Teachers who want to be effective with adult students may need to adapt to what is happening, show understanding and perhaps help their students find ways to deal with the stresses. I know I did not have this issue when I was younger - I just played what I had practiced. I realize that it is 'silly to be nervous at a lesson', but wishing it away doesn't make it so.
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#929843 - 04/26/08 08:34 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
But putting it in the correct perspective might.

I did not mean to make you feel offended, Mistaya.

By saying what I just posted to my students, they are not offended, but instead take it to heart and learn to be more relaxed at their lessons.
They learn to not be distracted by a different environment, a different piano, and/or thinking they are at the lesson to perform. It is a process with students that are like this. I don't expect it to happen by next week. But I feel that this is, what it is. And by being honest with yourself and your surroundings and dealing with it, is the only way.

By saying "I played it better at home" will not help.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher,
member MTNA and Piano Basics Foundation

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#929844 - 04/26/08 09:18 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
Mistaya Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/29/06
Posts: 182
Loc: Alberta
A 'correct perspective' is a relative thing - my perspective is that of an adult trying to learn a new skill. I am willing to put in many hours of work and accept that this will take a very long time. I'm enjoying every minute of it. I am quite critical of my abilities and recognize that performing in front of others and in new surroundings is also a skill that needs to be developed. I have lesson days that go very well, and others where something short circuits and my hours of preparation and learning go unnoticed. I do feel that I am honest with myself - and even if saying "I played it better at home" doesn't help - it can certainly be the truth.
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#929845 - 04/26/08 10:07 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
Thementor5 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/26/08
Posts: 9
well, that had never occurred to me, considering that my teacher's piano was far better than mine, so i enjoyed playing and actually played better at my teacher's place.

but, this illusion all depends on the student. he or she might just be shy. it's a very natural thing.

especially when he or she knows that you are so much better than him or her, and that you'll find the slightest mistake in his or her playing.

this might add some stress to the student to some extent, and therefore, he or she might be nervous.

To solve this, I suggest maybe getting closer with the student, like become more of a friend to destroy this dichotomy. Maybe it'll work.
good luck with your students.
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SP 169 Schimmel Diamond Edition-Flame Mahogany

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#929846 - 04/26/08 10:20 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
 Quote:
Originally posted by Mistaya:
A 'correct perspective' is a relative thing - my perspective is that of an adult trying to learn a new skill. I am willing to put in many hours of work and accept that this will take a very long time. I'm enjoying every minute of it. I am quite critical of my abilities and recognize that performing in front of others and in new surroundings is also a skill that needs to be developed. I have lesson days that go very well, and others where something short circuits and my hours of preparation and learning go unnoticed. I do feel that I am honest with myself - and even if saying "I played it better at home" doesn't help - it can certainly be the truth. [/b]
But why say it?

How will this help the teacher teach you? Except to let the teacher know that you have to get beyond this "I play it better at home" syndrome.

The teacher takes how you play at the time of the lesson for what that piece is worth. I feel it would help greatly if you just had the attitude of "I will play this piece the best I can for what it is worth at this particular time." After all, that is all you realistically can do. Right? After all, you are not there to prove anything. Are you? You are there to get help with your piece and learn how to play it well, and to develop into a pianist, which is a process.

What help is it by saying, "I can play it better at home?"

Also, I wonder truly, if you can play it better at home. Again, on the first recording? Can you really?

We all have bad days, even concert pianists. Teachers forgive you for this. Teachers also have bad days and short circuit. We are human. I think you have too high of an expectation of yourself which may get in the way when playing at your lesson.

