The student's progress is always of concern to the parents (or the student himself/herself, especially in the case of adult students), and often it is very difficult to assess adequate progress. What may be adequate progress for one student may be insufficient, or too much work to another. What level of progress you consider appropriate is your decision, but there are several standard guidelines against which you can compare your personal goals. The best system for measuring progress is an objective juried evaluation (PPTA Evaluations, PMTA Dorothy Sutton Festival, etc.) These events have a standardized curriculum that specifies what a student should learn within each year of study, and an independent judge evaluates the student compared to those standard criteria. Although some may feel such an activity is too serious for their or their child's personal goals, these curricula are designed to judge the average student (not just super stars) and are the best way to know for certain whether a student is progressing. This and other measures of progress are described in detail below:
ASSIGNMENT BOOK: Annual juried evaluations are the best way to assess the big picture, but for the first two years and on a weekly basis, a simple review of the assignment book can provide the student or parent a good indication of progress. Most beginning music method systems are designed for basically ONE LEVEL in ONE YEAR progress. This is one of the reasons there are so many different systems which cater to very specific age groups on the piano. If a student has been studying for 3 months, and has completed about 25% of the book(s), then the student is probably on track. Occasionally, students will hit a barrier or plateau beyond which the student has difficulty progressing. This often happens with a new technique or new theory (reading) issue. On the piano, it most often happens when the student moves from pre-reading notation to actual staff reading (musical) notation. Teachers are aware of this issue, and will usually counsel the parents if they believe extra effort is required to help the student overcome the obstacle. Just as all the books of one level are designed to be completed in one year, in general a student should learn (master) 2-3 pages per week in each book as a general guideline for completion within the same time frame. Younger students usually will move slower, and older students should move faster. If you or your child are moving slower than specified within these guidelines, but are moving nonetheless, most likely there is no problem with progress and you should rely upon the annual juried evaluations as the best indicator of continuous progress.
JURIED EVALUATIONS: Many professional organizations provide programmed evaluations for young musicians. They are conducted by outside teachers, and they grade the students against a syllabus or standards guideline. All KMI piano students are required to participate in the Pittsburgh Piano Teachers Association (PPTA) Evaluations (in May each year). Students of other instruments will be required to participate in similar evaluations programs as the KMI faculty become aware of them, and take the necessary steps to make our students eligible for participation. These annual events are the best measure of progress because they are objective, and annual. The student's weekly progress may ebb and flow (see below), but students will usually do the extra push needed to reach an important goal (study for an exam, try out for track, etc.) so that they do not fail. Taking advantage of this aspect of learning is just as important as the day-to-day. If the teacher feels a student is not progressing at the rate she/he should (especially for his/her own ability) in order to reach that goal, the teacher will express that concern to the student and/or parents. When it comes time to perform at the next level of the juried evaluation, the teacher may express serious concerns, or may out right tell the student he/she is not ready. The student/parents teacher should discuss a plan of action, which very well may be that the slow progress is acceptable, and adherence to a standardized curriculum is not that important.
PERFORMANCE: Regular participation in recitals is important for the student's growth, and is an excellent way to observe progress. Since KMI records all performances and makes them available on the web site (through our Featured Student Program), it is very easy for a parent or student to review the performances over the course of several years to see the improvement made. It is difficult to assess from memory, especially considering you hear the same music at home for weeks. Watching the actual performances back-to-back is very revealing and a wonderfully satisfying confirmation that true progress is being made - especially in the student's ability to perform (fewer stumbles or mistakes).
ENSEMBLES: The many excellent performance ensembles for young musicians are all structured to provide the growing musician ensemble playing opportunities at each level of development. Specific requirements and age limits ensure that the student is participating at the appropriate time during the course of study, and ensures that the participants have a minimal skill level for the music to be performed. If a student is studying an orchestral or band instrument, or sings, then audition and acceptance to an ensemble is a good indication of progress. Failure to be admitted is not always an indication of lack of progress, as many students start music lessons late and simply may not have advanced sufficiently in the time they have had to make the grade for that ensemble. For a best indication of how many years study are required to enter each of the young musician's enembles, see our TIMELINES). Adult music students may have similar goals of participating in an ensemble, and as that information becomes available it will be added to these web pages.
EBBS AND FLOWS: All students mature differently, and all student "come into their own" at different times. A survey of professional musicians will often reveal that even they did not practice consistantly, and did not do ALL the activities they could or should have done in every year of their development. It simply takes time before some students take responsibility for the opportunities being provided them by their parents. There will be oustide distractions. There will be times when music is not important to them. There will be times of frustrations as they have difficulty grasping a concept or skill. There will be times they seem to hate music all together. However, there will also be times when music seems to be the only thing outside of school they do or enjoy. There will be times they practice a lot. There will be times when things seem to come easily. Their love of music will become apparent. Usually, the things that affect a students attitude and emotional response to the music education process will be unclear. A comment made by a friend at school. Hearing another student play at a recital. Having a bad lesson. In general, the positive events that motivate students to continue are recitals, playing in ensembles, participating in school assemblies (there is often a musical component if not an out right musical), attending concerts, music camp, having other friends who study music, etc. At KMI we try to provide all these activities, or the information for participation (if we do not provide the activitey). Hanging in there is by far the best thing a parent can do. Once the student has passed a few hurdles or obstacles, the student will usually regain interest and motivation. (See Interest v. Requirement.)
SPECIAL MUSIC SCHOOLS: Many music students aspire to audition for a special music (focused) performing arts school (middle school, high school or college). These schools have specific entrance requirements, but in addition they take the best of the applicant pool. Therefore, meeting the minimum requirements is not always sufficient for admission, as 100s of students may apply for 5 or few available slots. These requirements are different for every school, and you must research them carefully and provide them to your music teacher. Your music teacher can then help prepare you for these auditions, and can develop a timeline to make sure you are prepared by the time of the audition. It takes about a year to prepare for an audition if the student is already at the appropriate level, and it will take two or more years if the student has any catch up to do (theory, technique, etc.). The teacher will build into the timeline specific benchmarks with dates and depending on the timeline and amount of work required to meet this goal, the student can measure her/his progress by these benchmark dates.
(See INTEREST vs. REQUIREMENT for more information regarding when to discontinue lessons due to lack of interest.)
(See TALENT vs. HARD WORK for more information regarding the difference between having innate ability and having to work hard for success.)
(See COMMITMENT for more information on how to motivate your children in their musical studies.)