Is it a lesson… or a rehearsal?

A bit of background:
As a singer I performed with the Chattanooga Boys Choir for 7 years (directed by Stephen J Ortlip) , the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Singers for 4 years (directed by Glenn Draper), was an instrumental grad assistant for Carolina Alive (directed by Richard Conant), and have performed with numerous other groups (vocal, pop, rock bands, big bands, etc etc etc ad nauseum).

Oh, and I played tuba in high school band (almost majored in it, in fact, but decided I could make more money as a pianist. I was right.)

I’ve had 4 piano teachers, each of whom taught in dramatically different ways. One of those teachers – let’s call him Mr. Smith – was terrible at teaching, though an excellent pianist. The other three were excellent teachers.

So? The point is that I’ve had significant experience in performing groups where you “rehearse”, you don’t practice. So what’s the difference, and what in chocolate milk’s name does this have to do with teaching piano?


“Lesson”, all too often, brings forth images of the poor pitiful student playing away at the keyboard, while the teacher hangs over them unapprovingly with a pointy stick, ready to jab the student at any mistake. The student pounds away at piece after piece after piece, while the teacher gives constant feedback: “This was wrong, this was wrong….”.

While extreme, I think many teachers think of a piano lesson in this galaxy (if not neighborhood!) – where the student is there to soak up fountains of learning poured forth by the almighty teacher. In some situations this would work, but I posit that a different approach can work a world of wonders: Treat the lesson like a rehearsal.

So, what’s the difference between a lesson and rehearsal? In a lesson, you are one to one, and often it has the aforementioned floodgates of knowledge – sponge type of dynamic. A rehearsal, though, has much more give and take. There is often a focus on a particular passage, rather than a runthrough – accompanied by practicing techniques to overcome limitations and mis-playings.

For example, in your typical choir rehearsal with a good director, the choir may not do a complete runthrough of a piece for several rehearsals – instead focusing on particular passages that have or may prove problematical. The director can demonstrate why this place is a problem, how to fix it – or even several ways to fix it – and then ask the choir to transfer the learning to another piece. (i.e. when you see a passage with the same issues somewhere else, apply the same solution)

How to apply in the piano lesson context? When is student is going through a piece (and has practiced it, and it’s a decently intelligent day!), try rehearsing the piece in bits. Don’t just do a runthrough – take the piece a chunk at a time and look at the problems, come up with solutions, and (THIS IS IMPORTANT) practice the solutions right there.

Take a problem spot, and slice-n-dice it vertically or horizontally. Work on a chunk. Make a duet out of it so the student’s brain has some bandwidth open up. Focus and widen on the problem spot. (Future posts on planned describing these techniques in more detail. Keep an eye out!)

The student can see some immediate results, PLUS they learn how to practice, which is a double bonus for any teacher.

So don’t just teach a lesson. Run a rehearsal.

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