If I could get pupils to follow this one rule they would think I was the greatest teacher on the planet.
We have all been brought up to believe that if you work hard you will succeed. If you work out you will get fit. And if you practise hard you will play better. Well, maybe not. Too often I get pupils coming to me feeling bad about themselves, angry at me, ready to give up - because they practise and practise and don't see much improvement. I am going to try to offer you some insight into why this happens.
When you find yourself in a hole - stop digging! By being in a hole I mean you are making the same mistake again and again. You know you are getting a rhythm wrong, missing a couple of notes in a passage, forgetting the B flats, running out of fingers - whatever. Well what do you want to practise? The mistake? Probably not. You want to practise NOT making the mistake. You are in a hole. Stop digging.
By digging I mean just going over and over the thing and wishing it would get better. Stop! Try to look at the thing from some new angles. How can you break it down? The most obvious solutions for accordionists would be play each hand seperately until it is correct, then put them back together or take the passage out of the piece and go over it slowly, then work it back in. This is a good start, and if you aren't doing this in your current approach you will be amazed at how much it helps. But it takes self discipline! Most of us think we are "having more fun" if we just play the whole piece through over and over. In the short term, maybe we are. But which is more fun - having a repertoire of five pieces that you can play okay as long as you don't make a mistake? Or having a repertoire of fifty pieces that you feel confident about, and feeling pretty confident that the next fifty are on their way?
I have lot's of techniques to help pupils stop digging. There are endless ways to think outside the box (no pun intended). I will try to give you some more here when describing people's lessons, or when you have video coaching with me. However, even more important is that you don't get in the hole in the first place. So how does that work?
There's a concept I call the rule of three. If you repeat an action three times it's on its way to becoming a habit. If you repeat it three times on several occasions it will become ingrained, entrenched and even once you have dug yourself out of the hole it will take a lot of effort to reverse things before the action you repeated will not be your "default position" when you get nervous or are inattentive.
So what does this mean? Well, when you are trying out a new piece or exercise - pay attention to your actions very carefully. As soon as you notice a problem or mistake stop and fix it. Okay, you might try it one more time, but if the mistake is still there - - - LOOK OUT! You are already very close to the magic number, and it isn't nice magic. Step away from the shovel. Now is the time to start thinking laterally, break it down, look for exercises that will help you with the technical problem, go slower. get help - or even walk away and try it another day when you have more patience or insight.
We are great at kidding oursleves. "I see what I am doing wrong, I will just keep going over it until I get it right." (So that's maybe 15 repititions with the mistake, then a victory lap or two without it. I don't like the maths.) "This piece isn't that hard, I will probably get it without breaking it down or slowing it down" (But will it be dependable, or is this just another version of the first rationale?) This kind of thinking is so hard to get out of. Heck - I've caught MYSELF thinking "I'm a professional teacher, I can get this by just running through it a few times more."
What? You mean even teachers and pros have to break every little thing down and practise it this way? That depends. If I can get it right on the first or second playing then no - it's within my capability and I can just play it for fun or whatever. If it's still got problems after twice through, then yes, absolutely. If I want it to improve and remain consistent I'd better not dig.
In fact, I see this happen to me sometimes when pupils bring music in that I'm not familiar with. We play it together, or I play it for them. Maybe there's a little passage somewhere that I misread, or I get caught out with the melody going up when I felt it was going down, etc. I can keep the piece going, sure, but there's a little rough spot, and maybe it happens again the next time. They take the music home and I forget all about it. But forever after I have a rough spot there when they produce that piece in their lesson. It occurs to me as I write this that I should probably just lead by example and stop and sort it out right there and then.
Now, where did I park that back hoe.....