Tips for Better Practice Habits

It’s the beginning of a new school year and everybody is going to be starting new routines and new schedules! I know I am! It is nice to have a fresh slate after summer break isn’t it?

I wanted to help some parents and students get off on the right foot when it comes to practicing this year because as we all know, without practice there cannot be a whole lot of improvement when it comes to music lessons. Don’t get me wrong, even if a student “forgets” to practice that week or doesn’t have time (ha! likely story!), it will never be a wasted lesson to me. I can always use that time to help a student work on certain problem areas or play an educatioal game with the. However, if the lack of practice continues it really doesn’t make much sense to instruct them further because the REAL progress comes from how little or how much a student is willing dedicate to practicing their instrument.

 

If you haven’t read my blog post on How a Practice Session Should Go or Should you Let Your Child Quit Lessons?  take a look at these. They may be helpful reads for you.

I decided to not only tell you what I do to help students stay on track with practice but creative things that YOU can do at home. Pinterest is a great resource. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort for any of these ideas. But it quite possibly could make your life easier.

 

Things that I do:

  1. Assignment Sheets

I give each student an assignment sheet with a list of the repertoire, a practice log, and other assignments (and page numbers!) of what they have to do that week. For the younger ones, I even put little stickies in their book. I always review with them what they should practice (repetition is the mother of all learning!) before they head out the door. They know what I expect and if they ever have a question, 9 times out of 10, I will have written it down on the Assignment Sheet.

2. Incentive Programs

To break up the year, I like to do incentive programs for all the students in my studio. One year we did Music Olympics, another we did Mission:Music with an Around the World theme. I do these to give the students goals so they have something strive for other than “getting the practice in”. It makes it more interesting and adds a healthy dose of competition amongst the students within the studio.

3. Rewards

Who doesn’t like candy? I mean seriously, I would still take an AirHead for practicing my weekly hours! But not just candy, I offer rewards for the incentive programs AND awards at the END OF THE YEAR. If you’ve been to my recitals you’ve seen this. Whether they earn a reward for completing a program or win a yearly award such as the Little Musicians Award at the Spring Recital. It is all so they will strive to do their best.

4. Recitals

Yes, recitals are motivators. If they don’t practice, they will not play well. This is why having your child be apart of as MANY recitals as possible not only gives them performance experience, it WILL motivate them! I guarantee it!

 

Some Idea for Parents

Other than setting up a good routine and setting the expectation for your child to practice (which are invaluable by the way!), here are some cute ideas you could incorporate this year!

  1. Practice Jars– I saw this on Pinterest and thought about doing it myself but since I already do so many other programs I figured I’d pass it on to you all! Such a great idea of making it fun at home!
  2. For the Crafty Child– Another great idea from Andrea and Trevor Dowe who have fantastic resources that I use all the time!
  3. The Good ole’ Chore Chart– There are tons of chore charts out there, there’s no point to link any. Make it apart of your child’s life to practice piano. We require them to do homework right? We bring them to soccer practice? Piano practice CANNOT be an option, or it will be an option and well….we all know what happens when it is OPTIONAL.
  4. Take the timer away– Yes, you read right! One of the first things you will probably start doing to develop a good habit is to put a 30 minute timer on and require Susie to sit on the piano bench for 30 minutes. But did you know sometimes they DO NOT PRACTICE during that 30 minutes because they are in anticipation for the timer to go off! Now, first off, they DO need to be practicing more than 10 minutes if they are at a somewhat mature age, but the timer might be cramping their style. Have them practice their songs 3 times each! Check the clock when they start and check it when their done. Did they get at least 30 minutes in? You might find that they got more! Thirty being the minimum, getting more practice is allowed! Sometimes those short bursts of practice turn into longer more inspirational practices because they’re not constantly looking at the timer because they can’t wait to go play outside!
  5. Be Involved– An involved parent is never a failing parent. You’re going to help your child so much by asking questions and being a part of their practice especially in the beginning. For different ages and different personalities, this may look different but either way, if you’re interested they will excel. Not just because you’re paying for it, but because kids naturally want to make their parents proud. Take a look at this handout for some other tips such as having the piano in a central area in your home instead of hidden away in their room. You are the core of your child’s interests and success. No pressure right?

And most of all, don’t be discouraged. No one is perfect and we will have some falls here and there. If you feel like you need to work on some of these things at home, don’t try to tackle them all! Try one and implement it until it becomes natural. The most important thing is to see the value of music in your child’s life and keep plugging along! Your kids will thank you.

 

And I am thankful for my student’s parents! Keep up the hard work guys!

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