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Help! My student is having trouble before the competition!

  • Janelle
    Janelle Lake

    Any words of advice?

    A young student has been coming to me for about two years (off and on) and she is scheduled to play in her second evaluation and audition.
     Her first evaluation was not such a great experience due to the fact that her parents dropped her off late and she was so flustered.  She can tune her harp, but she didn't have much time, and I couldn't find her in time to even help her tune quickly.  So, the harp was out of tune (badly--so that one of the C's equaled a B!).  She was ready to play the music and completely prepared to be nervous, but the out of tune harp definitely was embarrassing.  She also didn't have time to hear other harpists play and/or do a quality job on her musicianship test.  That was a less-than-stellar situation that left her a little disheartened. 

    Now, we're two weeks (two lessons) away from the evaluation and audition, and she can't play all of her music well yet!!  She has one piece totally polished with beautiful tone.  The second piece is in shambles.  It's completely appropriate for her level--not too hard and not too easy.  We've been working on it for three months in addition to supplemental material.  One of the months had off-and-on lessons due to snow and her different school activities... and she didn't practice!  So, she lost all of her skill on that second piece.  She knows about the A and B section, but we haven't even touched the C section yet.  We have two harp lessons left...

    The worst part is that her sister is playing the competition, so I know that she will be there and it isn't easy to just tell her not to play an event that she's not ready for. 

    All of my other 14 harp students playing for this event have their pieces memorized and polished at this point. 

    Do I tell her that she's not ready?  She's really excited to play this competition and show me that she can play well after last time... Do I let her play her first piece and salvage what she can from the second piece?  (Yikes!) Do I tell her parents that she needs to come to extra lessons these next two weeks in preparation? 

    Any ideas to encourage her and not put her in an awful situation would be appreciated.

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    replies to "Help! My student is having trouble before the competition!"
    • Catherine
      Catherine Rogers

      You mention the evaluation and audition. If you're referring to the AHS Music Education Auditions, remember they are most emphatically not a competition. She should still get a certificate for participating even if she hasn't made all the progress she should have made since the first session and will doubtless receive helpful advice from the adjudicator. She is in "competition" only with herself.

      If the second session is open to observers, let her decide if she wants to do it. I would be shocked if anyone criticized her for making mistakes--no one is perfect. Perhaps this experience will motivate her to focus and work harder.

      Just my two cents. Our local sessions begin this weekend.

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    • Patricia
      Patricia Jaeger

      Students are so different from each other. Emphasize what Catherine brought up: she's only competing with herself. She didn't use good practice discipline when she missed lessons due to snow etc., so she will reap the result of those actions in this audition. Her parents need to bring her to at least one extra, paid lesson if she is so excited about playing and doing well. Let the next-to-last lesson before the event be as much like the event as possible, with a stranger there listening, the allotted time given, and you, her teacher, writing down an honest evaluation, even wearing a different hat and calling yourself "Mrs. Brown, the Adjudicator" for example, after hearing both pieces, even if one is incomplete. She is certainly a sensitive young person studying harp because she loves it, so she deserves kindness and tact so that when this event is over it will not haunt her for years with regret. It is a very small event in her life but she can learn from it and go on with your good help concerning positive thinking. 


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    • Philippa
      Philippa mcauliffe

      Parent point of view; 

      If this were my child (age 11) I would be  asking myself if she is capable of getting  this piece to a reasonable standard ie notes learnt and some degree of musicality,  at a slower tempo than marked,  in time for the event (obviously not memorised unless she has a great memory) -  if she did an hour a day on it  or even one hour each am and pm on it plus a run through of the other piece each day. 

      If so, give her one or two extra lessons but tell her today  this is what she needs to do to get it anywhere near a  public performance level.

      I have seen numerous dreadfully unprepared performances at  various big events.  Some children seem to be able to pass these off as c'est la vie, others are clearly very upset and embarrassed.     How would she react to a very negative review on the second piece?  Who would be watching it?   Depends what your personal expectation and standards are.  Same goes for their teachers.     The audience generally cringe in sympathy, hope that it finishes soon and they dont do any repeats and wonder if it is a terrible attack of nerves or terrible lack of practice!  Most people think its nerves as the teacher would never let you up there if she knew it was that bad or that the teacher said don't but the pupil insisted on having a go.