Please, no offense, I'm only trying to be of help.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher,
member MTNA and Piano Basics Foundation

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#929847 - 04/26/08 10:39 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
Mistaya Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/29/06
Posts: 182
Loc: Alberta
I agree it doesn't help in the least - and the teacher can only work with what I show her. But the initial post, and yours labeled such statements as 'illusion', which is the idea I wanted to counter. I guess I would make such a comment to assure her that I had worked very hard so that she didn't just assume lack of preparation (as Balalaika stated.) Lessons with a good teacher are very expensive. I need her to work with me where I'm at, hence she agrees to listen to a recording and then doesn't need to spend time fixing things that I do only when nervous. We can work on the more interesting interpretive details and what I obviously 'don't get' in a piece. I will also slowly improve by playing in front of her, and in other situations which I make sure to expose myself to. In a lesson however, I want critical feedback more than just an opportunity to desensitize.
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#929848 - 04/26/08 10:45 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
I'm curious, since Balalaika is calling it an "illusion" and I guess I am too, and you are saying it isn't, then can you please tell me, honestly, how many times do you record the same piece until you're happy with it and that is the one that you bring to your teacher?
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher,
member MTNA and Piano Basics Foundation

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#929849 - 04/26/08 11:04 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
Mistaya Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/29/06
Posts: 182
Loc: Alberta
At first, I recorded many times! (and of course would improve each time)- but as I got used to facing the red dot - it got much easier. As you yourself said, recording can also be nerve wracking, so I don't know how fair a comparison that is. Now, I'm not so interested in a perfect take - just something we can work with - and I only do so when I really need feedback, such as before a recital. I forced myself to play 'live' three times over Christmas - so I'm working on it. We may just have to agree to disagree.

Another thing to perhaps consider is the significant number of performers who use beta-blockers. They are not doing so due to a lack of preparation - they do so to be able to perform to close to their capabilities under stressful conditions. Would you just assume they too are less prepared, or perhaps just physiologically more sensitive to adrenalin? Maybe I've found something to try \:\)
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#929850 - 04/26/08 11:41 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5919
Loc: Down Under
OK, I teach mainly adult students at the moment, and I hear this line a fair bit. I don't see it as an illusion, not with my adult students, at any rate. I hear what they're like after playing for me for an hour and I can well believe that their first run through in the lesson is not as good as they played it at home. I just usually smile and say "I know" and we get on with it. To me it sounds like frustration - they know they can play better, it's just not happening right now. And I reassure them that this happens to all of us, doesn't it? Perhaps not so regularly, but it certainly happens to me, and I play for a living! So whereas I agree with pianobuff that how you play at any given moment is really how you play, I think increasing the anxiety by implying the preparation is lacking and simply telling them to stop being anxious does no good at all.

My approach with my adult students is to focus on specific things, things we can work on right now, rather than a general "how well are you playing it" feeling. When they get into the music they stop focussing on themselves and how their performance is perceived. Generally I've found adult students are too self-critical. Actually, the more common catch-cry for one of mine is not "I played it better at home" (though no doubt he did \:\) ), but "this is ridiculous! I SHOULD be able to do this!" So we look at why in this particular case he can't.

Having said all this, I've certainly heard this line from younger students when it's been obvious it's a cop-out. And I suspect this is what the OP was referring to.
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#929851 - 04/27/08 12:19 AM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
sleepingcats Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/30/04
Posts: 982
Loc: Oregon
I'm an adult student, and I cannot use this "played it better at home" statement, because my lessons are conducted in my home. I can't even say "I played it better when you (teacher) weren't here" because I don't get nervous playing on my own piano in my own home.

With my previous teacher, I always got nervous because it was at her home on a piano that I played only once a week for an hour. Also, someone was actually paying attention to my playing - that changes everything. I loved her piano, her living room was very comfortable and home-like, a friendly cat usually greeted me before and during the lesson, and the teacher was the most wonderful, patient and non-judgemental person.

