Ah, practice. The number one topic piano teachers say is a struggle. How do we get kids into a piano 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, as I explain on my page dedicated to teaching piano practice.
Heck, I wrote a whole book about just one part of the piano practice equation: effective and creative practice strategies.
But if no practice is happening, if no routine is developed – well, there’s no point in trying to teach great practice strategies. And even finding music that inspires your student is very unlikely to create a habit where there isn’t (and never was) one.
But how do we ensure our students establish a solid piano practice routine from the very beginning?
Piano Parent Support
Parent involvement is the foundation of a practice routine.
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 with the parents at the 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
- 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 that discussion they need to have about practice – but there’s no follow-up.
Over the course of the first semester or two, you want to establish that rock-solid piano 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 counselor.
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 those 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 your students get this going right at the start? Do you discuss it with parents? Give us your tips about establishing a practice routine in the comments below, or share them in the Vibrant Music Studio Teachers group on Facebook.
8 thoughts on “Establishing a Regular Piano Practice Routine”
Nicola, I totally agree about the importance of establishing a practice routine and getting this across to parents. But 80% of my teaching is done in schools, so I only get to meet parents at the end of term concerts. I’ve thought of sending them a chatty letter about the importance of regular practice, but how many parents actually a) find, b)read or c) act upon those letters that get scrunched up at the bottom of the school bag? Email is another option, which I may well try this September. What do other teachers do who work in schools?
One strategy: Send snail mail–believe it or not, it gets more attention rather than less these days because it’s less usual than e-mail. Short and sweet: “Hi, I’m your student’s piano teacher, and he can’t be successful with out you. Here’s your role: (and list ONLY 2-4 things they can do. Maybe just: establish a regular practice time, or get your child to the piano every day,) Anyway, send a follow up postcard every 3 weeks during first term, with a single simple message reinforcing the original message. It’s worth a try!
LOVE Alice’s idea! Try sending a letter (not giving to the student because as you say, these hardly ever get passed along) and emphasise and give them some tips about the routine. Invite them to email you back, giving them a question to answer.
Email those that don’t email you back with a “hey just checking you got my letter, here’s what was inside”.
Hi, I give them a practice chart and ask to put what time they practice each day instead of how long. I try to get them to establish a certain time each day which may differ from day to day with all their different activities. But, I still have students who don’t do this. 🙁
Yes, I definitely do find that when parents are more involved in helping their child practice especially when they are super young or make sure there is a routine helps ensure progress in the child.
I like the idea of sending a snail mail once in a while too — also a little more personal and requiring their attention more than an email that may be read and forgotten.
I like that idea of asking them to put down their time in each day rather than how long or just a check mark. An idea: perhaps in the first month of lessons, the entire studio or class can be working on building a healthy and effective practice routine together. Each student will need to write down their time of practice each day and each week as they come for lessons whether individual or group, we evaluate how it went with them. For a month, they track and see what is a good time for each of their practising each day. And maybe throughout that month, there can also be a focus on learning effective practice strategies….and then, for taking ownership, each student can also come up with an effective practice strategy, routine or tip to share with the rest of the studio or class!
And if not all students or parents are on board, I think it’s also how to explain to help everyone understand. Learning how to build a healthy and effective practice routine or ways of practising is also helping them learn how to build a routine (because whatever work they do in the future may need it) and build character that prepares for them for life! =)
Thanks for starting these conversations about practising and building routines, Nicola!!
Yes that’s a great idea, and pretty much the structure of my new Practice Pro course so great minds think alike, eh? 😀
I just read all three articles on practice. I really appreciate your reminders. I have taken an approach with my beginners (very very very beginners) to only practice 5 minutes a day. I know they are so (so so so) excited (wink wink) to start the piano, but they are only allowed “5 minutes a day.” I then explain they can do that 5 minutes twice a day if they want etc, but it is more about getting them excited to sit down and play than getting them tied to a timer. After a few weeks when I see how they are progressing and how much independence they have, I increase it to 10 minutes. Then usually I shift to a “play this correctly five times” or “play this correctly 3 times in a row” in order to make practice more achievement-oriented instead of time-oriented. Parents seem relieved that they don’t have to enforce 30 minutes a day right at the start. I also include “how to practice” instruction in all my levels. We talk about NOT starting at the beginning of the piece, but rather isolating and fixing difficult areas, then putting it back in context. This includes changing hand positions or articulations. It goes well with discussions of simple form. (If 3 of the 4 lines are the same, spend extra time practicing the line that is different.)
That said, I do struggle with a few students with divorced parents. One student had to buy 2 sets of books so she could practice at mom’s house. One student has no piano at dad’s house, and he is there 4 days a week and only 3 days with mom. This is especially hard since mom pays for the lessons, so there is no way to get to dad. I’ve met him once in 3 years. I’ve had to accept that this student will just progress more slowly.
Sounds like you’ve found what works for you and your students which is great. Thanks for sharing!