Let’s talk about piano practice. Learning an instrument, unlike other activities, requires consistent time and effort at home for students to progress. Some of my students thoroughly enjoy practicing (which I love!) and others struggle to be consistent. Believe it or not, I dreaded the daily chore of piano practice as a student. It wasn’t so much that I hated playing the piano, I just felt it unfair that my friends and neighbors were outside playing while I was trapped inside on the bench. And yet, I was terribly afraid of showing up to lesson ill-prepared. (This was not due to “mean teachers” but rather a self-induced pressure.)
Now, looking at my young self through a teacher’s eyes, I realize that I had it all wrong. I stopped myself from enjoying practicing piano because I saw it as a burden and a means in which to appease my teacher and parents. So, how do we help our students and children to develop a healthy practicing habit? By giving them control over their piano practice!
Summer is a tough time for kids to stay motivated, so I thought it would be the perfect time to try out new practicing methods with “Piano Packets”.
In each piano packet, the student receives a laminated practice chart, dry erase marker, mini notebook, pencil, timer, post-it notes, and six-sided die. The chart has six spaces, one for each day of the week (not including the day of the piano lesson). I can write what I want them to practice and goals to accomplish in each black space. One space is labeled “It’s About Time!” On that day, they practice whatever piece/s I write down for the designated time. We also use “focused practice” methods in our lessons which are meant to help students learn the tricky parts of a song or selection. One day a week students are asked to play five songs that they already know, encouraging them to review repertoire.
The “what” of piano practice is laid out for them. However, students can choose the order in which they practice. Consistency is encouraged and tangible goals are used to motivate students at home.
My older students have a more mature version of this in the form of a piano binder. I have tried notebooks and while some teachers can use them effectively, I find that too much of my time is taken up during the lesson scribbling things down. Also, my students often don’t use the resource. Something more interactive will hopefully capture their attention more. These binders are meant to encourage the same control over their practice but with a bit more freedom as to how they work on a piece, now that these students are familiar with practice methods and strategies.
I hope that with these tools my students will find themselves more invested in their practice at home. I am so lucky to teach such a great group of hard-working students. It’s hard to stay motivated but with the right tools and the feeling of more control over their at-home practice, my hope is that my students can learn healthy practice habits and continue to progress!
WHAT AM I LISTENING TO:
Today, I find myself humming along to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy Soundtrack. Howard Shore is an incredible composer. He uses leitmotifs (themes that represent certain places/characters/ideas) throughout his music, as do many film composers, but does so masterfully and seamlessly. Programmatic music has always held a special place in my heart and the themes of these movies are so full of varied emotion. The Lord of the Rings movies are my husband’s favorite, and recently, we had the pleasure of seeing the PSO’s movie-themed performance. It’s amazing how music can transport you. I was in the Shire during that gorgeous gentle opening theme. I’ve also pulled out my second-hand violin and have been struggling through the piece “In Dreams”. It’s not perfect, but I enjoy playing. No one ever called me a violinist, but as a musician, I always find myself trying to learn something new, especially since I finally learned to enjoy practicing my craft.