"I forgot all my songs!"
My young student was playing her review pieces for me, and her dismay was growing as her fingers failed to fall in line for an otherwise very familiar "song" from Suzuki Book 1.
It was mid-summer, and the early summer had been filled with vacations, trips and activities. She had to admit it, she hadn't been practicing as much, and definitely not reviewing old pieces.
Don't get me wrong, sometimes we have to take a break or take a vacation. There are legitimate reasons for missing practice for a while, and reasonable breaks can provide much-needed physical rest and mental renewal. But when you come back to the instrument, frustration may set in. You might find yourself forgetting music that was once memorized, stumbling over once-easy passages, forgetting bowings and playing a little off-pitch.
That was certainly the case here. At the end of the last school year, she had been able to breeze through a half-dozen review pieces. But now she was hitting snags in every single one. This had never happened to her, and that made the problem even more upsetting.
"I have to learn them over again!" she said, near tears. No doubt she remembered the time and effort it took to learn these pieces in the first place. Would we have to do that all over again? How long would that take?
"There's a very simple way to solve the problem," I said. "It's just practice. And it will not take you nearly as much time to re-learn your pieces as it did the first time you learned them. You just have to be very patient with yourself. Let me show you how easy it is."
For this short piece, I suggested that we play it five times in a row, and I got my dominoes ready (set up one for each time, then knock them down at the end). The first time, she made a lot of the same mistakes. Afterwards I asked her to tell me what went wrong: a wrong finger there, a forgotten string crossing there, a missed rhythm, etc. We were very specific about it. And then I gave her a list. "So this time, remember that finger, remember to cross the string, do the rhythm" etc. The second time, she still made a mistakes, but far fewer. And she knew how to correct them. By the fourth and fifth time, she was playing it with no mistakes at all.
"That doesn't mean you won't make any mistakes tomorrow," I said, "you'll still have to do this all week." But pieces once-learned tend to come back pretty quickly, with patience and methodical practice.
Here are a few of the key things that are important when resurrecting a piece, whether it's a simple piece or very advanced:
So if you "forgot all your songs" or are finding frustration coming back to a piece you once knew well, don't despair! With patience and practice, you can get it back.
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