Practice tips for young pianists
Help! My child does not want to practice at home…
Through the years I have heard many parents worried about their child not wanting to practice at home. Parents struggle with practicing at home and start wondering how a ‘fun’ activity such as playing the piano can become a burden. I have even heard of practice times in which parent-student arguments end with crying and tantrums, ultimately leading to quitting music lessons…But, this is not what practice time should be like, right?
In today’s world, children are overflown by activities. Most of these activities do not require further practice at home. Yet, in order to learn to play an instrument practice is KEY. When children start piano lessons I often hear that they would like to play the piece ‘Für Elise’ or that they would like to play like pianist Lang Lang after their first class. Yet, both, parents and children do not realize the amount of practice time, the discipline and the effort that has taken Lang Lang to play like that, or the technical and musical abilities that have to be developed in order to play ‘Für Elise’. It is common, then, to give up playing an instrument because 1) the child does not want to practice and 2) the parents cannot deal with the situation. Parents start reasoning in this way: “If my child likes piano, practice should not be a problem!” But, reality confirms that a lot of children who are talented, who love music and who love going to their music class do not like to practice at home. This leads to a sad situation: a child quitting music lessons because both parents and children give up. However, there is good news: with a positive attitude and a few tips things can turn around for the better, making the practicing of an instrument an enjoyable activity.
I find that parents need more information regarding what it takes to learn how to play a musical instrument. The time and dedication that involves playing an instrument is underestimated. Practice time occurs at home, where the family is and where the teacher is not. Both, parents and children need to understand that playing an instrument will require effort and discipline. Common sense tells us that in order to ‘be good’ at something one will have to commit to it. Practicing can be fun, creative and enjoyable! However difficult the situation is there is always something that can be done.
In order to be successful at practicing a musical instrument it is important to understand the role of the teacher, the role of the parent and the role of the student. The role of the teacher is to stimulate, teach and advise. The role of the parent is to encourage and to create the proper environment at home for an efficient and fun practice time. The role of the student is to discover the wonderful world of music making and figure out how to be creative, expressive and accurate when playing his or her chosen instrument. With the encouragement of the parent and the help and advise of the teacher the student will succeed in learning how to play a musical instrument. For a happy and efficient practice time it is important that parents understand the approach and the way the teacher works with the student during the lesson. It is also important to understand what the expectations are regarding practice time at home. Cooperation between all sides is fundamental for being successful at playing any musical instrument.
Here follow 10 tips on how to make practice time a happy and effective time:
- Practice space and equipment. Having a good place to practice and to be comfortable at home is essential. A good working instrument placed in a peaceful area, good lighting, proper height of the piano and chair or bench can make all the difference. If necessary, put a stool under the young learner’s feet.
- Choose an appropriate practice time to establish an every day practicing routine. Practicing at a different time every day does not help in building a routine. Choose a time that is convenient: when the child is not too tired, and non-conflicting: at different time of a favorite T.V. program or playing time.
- Decide how long the practice time will be: 5, 10, 20, 30 or 45 minutes? Practicing in short sessions are more effective than a one time long session. You may consider dividing the practice time in two or more sessions a day.
- Begin and end HAPPY! Always start and end with a favorite piece or activity.
- Decide the goal of the practice time. Ask: “What is it that I want to achieve today?” The goals could vary: a) Playing through a new piece without stopping; b) Getting the right rhythm of a piece; c) Improving a difficult passage of a piece; d) Making sure that the proper body/hand/finger position is maintained while playing a piece; e) Making the dynamic contrasts required in the piece: piano/ forte; e) Transposing a new piece using a pattern the teacher gave; f) Transposing a favorite piece; g) Improvising on a favorite piece or theme, etc. Parents should encourage reaching daily goals, be supportive and be positive during practice time.
- Warm up at the beginning of a practice time so that the fingers are able to respond to the technique that is required on a piece.
- When studying a new piece play the piece at a slower tempo than you usually would. Playing slowly will give the student the opportunity to think, hear and see ahead what is coming (when reading) and will give a chance to the fingers/hands to find the place they need to be in when playing the piece.
- Think about how a piece is played every time you play it. Did I like how it sounded? How was the tempo? Did I play piano or forte? Where my fingers in the ‘right’ playing position? Did I think of the melody? Did I make a mistake? Why? Where? It is important to analyze what went well, what not and WHY. This will bring forward areas for improvement (new goals) and also give ideas on how to maintain what went well.
- When practice time is not going that well and makes the student upset: CHANGE! Choose to break the negative atmosphere into a positive one by stopping with what the student is doing and do one on the following ‘break-the- bad- mood- activities such as: varying the melody or rhythm of the piece, playing the piece in another mood: Mayor if it is in minor en vice-versa, composing a funny piece, creating a funny rhythmic pattern, playing a favorite piece in a ‘funny’ of ‘too serious’ way (higher, lower, with tempo changes, hands way far apart, dramatically, etc.).
- Above all: follow the teacher’s advise! Sometimes, as parents, we think we know better than the teacher and want to do things our way. Yet, your way may not be the best way for your child to learn to play an instrument. That is why we need a teacher. Keep good contact with your music teacher. Be open minded and positive. After all, making music brings sunshine in our lives, right?
Musical greetings and much success with practice time,