Start with the easy one...

Edited: July 8, 2021, 5:22 PM · From another thread on 'which Paganini Caprice should I start with,' several of the commenters said "X is easiest, but I started with Y because I liked it," and the next logical question is, Do you start with a piece on your level, but aren't excited about, or go just a bit beyond and really love working on it?

I think about the time in junior high when I was assigned Scene de Ballet, which was in line with my current level, but so awful to me. I never practiced it, so my teacher worked on it with me longer than he should have.

As a teacher, I never forgot this, and always give students a lot of latitude when it comes to choosing pieces. And honestly, they always manage to meet the bar, even on the stretch pieces. Thoughts?

Replies (6)

Edited: July 9, 2021, 8:53 AM · Well, forcing kids to learn what YOU want is a great way to make them quit—which is why I have so many friends who shot up in the levels young, dropped it, and now tell me how envious they are that I stuck with music. I always played what I wanted to play and so I got the most out of my time with my teachers. The compromise was that I would learn the etudes necessary for my exams... but even then I'd have my choice out of a set.

Keep doing what you're doing!

July 9, 2021, 9:23 AM · My daughter just finished a camp online where mostly 12-14 year olds many were given Paganini Caprices. Most for the first time. You could see they were totally energized by the opportunity, and more of them than I expected pulled them off. My daughter did the 15. The teacher assigned them to address issues in the audition tapes, my daughter’s octaves in her case. Really worked for her!
She just got the 24 and it will be hard to keep her working on other things this summer, incredibly motivating for her!
Edited: July 19, 2021, 11:46 AM · I’d say, it depends…
I can theoretically understand that some people get motivated by playing something that is actually a bit too difficult, but I am definitely not one of those.
I would have rather not played a whole piece because of one little passage out of my reach. I needed teachers telling me that they found me capable of playing this or that piece.

You have to decide as a teacher which is the right way for each of your students.
I have listened to many students’ performances , especially during youth competitions, and frankly, I didn’t really enjoy listening to most of them fighting their way through too hard pieces. And the ones with the hardest pieces often get the most admiration. I have a different opinion. This is not sports.

Edited: July 19, 2021, 6:40 AM · I once refused a piano piece on the grounds that it was childishly trite - Haydn or something, and my teacher said, OK, but I only ever give my students one refusal. That taught me to respect her will and the seriousness of what we were doing.
Edited: July 19, 2021, 7:32 AM · As an adult returner, I like to choose SOME of my own music, but I'm always glad when my teacher suggests something at my level or a little bit above when it's something I've never heard of before. One thing I'm paying for with my lessons is my teacher's vastly superior knowledge of the repertoire.

Regarding "serious" octave studies, Kreutzer No. 24 is where my teacher usually gets things rolling with his students.

July 19, 2021, 9:18 AM · As a teacher, once students are past about the Suzuki book 4 level, I usually give them a choice between two or three pieces at their level (I'll also allow the occasional piece veto in books 1-4). That way they have some choice to pick the pieces they like the most, but are not stretched too far beyond their abilities. I will always consider any piece that a student suggests, but if I think a piece is too much of a stretch I will try to find something by the same composer or in a similar style to learn first.

In the OP's case, maybe if your teacher had simply given you a choice between say- Scene De Ballet, and DeBertiot 9 or Kabalevsky Concerto which I would say are at a similar level (or other pieces along the same lines), you might have been fine. There is a difference between not liking a particular piece (totally normal) and needing a piece that is a stretch technically.

I do occasionally give my more motivated students stretch pieces, but I'm mindful that motivation works both ways. If a piece is too much of a stretch, not only will students not sound good, but it can be de-motivating if a piece feels impossible to play well.

Students are often motivated to play pieces because they like listening to them, but Bruch is generally not the next step after Accolay (for example), and if Bruch is the goal, it is the teacher's responsibility to say, "Bruch is great, but let's work on these scales, etudes, and Bach/DeBeriot/Kabalevsky concertos first so you can learn Bruch well."

It's also a matter of knowing your students. Some students will crumple under the pressure if they are stretched to far, because they want everything to sound as perfect as possible and prefer moving at a slower, steadier pace. Other students will happily flog and flail through anything, but won't necessarily be motivated to up their level for a stretch piece. Still others will work persistently and meet the challenges of a stretch piece and up their level. Part of the "Art" of teaching is figuring out who is who at any particular time and being able to change course if it turns out you judged incorrectly.

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