Get Your Practice On
Practicing is a seemingly never ending gripe for every music student since the beginning of time.
"This is boring."
"I don't like this song."
"Has it been 30 minutes yet?"
"This practicing is really getting in the way of my Pokemon Go time."
If you're a teacher or the parent of a musician, you've heard them all. There's always a part of me that thinks practicing will improve when school gets out and summer comes. All of the "I have so much homework" excuses will disappear and hours of time each day will open wide open for practicing.
And then summer lessons get going and somehow practicing has gotten worse. "We've been out of town." or "It's so hard to have a schedule during the summer." or "I had to beat a level on my video game." We're all really good at making excuses.
And sometimes, as a teacher, I get really tired of just saying "Ok, but next week do better at practicing." Sometimes I run out of tricks in my bag to help students practice more consistently.
So how do we become better as teachers and parents at encouraging students to practice? I've got a couple of things that have worked for me in the past that I'll share with you in this post. I'd also LOVE to hear from other teachers and parents and students! Share in the comments what helps you!
Preparing to Practice
1. Try to find a quiet place to practice. Sometimes that can be difficult when you want to practice piano and you're the oldest of 6 kids (that was me). Quiet was something that wasn't plentiful at my house. But see if people could at least go to a different room/area or outside while you practice. You'll have a more successful practice session if you have fewer distractions.
2. Have supplies you need nearby. Pencils, metronome, timer, whatever you might need.
3. Technology can help, but it can also be one of those distractions we talked about earlier.
4. Make a goal before you practice. Pick something you want to accomplish by the end of your practice session. Write down your goals so they are more real and can refer to them during your practicing.
5. Figure out in what order you will be practicing things.
6. Practice smarter. Break things down into manageable pieces.
7. Don't always start at the beginning of songs. I usually rock the beginning of my songs. Because that's where I always start. I have to remind myself that if I want my song to be successful throughout, I need to start at the middle or the end to strengthen other parts.
8.Set a reward yourself. If I make it through a good practice session and achieve my goals, I like to eat a cookie or little treat.
During Your Practice
It helps if you have a map for your practice time. And I happen to have one I really like.
This helps my students map out their practice time and keep them accountable. I use it for my piano and voice students. If the students will use it, I've seen serious improvements at lessons. So often we just sit down and play songs and at the end, can't even say what we really did for 30 minutes. This helps kids identify the trouble spots in songs so they actually get better from week to week.
I also encourage my students to start practicing with their least favorite song. That way it actually get it practiced and the better you practice, the sooner you can pass it off and get a new song you might like better.
Practice Pays Off
It always feels good to be able to pass off a song and move on. Cookies feel better. Ok. Incentives in general tend to be pretty, well, incentivizing. Maybe you want to keep a sticker chart and once they pass off 10 songs, they can choose a "fun" song (i.e. Harry Potter or Disney or Star Wars), or pick a prize from a prize bucket. Or have them fill out their daily practice sheets and once they've turned in 8 completed, they get a prize. Maybe even recognize the top "Practicers" at a recital with a special certificate or gift card to a local music store.
And at home, you can do something similar. Have a chart your student can put a sticker on each time they practice and after it's filled up, let them have a special treat!
(I love all things disney. So Disney Cookies would be a real motivator to me.)
I am always ready to hear other good ideas to help with practicing. So If anyone else has ideas to encourage students to practice, I'd love to hear them! And if any of these ideas can help make your students practicing a little more pleasant, then I've succeeded!
Good Luck in your Practicing endeavors!
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Adam and Wendi have extensive music experience, as teachers and performers.