Being able to warm up and have several false starts before the actual lesson while the teacher had to get something or go to the restroom, etc. was very helpful in finally pulling off a decent performance for the teacher. However, to become a successful performer, it's probably better that the student get used to being "uncomfortable" with a piano or atmosphere and learn to adapt. Just my opinions.
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#929852 - 04/27/08 12:20 AM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
Hisalone Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/06/08
Posts: 100
Loc: Omaha, NE
As a student, I find that I do play it better at home, but guess what, my teacher comes to my house for my lesson. \:D

In all seriousness, I actually find it a blessing when I do not play it as well in front of my teacher. I am never worried about things like missing notes. He knows I know when I hit the wrong note so we never really dwell on stuff like that unless there is a specific reason I hit the wrong not, but that is usually not the case other. Rather it is my own clumsy nature I need to get a handle on which eventually comes together without any excessive anxiety over it.

Issues of technique are another matter altogether. Usually the parts I really flub up in practice are those technical skills I may have been handling better in my teacher's absence, but nevertheless need more focusing in on anyway. He gives me an exercise on how to practice it and voila, it helps me conquer said technique. Same thing goes for tempo. Almost always, I try to play something too fast sometimes even if it is supposed to be that fast. Though I can't necessarily hear how my playing is not as definitive as it should be, I do carry the "illusion" that I can play it better at home. He instructs me to practice it slow for a bit longer and pay attention to fine details such as rhythm, technique, and definition, and then start adding tempo and nuances.

Student's, instead of being frustrated and dwelling on the idea that you do play it better at home, look at fixing the reasons you play worse for your teacher, pique his/her brain about it, and I'm sure you can all come to a resolution with just a little patience, and some quality practicing techniques. This is what still works for me.

Be blessed and enjoy it. Relax a little bit. We're all in this together. Us students and the teachers. We all work to the betterment of our playing so as to increase our enjoyment.

Joel
_________________________
Psa 33:1-3 ¶ Rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright. Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings. Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.

Ya think God would permit 88 strings?

Hisalone

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#929853 - 04/27/08 07:01 AM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
lilylady Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/17/05
Posts: 4977
Loc: boston north
It's nice when you can get to the point of wanting your teacher to sit beside you, because they do know what you can do, and are always 'on your side'! Their presence is a comfort.

Me? heck, I guess I'll always have that 'but really, I do play it better at home when no one is around'!!!

Nerves and perfectionism, the desire to please must be the cause.
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"Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything."

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#929854 - 04/27/08 07:58 AM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
Debbie57 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/27/07
Posts: 258
Loc: Kansas
Dear Teachers,

Some of us are 30 years away from any formal learning environment. We come to you for a variety of reasons. We want to fulfill a desire to learn to play the instrument, or engage in learning something new to us to keep our minds expanding and flexible or to (insert host of other reasons here ___). We are in awe of you because you can do what seems like the impossible for us, especially if we are new to our journey. We don't mean to keep repeating the tired phrase "I played it better at home" - in fact I've quit saying it all together because I've learned from these forums how tiresome it is for you to hear. Perhaps what we are really trying to express is that we were so much more comfortable playing it at home, which is a safe place for many of us.

We are trying to do many things at once. Learn what you are teaching us, let go of old ideas like "wanting an A on our paper" so to speak, and to get passed a certain nervousness that is akin to public speaking when we come to present for you.
 Quote:
With that being said, when you are at your lesson, you are not performing anyways
Ahh, but for some of us, we really do feel like we are performing, even if it's just to you - a person we have assigned a high value to.

It will take a certain amount of time for us to move beyond that strong desire to please you with our efforts. Most likely it will involve us developing more security and confidence in ourselves.

For myself, I personally really like my teacher. She's upbeat, she's fun and energetic, I'm comfortable with her and she gives me wonderful feedback on how to improve a piece. Yet my heart will still thud when I first sit down at the keyboard at my lesson.

Debbie
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A Hero is one who hangs on one minute longer. Author: Unknown

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#929855 - 04/27/08 08:39 AM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
SAnnM AB-2001 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/20/04
Posts: 2022
Loc: Canada
I never say "it went better at home" anymore it feels true but sounds so lame to me.....and I know it isn't helpful for my teacher to hear.

