A Guide to Piano Practice

Posted by on June 24, 2018

A Guide to Piano Practice

As a piano teacher, I am always telling my students to practice. Practice more. Meet your goal. Write your time down in your practice diary. And so and so on. It has occurred to me lately that my students don’t need me to tell them to practice nearly as much as they need guidance on “how” to practice. Helping them with the “how-to” will bring about the learning needed to accomplish systematic progress.

Setting a Practice Goal is important. I have a fundamental issue with quantifying practice. For example, the needed goal might be 30 minutes per day but, really, wouldn’t 15 committed, focused minutes be of much greater value than just “marking time” through the 30? Yet, in the beginning, a specific time frame for the goal gives guidance. It is a tangible concept for which the child can reach. So, in the early stages of practice development, a quantified time goal is helpful for the purposes of consistency and continuity.

The amount of time expected for a child’s practice must be realistic. In the beginning the expression, “less is more” applies very well to practice. A child with 5 – 10 minutes worth of knowledge and material will be bored to tears having to sit there and try to practice for 30 minutes (which seems to be the standard in parents’ minds for practice expectations). Forcing a child to practice under the conditions of too much time and not enough material will build a foundation of resentment, boredom, and dread. The most useful and encouraging idea would be to establish a regular time each day for the student to spend an appropriate amount of time working through the material of their lesson. A regular, consistent practice schedule is far more beneficial that concentrating on extended, long practice sessions.

The first step to successful practice is to open the assignment book and read the assignment as it is written. I find myself saying these very words, frequently. It is a mistake to think that children automatically open their binders to see what has been written. However, the act of reading the assignment is well within the student’s power and an easy way to begin. Open the assignment book. look at the practice goal, read through the assignment (parents can help!), then use the page as a guide to maximize accomplishment. Finally, before closing the assignment binder, write in the amount of time spent practicing.

The idea is not to run through each piece or exercise once or twice and then move on. Look at the directions. Look at the music and evaluate – should the student begin hands apart? Hands together? Is the student counting out loud? Saying notes out loud? Is the student focused on hands, fingers, and thumbs in the correct position? Repetition with attention to everything being correct is necessary. I suggest that my students repeat each piece 3 – 5 times each practice session in order to reinforce the progress being made. Without repetition and attention to technical goals, it is like starting over every time.

The benefits of practice are many…..accomplishment, pride of achievement, progress, confidence, and knowledge. The consequences of a lack of practice or quality of practice are frustration, lack of confidence, stress, slower progress, and feeling unsuccessful. With family support, a regular, consistent time of day for practice, and a studio incentive program, a student can learn to enjoy practice time and love the piano.

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