Practice only makes perfect
when practice is perfect.
Realistically... practice is rarely perfect.
Nor should it be.
Our first goal is to encourage a student's love for music.
However, there are ways to encourage students to practice wisely and make the best use of their time. Repeatedly playing an assignment incorrectly only reinforces mistakes. It takes much longer to unlearn a wrong behavior and replace it with the right behavior. The second goal with students is teaching them how to practice wisely.
Parents can do a lot to set the stage for success…
even those parents who know nothing about music.
Suddenly jerking a child away from an activity they’re enjoying, such as playing outside with friends, rarely invokes a welcoming attitude for learning.
I strongly suggest that regular practice be an expected part of the daily routine and associate the habit of practicing with another activity that is already a part of the daily schedule. (Example: Brushing teeth before going to bed at night.) When I was a child, my regular practice was immediately after dinner every evening, unless it was my turn to clean up the kitchen. On those days I practiced immediately after finishing that chore, but I learned to associate practice with finishing our evening meal as a family.
Younger students do best with practice sessions that are 10 to 15 minutes, twice daily. (Ten to 15 minutes 5-6 days a week yields much greater success than 25 minutes the last two to three days before a lesson.) Older students need at least 20 to 40 minutes at least five days a week.
After a lesson, younger students benefit from having a parent remind them of the notes I've written on their music. This is most important if the student is unable to practice on the same day right after a lesson. If I have suggested videos, please make certain they see the videos before practice for at least three days.
I encourage all students to practice slowly and loudly when learning new music. We are developing their ear as well as muscle memory. If you have a digital piano, please do not cut the volume down during practice sessions. (Sorry....)
Keep the piano in an area where you can listen to practice and offer encouragement.
Instead of saying, “That sounds terrible, you need to practice more,” try listening for those pieces that sound like they need more work and saying, “I really like that ‘song.’ Please play it for me again.” Most students have a favorite piece every week and it helps if your favorite is not the same as theirs. (Smile…) Even the youngest students thrive on a pleasing performance.
If your child is stopping and starting and not keeping a steady beat, they need to slow down and practice more slowly. It is preferable to play the entire piece at a snail's pace and keep a steady beat instead of constantly changing the tempo and having to stop and start.
Have a weekly Piano Performance
The day before a scheduled lesson, celebrate with a special time for your child to perform for anyone who can sit down and listen for three to five minutes: a parent, grandparent, or friend. It is easy to use a phone or camera and record your child playing a weekly piano assignment and send it to a family member or a friend who has taken a special interest in their music. Extra encouragement from people outside your immediate family is a special gift to your child. Give it freely and often. If a child is encouraged to perform each week before a lesson, they are more likely to practice wisely during the week.
A student who is able to play an assignment with the correct notes, two consecutive times, keeping a steady beat and counting out loud is a student who is well prepared for a weekly piano lesson.