Practice Makes Progress

Chapter 18 – From “The Happiest Piano Teacher in Town-Empowering Teachers to Inspire Students”

Practice makes progress.

“Our aim needs to be the nurturing of children. The moment we rigidly convince ourselves, “Education is what we’re after,” we warp a child’s development. -1-  First foster the heart, then help the child acquire ability. This is indeed nature’s proper way.”

        — Shinichi Suzuki, Nurtured by Love

Getting People to Practice

This is big. Really big!!

In fact, everything I have written in this book so far leads up to this crucial point. From cultivating our own positive mindset to having a Teaching Blueprint, everything we do all leads to setting students up for success. Success means learning. In order to learn, students must practice at home. Without at-home practice, students cannot be successful. Without at-home practice, I cannot foster a joyful studio.

As teachers, we all know the importance of practice.  But for some reason, the idea of at-home practice escapes many students and their parents. I think this may be in part because piano lessons are one of the few extra-curricular activities that require practice outside of actual class time.

Parents aren’t used to having to make children practice baseball at home every day. However, students must practice the piano at home regularly. And this requires some hard work. Piano practice in and of itself is hard work—very hard work that most average people (especially children and teenagers) would prefer not to do. I make a big point to tell my students to listen to their parents when they ask them to practice. I tell them not to argue with mom or dad or promise to practice later. I follow this up with “and say thank you to mom for bringing you to piano lessons and reminding you to practice. Imagine how you are going to feel in a few years when you can play really well!”

Getting young kids to practice requires that parents help or at least remember to remind them to practice. This can be a tall order for busy families. Those of us who are parents also know that it is not easy to get kids to do things they would rather not do. Our students and parents need our guidance and support in order for consistent and careful practice to take place.

Read the Post “10 Tips for Accurate Piano Playing”

Nothing makes me feel happier and more joyful than students who actually practice. Students who come to their lessons prepared and ready to work on new skills and materials. When my students practice at home, the lessons are so much more fun to teach. Parents are happy, recitals go well, and students don’t consider quitting.

However, the opposite is also true. Nothing is more frustrating than students who don’t practice and come in week after week unprepared. Having to repeat the same things over and over is frustrating. Teaching students who don’t make progress is boring and tedious. Not to mention, it’s bad for business.

So how do we get students to practice regularly? After all, we only see them for 30 minutes per week; if they don’t practice at home, we are doomed. So what is the solution to this conundrum?  OK, I won’t keep you in suspense.

I have spent a lot of time and research trying to figure out how to motivate students to practice regularly and carefully.   The only answer is: we do it with great difficulty.   In other words, it isn’t easy. I have to do all of the things I have discussed so far in this book: have a blueprint, educate parents, set a great studio culture, and set goals. All of these things help set students up for success and encourage them to practice.  Still, we have to constantly and consistently remind students and their parents and caregivers of the importance of regular, daily, careful practice.

Did you catch the words careful practice? Students have to practice carefully and correctly.  Otherwise, practice time is wasted. What’s worse, a student can actually spend time and come away worse than when he or she started. Practicing poor technique, wrong notes, and incorrect rhythm results in poor technique, wrong notes, and incorrect rhythm.

So what’s a piano teacher to do?

 

There are solutions;

 

Nurture A Musician Mindset

I refer to all of my students as “musicians” from day one. I want them to see themselves as pianists, not just piano students. I tell them we are all part of a very special club—a club full of people who love the piano and are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to learn how to play. The sooner I can get students to self-identify as musicians (specifically, pianists), the better the chance they will pick up the mantle and work hard.

Love the Journey

I never tell my students that learning to play the piano is easy. I tell them the truth, It’s hard! All of my students can finish this statement;

I’ll say “If playing the piano were easy,” my students answer “Everyone would do it!”

By the same token, I want them to enjoy the process of learning.

Imagine

I love this word. I use it every day in my studio with my students and their parents.  I will often say the following things to my students and parents:

“If he starts now and continues to play, imagine how he will sound by the time he gets to high school.”

“Imagine how you will feel when you can play “The Maple Leaf Rag.”

“Imagine how nice it will be when your son can fill your home with holiday music at Christmas time.”

…Practice makes progress.

 

Make Piano Lessons The Best Thirty Minutes of the Week

The time I have to spend with each student is valuable. Very valuable!  So I try to make it enjoyable. I want my students to love their lessons. I want each one of them to want to come to see me each week with anticipation and excitement. In fact, my goal is to have it so that they can’t wait to get to the next lesson, and they are disappointed if they have to cancel.

 

Create Practice Assignments

Involve students in creating their weekly practice assignments and be very, very specific when it comes to assigning tasks. With beginning through early-intermediate students, ask them how many times they will practice something each day. Once you agree on a mutually acceptable number, record it in the notebook and write it on the music.

 

Teach Students to Evaluate Themselves

Work with students to set goals for their playing and their practice and teach them to evaluate themselves. Students should listen to themselves carefully and decide what sounds good. As a teacher, I wish for my students to be honest with themselves about whether or not they are doing well and working up to their potential.

 

Help Students and Parents Understand that Practice Makes Progress

See the post. “Seven Ways to Establish Good Practice Habits”

 

 

All of this and much more is in the book,

“The Happiest Piano Teacher in Town-Empowering Teachers to Inspire Students”

Read a preview at Amazon.com