I've been with the same teacher for 6 years now and he knows me pretty well. He's wonderful, very kind and patient but still I am a little tense (or maybe self-conscious is a better word?) when I first sit for a lesson. I'm trying to use my lessons also as "performance" practice - expecting that I'll be a little nervous so I'm trying to train myself to focus on the music instead of his watchful presence - playing slower than I would at home.

Teachers of nervous adults, I find that if we first start with a little music "chat" and then follow with a newly assigned exercies or piece that I have no expectations of myself with then the "jitters" are worked out more quickly and my "polishing" piece goes a little better.

Also, unless I'm really messing up, my teacher will let me play through my piece without interruptions. There are often repeated passages that will go better as I move through - this is also helpful. We'll go back and start over with him stopping me where he sees a problem that needs particular focus.
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#929856 - 04/27/08 10:41 AM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
glyptodont2 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/26/07
Posts: 45
Forgive me for posting one more time here --

But no one has described the opposite-- playing WORSE at home -- or to put it differently, actually playing something BETTER at one's lesson.

This happens to me very seldom, but it HAS happened. One jazz piece that gave me great problems at home came off superbly at my lesson. In fact, I doubt that I ever played it that well before. Why I cannot tell you.

I remember going home from this particular lesson, all excited, and telling my wife, "you will not BELIEVE how well that went."

Unfortunately, it is usually the other way around, due to nerves, unfamiliar piano, the feeling of being watched like a cat watches a mouse . . . and on and on.

A great thread. I've learned from this one.
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#929857 - 04/27/08 11:02 AM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
ShootCraps Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/24/05
Posts: 132
Loc: Virginia Beach, VA
Awesome post, Debbie!! I think you said it perfectly.

It's very scary to play it right in practice and then bomb it in the lesson. It's pretty frickin' unfair too!
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"Show people are doomed. Doomed to a lifestyle of booze and pills and heavy meals late at night." Ruthless! - The Musical.

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#929858 - 04/27/08 12:28 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11648
Loc: Canada
Cause. Effect. Which person has the power to work with and change a phenomenon: student, teacher, or both. There is no single formula because each situation is different and must be dealt with individually.

I have already posted on a particular phenomenon of adults students that directly affects their ability to play well in front of a teacher, and I have posted the solution that every single person I know who tried it found to be a solution, because it goes straight to the effect. In this case both cause and effect are in the student's hands, and no amount of reassurance on a teacher's part will make much of a difference.

We adult students have a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of lessons, and our role within those lessons and with our teachers. We often believe that we must "perform" in front of our teacher, that a well played piece is the object, and often that our merit as a student is tied up with that merit - and extending the latter more, one either can or one cannot: "talent" and "ability" is something that is or is not there. This attitude creates a greater paralysis and anxiety then would happen playing on stage in front of an audience.

The solution lies in perceiving the activity and the role differently. A teacher cannot do that perceiving for us. I, the student, am working on developing my abilities to play, in the same way that I might be engaged in learning to make a chair, and you, the teacher, are helping me make that chair. From week to week we will examine this chair, which is not me, and see how it can be made into a better chair.

Secondly, ability is not a thing you "have" and if you "don't have it" you're doomed. By definition, when you begin something new, you are "not able" and you go from "able" to "able" via the process of lessons and practicing. It is acceptable to play badly and make mistakes, teachers accept mistakes, expect them, and have the opportunity to use these mistakes as points of guidance.

If these two sets of realizations are adopted and carried out during lesson time, the drop in anxiety and paralysis can be dramatic. At the same time, there is an immmediate new role and relationship between teacher and student, which the teacher may not realize, since he wasn't in on the old attitude. The student MIGHT actually start playing better, and will definitely stop saying "I played it better at home." because mistakes no longer matter.