      Ask her what she thinks about being the only one this unprepared with an audience or adjudicator on this piece whilst praising her first piece and telling her she is a talented girl who has not practised enough.  Its better to pull out than be horribly embarrassed by being by far the worst on display if they are all watching each other and she is sensitive.  How can she be excited about this prospect - must have zero insight into the situation and you have to tactfully enlighten her.    Does she know how good the others are -perhaps she should be made aware.

      She should make the decision herself but with you being totally honest about it with her about her standard of playing.  Do you not have another concert she could perform her better piece in soon?

      It's a lesson in preparation.  You have x lines of music to learn by a date then you need a schedule to show you when they should be done by and how many bars per week this equates to.  Then time to work it up to performance standards.  It's like preparation for any exam, musical or not.  

      Very few people can pull out their best effort in public.  She will almost certainly play far worse that she does with you in these circumstances. 



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    • Alison
      Alison P

      If I had to take a call on this, I'd say withdraw the piece which is unprepared and focus on the ones which are ready.  One piece of well founded advice I reflect on, from a very accomplished harpist who taught me, is that when in performance other things happen unexpectedly, in other words, new and different problems arise. So unless the player has achieved a musical level of competence with sufficient security, there are too many risks in trying to perform when unready. Plus, we've all seen performers stopped by difficult pedalling, even in competitions at the highest level, the piece falls apart, cannot restart and the performer apologizes and walks out - it can be humiliating and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.  There will always be another opportunity to play the piece when she has prepared sufficiently, perhaps that's the learning point.

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    • John
      John McK

      Maybe honesty is the best policy?

      Run through the concerns you raised here - with the student. Let the student make the decision, but be totally up front about your concerns.

      It's dicy - the student might take this as an opportunity to "shoot the messenger" - you, or blame you as a bad teacher. Then again this could also happen if you just let the student perform and trainwreck. It's a tough call - best of luck.

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    • Alison
      Alison P

      So Janelle, I am curious.  Are you able to tell us what transpired, in the end ?

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    • Janelle
      Janelle Lake

      Thank you all for your words of encouragement! 

      In addition to your ideas, I consulted the "Practiceopedia" and applied a few helpful tips.  (I'm a walking advertisement for this book and all of my students own them.  Take a look at it online!). 

      For this particular student, we scheduled an emergency lesson.  We decided to focus on the part that she can do well and only perform the first half of the piece.  She played the first piece almost flawlessly, and played the second piece (part of it) the best that she could.  Yes, she got fewer points, but she didn't have to apply any "cosmetic" cover ups.  She knew going in that she was going to get fewer points, and I knew that that would probably leave her dragging her feet to get to the stage. 

      What I ended up doing was (re) explaining how to work with deadlines in the future and really encouraging her to go for a goal that she really wants to do.  She is very excited to play in her church on Good Friday, so we picked an appropriate piece, set some practices deadlines, and she's off!  She seems to have renewed enthusiasm.  I gave her the church piece the week before the competition and said that each time she practices her new fun piece, she must do her best to accomplish a task within the competition piece.  That seemed to motivate her enough to get the competition piece (first half) pretty solid. 

      The evaluation was fine.  She even got a good rating and looks forward to doing better next year.  The judges said very helpful and constructive things without discouraging the student. 

      Thank you again!

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    • Alishia
      Alishia Joubert

      Thanks for the recommendation on the book! Where can you find it and who is it written by?

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    • Janelle
      Janelle Lake

      Hi Alisha!
        Yes, you can find the Practiceopedia online at www.insidemusicteaching.com (in the bookstore).    It's also a great site with aural skills tests and some theory games. 
        One of my new 10-year-old students just said during a lesson, "I read about that in my Practiceopedia and I've always wanted to try that!" and her mom and I just beamed.  :)
        The adults like it to, but you have to really help them understand that this book is for EVERYONE and not just kids.  Many adults see the book as a guide for stubborn kids who don't want to practice (of course adults all want to practice or they wouldn't be taking lessons on their own initiative!).  Rather, I explain to them that the book helps them get ready for their next lesson more efficiently so that we can cover more topics during the lesson.

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    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth Volpé Bligh

      I love these books by Philip Johnston. I already have his first two but i may have to get this one too.

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