On a trip back home from Paris late one night, we set the “navi” in our rental car to take us to the airport and began the 45 minute drive.  Things looked a little strange on the way but we were talking and following the navigation instructions.  Well, only one thing was wrong – we set the navigation for Orly airport south of Paris and not to the Charles de Gaulle airport north of the city!  It was shocking to realize we made it to the wrong destination! Fortunately this only cost us sleep and we still made our flight the next morning – only a few hours later.  So, it is always good to keep your eye on the goal.  I did learn from that trip, because I always double check the destination  on google maps before I leave to be sure I know where I am going!

At the end of each lesson, your child should have a goal for the week. The goal for the week may be to prepare for the recital, or to bring back review pieces for group class, or to finish learning the notes on the new piece. Please write this down on the assignment sheet, and talk about it on the way home with your child.  This is very helpful to keep in mind as the week goes by and you get caught up in the details of all that is to be done.

When I look at the assignment sheet that you bring to the lesson from the previous week I will ask about the weekly Goal first.  If the child has worked on the goal, then a life ability to create, exert effort, and accomplish goals is set in motion.

Last summer I attended the Piano Basics workshop in Philadelphia.  Ogiwara Sensei is one of the master teachers who came from Matsumoto Japan to train teachers and work with students.  Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation News published her speech given at the Friendship Concert in which she said this about accomplishing goals:

“Nowadays, such effort is scientifically defined as “noncognitive skill” , the major ability that meets challenges throughout life with the power to strive. If this noncognitive ability is nurtured during childhood, it exerts great influence on future lives.” (1)

The second line at the top of the assignment sheet is “Main Focus Point”.  The core Focus principle of nurturing is one of the seven principles of Core Education:

“By focusing on the most fundamental aspect in a child’s learning process which needs attention, ability development will be the most effective and efficient. For example this is different than focusing predominantly on the content of what is being learned. This focus can be integrated into all parts of the curriculum.”(2)

The Core focus point, or main focus point is the key that will open up your child’s progress.  It is the point that will help you keep the practice sessions from becoming too laden with details and talking.  This point will often evolve over the course of the lesson as I experiment with what point will produce the most positive change.  You may notice that once I have decided on a focus point, I will overlook other things that could be fixed.  By focusing on this one point many other points are also fixed at the same time. For example,   “Thumb up”  can improve the child’s whole hand position so that the entire hand is up over the keyboard and it is easier to move all of the fingers.

So, the one point has to be the most fundamental point that needs addressing. If you are focusing on dynamics when the student is not making a good tone or the tempo is not steady, the practice will not be useful or productive.  It may be the “thumb- up” point would help the child some, but it could be that asking them to relax the shoulders will be more beneficial as the child can then find a more natural position and get a better tone. So it is up to the teacher to research this in the lesson and find the most beneficial fundamental point. The point then is reinforced in various spots so that the child can internalize and experience the point.  In the example of “thumb-up” and the “shoulders down” points, they are a physical point that will make it much easier to play, and also will produce a better tone. So it is very important to note that in the lesson and at home, it is essential for the child to integrate the physical point with the tone that they are producing.  This focus point can be applied to all of the assignment from the scale to reading, the review, and performance pieces.

The combination of the Goal and the focus point gives students a clear direction of where they are going, and how to get there.  I will make it my goal to be sure every lesson is clear with these intentions.

1. Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation News Vol. 22.5 September/October 2017
2. Seven Principles of  Core Education
3. Practice Sheets

Further Reading: Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance by Angela Duckworth