This is one example of cause and effect of a phenomenon. In this case the onus lies entirely on the student. The only way a teacher can play a role is if the teacher knows that this, specifically, is going on, and finds a way of addressing it. I have never seen such a thing mentioned anywhere and I don't know to what degree teachers are aware of it.

Two other things arise:

Teachers do not just ask their students to practice a particular piece. They want to develop certain skills. They may have, as a single important goal, that a student practices playing evenly. Or he wants the student to (I'm making this up) play staccato/legato in turn in order to create some finger control. Believe it or not, even though you are saying it, students won't ** get ** that this is important. They won't get that this "d'uh simple" thing is your main point. We will do all kinds of things to impress you and make you pleased with our playing, except for that "piddly little thing".

So we practice our fingers off, wrongly. The piddly little thing may be the solution to most of our problems, but we don't do it, because we don't know it's important - so week after week you see us making the same mistake, struggling with the same problem, as though we had not practiced at all.

If your student doesn't know he is supposed to practice what you tell him to, and that the "what" includes especially the piddly stuff, then you, as a teacher, must make him understand. Repeating the same instruction over and over hoping some day he'll do it or get it isn't going to do it. You have to get at the problem. He doesn't get it! Tear your hair out if you want - he ought to get it - he doesn't! So make sure he gets it. Our responsibility as student then, after you've laid it on the line, is to do it, once we get what we're supposed to do.

While I was a student going through just that, I had a student in another field, doing just that. He worked incredibly hard and proudly presented the fruits of his labour. He would not budge on a piddly thing that I had asked, which eventually took the effort of 10 minutes for two days, and the lesson was stymied for a month. While I was being lectured on not doing fancy things, doing the piddly things, I gave the same lecture with the same degree of frustration that the teacher lecturing me was suppressing. It was comical, actually.

Third: Who is responsible for acquiring playing skills. This is not as obvious as it seems. If we, as students, do things our way, relying on our own judgement, we won't get the skills you are trying to give us. If we think that following you totally passively, but without an active involvement in what we are doing, it will come in tiny drabs almost by accident. Then, when we do get involved, we're back to changing your instructions, re-interpreting, and again it doesn't work. "Mindful practicing", purposeful practicing, without altering the guidance of a good teacher, is not as obvious as it seems.

If the issue is practicing, does this need to be taugth and discussed. Not just: do this every day at 60 bpm for 10 min. eventually increasing to 120 bpm, and make your tempo even. Actually what happens in the course of practicing.

My teacher, these days, will say "Tell me how you practised this." or "Tell me how you intend to practise this." I had a private student last year, a young teen, who wanted to work more independently. We spent 80% of some lessons discussing study strategies, problem solving strategies, organization strategies, and 20% of the time going over the material itself.

"Illusion" is a common word in the music world, and it is an important one. If we don't hear our mistakes, we cannot correct them, and we are condemned to stay at the same level. The most devastating stage of development is when we hear our mistakes for the first time, and we think we have suddenly deteriorated because we play so horridly. We always did play horridly but we heard what we imagined we were doing: when we here "horrid" and the nature of "horrid" we start improving.

But it can be a "play it better at home illusion" illusion, where a teacher has the illusion that it is an illusion, when it isn't. In other words, if there is an actual problem, and you decide to assume that your student has not been practicing when he has, then the problem will not be resolved. If the student actually has not been practicing, then it is not an illusion, and the solution is for the student to start practicing - the onus is on the student.

What is the problem? Is it the real problem? What is the cause of the problem? What is a possible solution to the problem? Who will have to do the work to create this solution?

The student side is reacting rather heftily because a large enough number have been caught in the cycle of practicing, not being able to play well, and fearing the accusation of non-practice. It is a discouraging experience to practice and not be able to produce. To then be accused of not having done the work is painful. Far better to find a solution, maybe.

