There are a lot of questions and concerns about piano practice – indeed, piano lessons are only half of the battle so to speak. Without regular practice, progress is minimal.
This post is not only for parents but also adult students.
First thing I always stress is to set up a regular piano practice schedule time. This means that it is easiest to have the practice done at the same time every day a practice session occurs. Now, I don’t expect anyone to practice every day (except for professional players – but even they would take a break here and there). So the best thing to do is to put the practice session in as part of the daily routine. For instance, Paul is going to practice piano at 5pm every weekday for 20 minutes. Make it part of the routine, a consistent one. Of course, sometimes it might not be practical to keep the practice session at the same time everyday, but put that practice in the calendar. Make it part of the regular schedule, something you/your kids need to do, because it is. It’s like having lunch, meeting with friends, going to school/work, doing homework, practicing soccer, same idea. It is a must, not something you/your kids can skip. At the same time, it is not a chore, it is simply part of the routine, because taking piano lessons need practice at home.
So, put that in your/your kids’ calendar, like remembering the piano lesson schedule! That’s the first step.
Next, work on having a successful practice routine. Spending time at the piano is not enough. If you do something without a plan, chance is, you’re not getting anything specific achieved. Would you cook something randomly just because there are ingredients lying there and so you just scramble them together and eat the final product? (you only would when you know your ingredients and are a pretty decent cook!). One need to know what they’re practicing.
So, practicing for 30 minutes a day is great, but planning for your practice session is equally important if not more. I always plan my practice, like a workout routine (or a daily plan). I start with some warm ups, say 5 minutes, and these warm ups are very specific to help me work on the pieces I’m going to practice in the same session. And there are goals I need to achieve in the warm ups so that I know I got them. Then I proceed to my pieces. First piece say 20 minutes. I would sometimes start with playing through the whole piece if I have time (because sometimes my pieces are veerry loooong), or a movement. Then I start working on a specific problem, it can be a specific section or phrase, depending what I have trouble with. Sometimes it can be just one single bar (I know, it’s annoying!). I would find ways to fix that problem, find a solution. First you have to figure out what’s wrong with it. Is it the rhythm? Tempo? Note(key)? Do I not know the pattern? Is it coordination? Fingering? Right hand? Left hand? Maybe I would sing the melody, figure out the rhythm by taping it (without the piano), work on the fingering and try it out, erase it and try again. It’s a lot of trial and error during a practice, and you are the only one responsible for it.
With beginner students, all you need is 20-30 minutes a practice session (younger students can even start with 15-20 minutes, or break it down to two 15-minute sessions when required). Practice is a lot of problem solving and then perfecting the skills. It requires a lot of thinking. It is a very focused activity. I think that’s why a lot of people fail to do it consistently. But no worries, you can train yourself/your kids to do it. It’s about keep working at it.
I will write more in the next post.