Teaching students effective piano practice is vital to their progress, and it’s a big part of my teaching. Telling students to practice, and not teaching them how, is like a doctor telling you to reduce your cholesterol but not telling you which foods to avoid.
Last October I read Philip Johnston’s ‘The Practice Revolution’, and I was thinking “yes! exactly!” the whole time I was reading it. If you haven’t read this book, you should definitely check it out.
As well as some great advice and strategies for teaching students to practice, Philip discusses the many and varied reasons why students don’t practice. I think too often teachers assume that students who don’t progress are lazy, uninterested or just not trying.
Very occasionally, this is true, but it is the exception not the rule!
I think the simplest way to sum up this disconnect, and the truth of practicing, comes from the great Frances Clark who said:
“A student is almost always motivated to practice if he leaves his lessons feeling capable.”
When I started teaching, I did fall into the trap of giving mini-lectures in lessons on the importance of practice to my students…not once did this have any impact.
It was only when I started to turn it around on myself and my teaching that I started to see a difference with these reluctant students. I don’t mean that I blame myself, but I do ask myself questions.
Why does this student hate scales so much?
What is it that’s stopping them working on that piece?
Why won’t they practice one section at a time?
I spend a lot of lesson time showing student how to approach different problems that occur in the practice room. This particular method is just one of the many ways I teach students to practice, and is an adaptation from The Practice Revolution.
(Click on the image to download the pdf.)
There are two different versions on the sheet, depending on which progression suits the piece. When I want a student to work in this way, I help them to split their piece into sections, and then paperclip the sheet to their piece so that they can’t avoid it.
When introducing any new practice technique, make sure you do it together in the lesson. The student should leave the lesson being able to picture exactly how their practice will look that week.
How do you teach practicing?
Do you have students that never follow your advice? Or just don’t practice no matter what?