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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

WFMW - Piano Practice Tips

Princess1 has been taking piano lessons for almost 18 months. I think she's very talented (yes, I know I'm a little biased) and she could be an outstanding pianist with practice. Practice? Yes, you need to practice and practice regularly. We've gone through spurts of being great about this and times of not so great. Part of it could be a hectic schedule and sometimes it's attitude issues and/or being too tired. Here are tips that we've learned to make practice time a success in our home.

1) Pick a practice time that works with your child's interest/personality.
I did learn this past school year that if Princess1 could get up early enough in the morning, she did really well at the piano in the morning rather than practicing after school. Sadly, this is not an easy accomplishment. But this summer, without having to head off to school before 8 am, we're doing much better with practicing in the morning. Some kids will do better in the afternoon. For next school year, we'll be discussing with Princess1 if she wants to continue practicing in the morning, before school, or we'll pick a time in the afternoon. One option we may look into is practicing at school while we wait the 30 minutes for Princess2 to get out of preschool (they release 30 minutes after the elementary).

2) It's okay to take a break sometimes.
Earlier this summer, we headed on vacation and did not have access to a piano or keyboard. I decided to not take the flash cards with us because I didn't think she'd be willing to drill flash cards on vacation. Turns out this was great for Princess1. She was excited to play the piano when we got back and her brain used the vacation to recognize the notes better.

3) Use a practice chart/reward system.
While on vacation, we met Jenny Oaks Baker, who is a professional violinist. Princess1 was really excited to meet her. I was excited to pick her brain for practice tips since she has 4 kids also learning instruments. Her recommendation was to look into Suzuki's 100 day method. This method involves practicing 100 days in a row (we're using Sundays as a bye each week for the Sabbath but counting it in the 100 days). At the end of successfully completing the chart, Princess1 has chosen a trip to St. Louis as her reward (to visit friends).  If you miss a day (even just one), you start the whole chart over.  We completed Day 10 today!

4) Determine your practice method
Decide if you are going to practice for a set time limit or by task. We tried using a set time amount but too much of that would go into waiting for attitude to dissolve. So now we are doing tasks - Princess1 plays her assigned pieces (1-2 from each of Lesson, Technique, and solo, plus the Sonatina she's learning, hopefully for a festival this fall). She also is required to do 1 page from either the Theory, Practice Games or Notespeller books, or she can review her flash cards. If she completes these 5 things (Lesson, Technique, Solos, Sonatina and non-music), she earns a sticker for her 100 days chart.

5) Be with your child.
Practice time goes so much better when you actively participate in practice time with your child. If you don't know how to read music, you can learn along with your child. Help them keep track of where they are in their song and repeat trouble areas.
6) Allow your child to make some decisions.
Children like to have some control and tend to rebel (or have attitude) when everything is decided for them. This makes sense since Heavenly Father gifted us with our agency to choose. But as parents, we can't allow our children complete autonomy.
From reading Tip #4, you might think Princess1 has no choice in the matter. She has lots of choices.
First, she gets to choose when we practice (yes, I know Tip #1 says to have a set time but sometimes my strong-willed child doesn't agree with the clock). She also gets to choose to have attitude and take a break to finish practicing later, rather than wasting my time.
She also gets to choose what order she does her practice in - what song to practice first or if she wants to do the non-music part first.
And then she gets to choose which of the non-music activities to do (she has decided she loves Notespeller).
Ultimately, she gets to decide whether or not she earns a sticker for practicing each day.

7) Praise.
Let your child know they are doing great.

8) Remind child of progress made.
This really comes in handy for Princess1 when she won't try because the music is hard. I've learned to remind her of different music that she's learned and thought was hard when she first started it. Then I ask her if it's still hard or is it now easy. She usually becomes inspired to try the hard stuff (at least one or two measures of it) and realizes that each time it becomes a little easier.

9) Take it easy.
As I explained above, we have to play each of the assigned pieces of music. Sometimes this is multiple times as we play as a solo or with the accompaniment CD. But as long as we play it once, we're good to go. Because we're practicing every day, she makes lots of progress even if we don't perfect a piece each day.

10) Play known pieces.
Sometimes to get over attitude or just for fun, we pull out pieces we've already "perfected" and play them. This helps with Tip #8 but also lets the piano be simply enjoyable instead of always "work."

These ideas are working for us, hopefully something here will work for you. For more Works for Me Wednesday, check out We Are THAT Family. Love it!


Becky said...

These are great tips. #5 is really important. And we found that "play each song 5 times" worked better than "practice for 20 minutes" too.

Keep up the hard work. I have young adult children now who are grateful for the push I did give them to learn to play the piano, and only wish I would have pushed harder!

Maria D. @ DownrightDomesticity said...

As someone who taught piano for several years, I APPLAUD you for being so involved in your daughter's practicing!!! Parental involvement is key to a child's musical success. I had a few parents who just expected that their six-year-olds would be self-motivated enough to practice every day and on their own. I'm in my 20's and still not THAT motivated, lol! Needless to say, they would bring their kids in week after week, not having ever practiced, and wonder why the kids were progressing at a snail's pace, if at all.

I love your tips and think they're great! When I was in grade school and a young piano student myself, my dad had a big stash of stickers, and every time I "passed" a song, I got to put a sticker on the piece of music. There was just such a great feeling of accomplishment when I finally got that sticker!