Over the past few weeks, I have been discussing practice techniques with many of my students and parents. It is that time of year where students get intrenched in school, sports, and extra-curriculars, and practicing seems to fall by the wayside. It is a problem that I understand well and have experienced myself as both a young student and an adult. When practicing becomes a matter of fitting one more activity into a daily schedule, it can become overwhelming and tedious.
Due to some obstacles in my own life, I have spent the past several years developing practice techniques that enable me to accomplish a great deal in a fraction of the time. I would love to share some of those ideas with you, and I hope that this helps.
First and foremost, practicing is a mindset, not an activity. It is imperative that the students focuses on what needs to be done in a practice session rather than just sitting down and setting a timer. An hour of practice with no focused goal is the equivalent of not practicing at all. In some cases, it may be worse. The student should go into each practice session with a clear goal in mind and be sure that goal is something that can be accomplished in the available amount of time. Whether you have 5 minutes or 50 minutes, something concrete needs to be accomplished by the end of the practice session. This may mean you memorize a page or simply 2 measures. Make your time count.
This brings me to the next problem…time management. Lack of time, of course, is the biggest obstacle most students have to overcome. It is not something that gets easier, but it is something that is manageable. There are many different ways to accomplish a goal, and this may include breaking up practice time throughout the day. Personally, I like splitting my practice sessions up throughout the day. I find that I gain perspective from walking away for a few hours and coming back to a piece later in the day. Many of my students have found this helpful, as well. It does not matter to me how students get the work done, it only matters that it is done. If the student can get the work done in half the time, then more power to them. The time is really not an issue…how it is spent is ultimately most important.
With time management also comes responsibility. If a student is working with limited time, it becomes twice as important that they use that time well. Students should start by working on the weekly assignments in their notebooks. I always tell my students to spend time on the things that need time and not to waste time on the things that don’t. It is essential to each student’s progress that they work on weekly assignments at home so we can spend time focusing on details in the lesson. Without weekly practice, lessons simply become weekly sight-reading, and we don’t get a chance to focus on the things that really make piano fun.
Lastly, a note for the parents:
Parents, I hope you do not take this the wrong way, but please don’t make excuses for your children. I appreciate you all keeping me informed of what is going on in your children’s lives as it does help me develop a individual plan for each child, but excuses for lack of practice will only continue the problem. I do not expect my students to dedicate all of their free time to piano and certainly understand and appreciate that they have other interests. I do; however, expect that the same amount of time is devoted to piano as to other extra-curricular activities. Making excuses for a child hinders their ability to grow, and it sends them mixed messages. “We want you to do well in piano, but we understand that you don’t have time to practice.” It can be very confusing for a child to work out these conflicting ideas in their head. As a result, children often become resentful of the parents when parents start asking them to practice regularly . It is a situation that should be avoided. I am constantly amazed by how much kids can accomplish with just a little encouragement and a push in the right direction. All they need is motivation, and they will impress you every time. Please help me help them.