Ah, practice. The number one topic piano teachers say is a struggle. How do we get kids into a practice routine so they’re practising consistently and effectively? What can we do that we’re not doing already?
The problem with practice, is that it has many facets and we need to be able to tackle every one of those issues to make progress.
Heck, I wrote a whole book about just one part of this equation: effective and creative practice strategies.
In this series of articles, we’re going to look at each of the four faces of improving practice in our studios, starting with the routines and piano parent involvement.
Piano Parent Support
I’m starting with this aspect of practice because it’s the foundation of a practice routine.
If no practice is happening, if no routine is developed – well there’s no point teaching great strategies. And even finding music that inspires your student is very unlikely to create a habit where there isn’t (and never was) one.
Parents are crucial here because of three simple facts:
- Parents are with your student during the week.
- You are not.
- Children operate in the moment and cannot structure their own days.
We all know this. I’m fully aware that I’m preaching to the converted.
It is a truth universally acknowledged by piano teachers that a child will not practise the piano without the support of an adult.
So how then do we get them involved when they’re not?
While I think alternative views on this are interesting (like this one) I still find that in reality, the best option is to get the habit established in the very beginning.
When we start as we mean to continue, practice is pretty much a non-issue. Students just do it because it’s the norm, and when they have off-weeks that’s the exception.
The best way for this to actually happen from the very beginning of a student’s journey is to have a frank and honest discussion at a first meeting or interview lesson. Taking this opportunity to speak face-to-face is invaluable because most of us will only see the parents for a few minutes each week (if that) from here on out.
At the interview you want to cover:
- The practice expectations
- Why practice is necessary
- What qualifies as a suitable home instrument (more on this next week)
- The parent’s role in the practice routine
I advise my parents to focus on routine alone for the first semester. That means that I don’t care how long they practice, or even if they play everything in their assignment.
All I want is a daily practice habit – we can make it effective, “proper” practice later.
Now, many teachers do the interview part, and have the discussion they need to have about practice then – but there’s no follow-up.
Over the course of the first semester or two, you want to establish that rock-solid practice routine, and parents need your support to do that.
Check in with them regularly to see how the practice is going, what time of day they’ve found works for them and if they need any help from you.
Don’t make the mistake of only asking about practice when it’s a problem! That makes the parent and student feel more like you’re the practice police, and you want to be more like a counsellor.
To track or not to track?
One of the slightly “old-school” methods is to have students count up or log the number of minutes they practise each day. (No offence meant if you do that!)
The problem with this is that students will come to feel like they are simply putting in their time, punching in and punching out. This will generally lead to less effective practice and sometimes resentment of practice time…which leads to the stereotypical parent-child practice battles.
Although I want my students to feel like practice is a habit and “just what they do” – I also want them to have some choice and creativity in how they approach it.
When I worked in an office I was always frustrated by the fact that people got more credit for staying late than for working effectively during the time they were there. This time-focused mentality does not produce great results.
I want my students to concentrate on what they’re doing, not how long they’re doing it.
How do you feel about piano practice routines?
Do many of your students get this going right at the start? Do you discuss it with parents? Give us your tips for establishing a practice routine in the comments or the Vibrant Music Studio Teachers group on Facebook.