Think of your piano instructor as your child’s “personal trainer.” The instructor has the unique opportunity and challenge to work with your children once each week. During the lesson, she practices hard with each student and gives specific directions on what and how to practice at home every day. This is typically outlined in your child’s assignment book, which is to be reviewed with a parent weekly to make sure each assignment is getting completed. In the lesson, your teacher goes over pieces to strengthen students’ muscles as well as their minds. What happens to muscles (and minds) that are not used more than once a week? That’s right—they atrophy! The most crucial role parents have in this process is to be a cheerleader for their child and an enforcer of practice time and of the directions given in the assignment book.
As with any personal trainer, your teacher can help students work hard once a week, but if they do not practice daily at home, your money spent on lessons is wasted. To get lessons started out on the right foot, please take the time to sit down with your child and set aside a specific time each day to practice that fits in with your daily lives. It could be a specific time such as “4:00 p.m.” or a specific trigger such as “after school” or “after dinner.” There is a place for students to schedule their practice time weekly in the 3-ring binder assignment books that we give out in lessons.
1) Split it up. If practicing 30 min./day seems daunting to a student, try splitting it up in two 15-minute sessions, such as 15 minutes before school and 15 after.
2) Practice toward a specific goal, such as “I will get the counting down perfectly in this piece today” versus to a time limit. Break down the week’s pieces into manageable goals for each practice session. The student can be done practicing as soon as that day’s goals are met, whether it takes 5 minutes or an hour. This encourages efficient use of the time, as students work hard to accomplish their goal to be rewarded by being done practicing early! Much more is accomplished with goal-oriented practicing!
3) Practice right away. Many people have the rule that homework has to be done before any practicing is done. I was taught to practice before homework because if the homework gets done late, the practicing is usually skipped or put off. If done the opposite way, practice before homework, students usually stay up late to finish the homework, so both get done.
4) Sit with your child two times each week (more if the student is young.) Do it once the day or day after the lesson to review the assignment and to make sure your child understands what and how to practice, then do it again 2-3 days before the following lesson to listen and encourage them in their practicing, and to make sure that their goals are being met. Use phrases such as “That’s my favorite piece—can I hear it again?” or “That doesn’t sound quite right. Could you check the notes/counting over again?” You could also sing with the words if there are any to encourage keeping a steady beat and good rhythm. This also provides quality one-on-one time with your child and lets them know you care about their hard work spent practicing. The more you show an interest at home, the more your child will enjoy practicing.
5) Choose a good spot for the piano. Put the piano in a prominent spot in your home—somewhere where your child will walk by frequently. You would be surprised how often they may happen to walk by, start playing intending for it to be just a few minutes and end up playing for much longer! Contrast this with a piano stuck in a far-away room, or in the basement, where the child has to make a conscious effort to go there and may feel alone or far away from everyone else.
6) Buy a piano, if you do not already own one! Tune or fix your piano if you already have one! Buying or fixing a piano re-affirms the parents’ commitment to piano (because it is a big financial commitment) which in turn means that the student is encouraged to practice more by the parents who just made this financial commitment. Students also enjoy playing on a new or fixed instrument more. If they like the sounds coming out of it, they are more likely to play it! If it sounds terrible, they will try to finish practicing sooner, or skip it altogether.
7) Perform for others! Schedule “performances” for family and friends or volunteer to play in a nursing home or church. Other people love to hear children play, and will encourage them as well! Students also practice more when they know it will be heard by others on a specific date!
Hopefully these “trainer” tips will help you get this school year started right!