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#929859 - 04/27/08 01:42 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2893
Loc: UK.
I think this is something that matters far more to the student than the teacher. To all you students out there let me just say that we teachers have been there ourselves many times. Of course it is not (always) an illusion. When you feel under pressure it is difficult to perform as well as when you are relaxed. As pianobuff says, this is the realitly of performing. When you get up on that stage or go into that exam room you better be prepared for the fact that your performance might not go as well as it does at home. This is why you have to prepare as well as possible. I hear that phrase a lot. Believe me, I can tell if it is genuine or just an excuse. I am pretty sure that most experienced teachers can too.
_________________________
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#929860 - 04/27/08 02:18 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11648
Loc: Canada
 Quote:
I think this is something that matters far more to the student than the teacher.
It is important for us to know that, because it is the "mattering" itself which creates the paralysis in front of a teacher. This paralysis IS of concern if it is ongoing.

I am an adult student, I don't have this problem in lessons. I seem to be a natural performer, so performance brings out the best in my playing.

In view of what I discovered in the "adult world" as written in my previous post, I would move away from comparing performance situations with lesson situations. It might aggravate. The problem the paralysis consists of viewing playing in front of a teacher as a performance which must be perfect. The solution to this cause consists of seeing lessons as a mutual effort to work on improved playing, and focussing on the task instead of the self. If you try to mentally prepare yourself as though for a performance, this falls apart in my internal world as a student.

What I experienced is that when I began seeing my role as working with my teacher at a task, then that work resulted in an improved piece almost as a side effect. My attention and focus had shifted, and remained shifted form practice room to lesson. This built up a different kind of solidity in my practicing and my playing, and a different kind of focus.

When a performance came near, I then drew on that acquired solidity - my lessons changed in nature as the piece to be performed was worked on: more like a rehearsal. Practising then was also toward the performance. Playing in performance, playing rehearsal-mode in lessons and in practicing, were of a different nature than playing in lessons and practicing when we were "chair building". Initially before I had found my role as a student, every lesson was like the rehearsal mode, and practicing was like a practicing for rehearsal for performance.

Does this distinction seem plausible and at all useful?

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#929861 - 04/27/08 03:52 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2893
Loc: UK.
When I say you need to prepare I was not really thinking about the kind of mental preparation you might do for a performance. Rather that you need to practice to the point where you can play well almost all of the time. This might seem obvious but I often see the result of poor preparation in lessons and in recitals. The odd slip here and there is acceptable and often inevitable. But when parts of the piece break down completely and the student is unable to pick it up or even appears to be sight reading then it is clear that they have not practiced enough. I get the impression that some students will practice to the point where they can get it right. The important thing is not to leave it there. You have to practice well beyond this. I have heard many teachers say 'practice until you can't get it wrong'. I am not saying that it is as simple as this in all cases. But more often than not thorough preparation will be obvious to the teacher despite nerves and anxiety.
_________________________
Pianist and piano teacher.

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#929862 - 04/27/08 03:55 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2893
Loc: UK.
I forgot to say that as a teacher I do not expect a perfect performance every time. It depends on what stage a piece is at. If it was perfect then there would be nothing left to work on right?
_________________________
Pianist and piano teacher.

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#929863 - 04/27/08 04:08 PM Re: "Playing at home better" illusion
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
Also, when a student slips up, and it being a continuous slip up (not just human error), I could care less if he/she can play it better at home, and again (I wonder if that is true.) But regardless if it is true or not, instead the slip up shows me a place where more practice is needed, because in the real world, you are not always playing at home. I am basically reitterating what Chris just said.

Also, slip ups/mistakes are suppose to happen! This is why you are taking lessons. So for what it is worth, relax, you are not performing for your teacher. Like Keystring said, "you're building a chair together!" You are looking for guidance to playing the piano well. Having this focus should help with yourself as a person in the real sense.

I too have been on the other end of the stick and, for me, it is an illusion. I really do not play it better at home. I may think I do, but really, I make the same mistakes at home too.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher,
member MTNA and Piano Basics Foundation

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