Practice. It is a necessary part of learning any new skill. But, practice made fun? Really?
In my studio, my big goal is to always move towards student autonomy. How can I give my students more choice in their lesson, their repertoire, & their practice? And … how can I help them make smart choices during the week?
What Practice Often Looks Like
A few years ago, homework time was a bit of a nightmare in our home. The current trend of teaching students math strategies & avoiding teaching math facts made for long nights & a lot of tears. First, it was figuring out what the problem was asking (Do I need to add, subtract, multiply or divide?). Then, list at least 2 strategies that could be used. And, finally doing the actual math involved using dots on a page or some other tool. Needless to say, one page of homework was taking well over an hour with the myriad of steps involved.
So, we ended up going “old school”. We drilled the math facts each evening since it wasn’t happening at school. First, they started with the 2 times table (i.e. 2 x 2 = 4). Then, the 3 times facts were added. Once they had those, it was the 4 times & so on … until they were able to successfully & quickly answer each fact. My husband was there to help them remember the patterns & give them encouragement all the way. And when it came time for homework, reminders of those patterns helped them finish in about 15 minutes.
For our students & their parents, piano practice can look much the same. What needs to be practiced? Which strategy is best when stuck?
Depending on the family, this can be an easy routine for their week. Or, it can become a time of tears.
What Practice Can Look Like
If a piano parent has a piano background, it’s easier for them to step in & guide their child through the process. Both my husband & I have taught math (senior high & junior high respectively) so we were able to step in to help our kids in a pedagogically sound way.
But, what about our families that don’t have a musical background?
Practice can be a hugely frustrating part of their week.
I really believe that parents WANT to support their kids. They just don’t always know HOW.
It’s up to us, as teachers, to not only give strategies, but show when & how to specifically use them.
Our twins had plenty of math strategies but didn’t have the knowledge necessary to know which strategy was the best for any particular problem. It was the same as having NO strategy & going into their homework blind.
For many of our piano students, they have the same problem. We need a “practice made fun” approach!
How to Use a Practice Pouch
Many piano teachers give their students a practice pouch. It contains various tools to make practice more effective, efficient & fun. Every one of my students has had a practice pouch. But, I noticed that they didn’t necessarily use the pouch during the week. Or if they did use it, each object had a particular use.
One of the things that we can do to help our students is to see objects in a new way … to take away the ‘fixed-function’ of practice objects.
One of the first studio challenges for my student tends to be a practice challenge. That cute little eraser in their pouch went from erasing to practicing floating their hand off the keys. But, why stop there? I created an infographic that showed them 5 ways to use that same cute eraser during practice.
We interleaved strategies so they know exactly what tool is best for the song goal they have. And over the course of the year, my student built up reference sheets that we referred to in finding the BEST strategy for each song.
Practice Made Fun … Online Lessons
It may seem difficult to create practice pouches for students when you teach online. Unless they are coming to your home for porch pick-up, parents are sent to purchase items or you ship everything to them.
Instead of choosing specific items for your student, use common household objects! Students & parents quickly realize that almost anything can become a practice tool with a little imagination.
Those Legos that are constantly underfoot? Use them during piano practice. The copious amounts of Halloween candy that want to be eaten? Use them during piano practice. The water gun or water-filled sponges on a summer day? Use them during piano practice.
If you do choose to send something through the mail, balance the cost of shipping vs. the profit available from tuition. You want to make online lessons interactive & personal. But, you also need to stay profitable. Thankfully, many of the items I use are small & easily sent.
Imagine how much fun your online lesson will be as you demonstrate a new practice strategy!
5 Ways – a Practice Tool Kit
I created “5 Ways” piano practice strategies for a “practice made fun” approach in my studio. And, it’s available for your students as well!
Not only does it cover the objects many of us have in our practice pouches (dice, eraser, post-its, etc.), but it also covers ways to use common household objects as well during practice. Do you have a Lego-crazed student? A student that loves cup rhythms? Or, perhaps you are tired of fighting the sugar-high after Halloween? There are even 5 ways to practice using candy.
To access the entire set of PDF’s, click the image below for “5 Ways – Piano Practice Strategies“.
Let me know below how it goes in your studio!
NOTE: This article was originally published on September 8, 2018. It has been updated with ideas for online lessons. But don’t worry, the original ideas are here too!