It took years of training on my parents part to teach me that the dishes needed to be done thoroughly before I did anything else. That trait has carried through my adult years so much so that even when I am tempted to go to bed with a sink full of dishes, I still make sure the dishes have been done. Not because I want to but because I know they have to get done. Much like chores, practice can seem like a chore as well. Practicing piano is just one of those tough chores for children. It requires much discipline and hard work, which neither come naturally to anyone, especially children. Most of us are procrastinators aren’t we?
This can be a struggle for just about every one of my students. And if it is not now, it will be one day in the future. Hmm lets see….play games, watch tv, or practice piano…..yeah practice piano is usually not the first thing any piano student jumps up and down to do. But it is expected of each of my students. I do my best to make it fun for them by giving treats, incentives and extra programs. Eventually, when the thrill of a piece of candy wears off, that’s when discipline should kick in. They JUST DO IT because that’s what they have been trained to do. No questions. No excuses.
I’ve had many parents worry that there is something wrong with their child because they don’t LOVE practicing their instrument. Or they’ve reminded the child over and over again and they somehow “forget”. Or that student IS really diligent about practicing but seems to be in a rut because they are just going through the motions. I say to those parents, here’s how you can help them!
First, you need to know what I expect of them, and how their practice should look. Or should I say sound? I go over this ALL THE TIME with them in their lesson but do they hear everything I’m saying. Not always. Here’s what I’m saying to them only in an outlined and more detailed form. For your benefit
- Every student has a required level of scales. Some of them have extra things like arpeggios (fast broken chords), hanon (exercises) and cadences (chord progressions) They should be practicing these BEFORE anything else. Even if they know them by heart, it is meant to be reinforced with repetition so they do not forget and to be a warm up for their fingers. Yes, warm up. Just like you stretch before you exercise.
A fancy word for pieces or songs. They have a list of songs they are working on in their books or for recitals. Some are from the lesson books, separate pieces of music, or other supplemental music I give them. Here’s the steps they go through when they are learning a NEW piece. Most of this applies as well if they are review pieces.
Learning the piece
- Analyze the piece- recognize notes, timing, dynamics, articulation
- They should be keeping a steady beat all the way through like a drum. They should be starting out slow then increasing their speed depending on the tempo of the piece.
- When they get to tough spots, they are told to circle it and drill it. (we have usually gone over these pieces together in their previous lesson unless it is a sight reading piece)
- They are told to count out loud if they have trouble with timing
Reviewing the piece
- Ask yourself, did I play that correctly? did I miss anything? A crescendo, an accent mark?
Expression and phrasing are vital when learning a new piece!
Students should be trying to interpret and feel the music.
I encourage them to think about what the song is saying and get a picture in their mind. Example, if a piece sounds peaceful, think of a waterfall in the forest to help them picture the music in their mind.
- record yourself
- play it for someone
- triple check you’re playing everything correctly
- ask your teacher for advice or help
Students usually have a theory book to work through. If they do it the first day after their lesson, they won’t forget to do it! If they have a question, tell them to WRITE IT DOWN!!! so they can ask their teacher
Write your practice time down
I ask students once they’ve reached level 1, they need to write it down themselves. The parent should not be required to do this unless the student is very young. (30 min, 24 min, 47 min, etc.)
Compose and create
There is nothing wrong with them sitting down at the piano at times other than their practice time. Five minutes here or there or more They need this brain release from all of their assignments. They should be able to enjoy it! Encourage them to “make something up”. Ask them to play at a different time than their practice. It will make them feel good! (if someone asked you to do something you’re good at, wouldn’t you want to please them and do it?)
I try to encourage students to compose their own melody, make up their own song or try to learn one of your favorites by ear!
So now that you know what practice is SUPPOSED to look like. Here’s what it SHOULD NOT look like (caps for emphasis)
- brushing through their pieces half heartedly and not fixing mistakes
- forgetting to play their scales every single time and maybe practicing them once a week
- playing their song once and moving on
- playing one song that they like OVER AND OVER again.
- forgetting to do their theory homework several weeks in a row and simply shrugging and saying “I forgot”.
These are just a few examples but ultimately….
If you are not hearing an improvement of their piece throughout the week, THEY ARE NOT PRACTICING. Sure they are playing the piano, but they are not PRACTICING. There is a difference. Back me up on this parents! I need your help!
What can you do???
Let me say this with emphasis. YOU HAVE AN IMPORTANT JOB!!!
I am the teacher, but most importantly you are the your kid’s BIGGEST FAN. Here are some things you can do to help your child and me as well!
make it possible
- Develop a routine. Find a time that best suits the student to practice. Not when their tired and hungry. Give them a set time in their day and help them stick with it.
enforce a time
- You can set a time all day long but if you do not enforce this time, it does the child no good. Remember, children are procrastinators. (And so are we!) They will probably not volunteer to practice. (usually, not always)
- After you’ve set up a routine and enforced it, try not to lord over them all the time. To develop a disciplined student, give them the opportunity to exercise responsibility by initiating piano practice on their own. The muscles won’t be very strong right now, but they will flex it every once in a while. When they don’t, gently remind by asking “have you practiced your piano today?”
pop in every once in a while, ask a question, be interested.
Kids love it when they can TEACH what they know to an adult. It solidifies what they know. Ask a questions like “tell me what note that is?” “Why did you play that part softly?” “Can you show me how to do that?” If you know nothing about piano, you know what your kid will think? “My mom is wanting ME to show her how to do what I can do!”
encourage and approve more!
You’ve cannot encourage too much. And more than just encourage, approve. Affirm them by saying “I’m proud of you for being diligent about practicing every week.” or “Your recital piece makes me wish I could play the piano”. You are approving their hard work. It goes further than just saying “good job!” or “that was pretty!”. You’re approving not just their music, but their character and their very person. Kids need their parents encouragement more than they will ever let on!
For some, this may be nothing new, but for others it may give you some ideas. Remember your role in these student’s musical education, parents. It is important. Your involvement in your child’s piano practice could make a huge difference!
Remember, it’s not practice makes perfect, it’s PERFECT practice makes perfect!