The Keys to Effective Piano Practice

Piano practice is essential in maximizing the investment you’ve made in your child’s music education. Without practicing, improvement is stunted, you and your child get frustrated, and the teacher has hit a brick wall.

As the saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.” No, not quite.

Rather, persistent practice makes progress.

Persistent practice will strengthen your child’s will to learn, build confidence, and enhance their curiosity and interest in music. Keep the guide below handy for children when implementing an effective practice process.

Pledge commitment to their music education. Children respond quite well to verbal affirmations of commitment. Recall the children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could,” and the persistent, optimistic mantra of “I think I can” as he chugs to pull a train over a mountain. Just like that little engine, our children need to say, “I can do this” as a verbal reminder that with hard work and determination, they can achieve their goals.

Practice, don’t just play. Children can slip into a habit of “playing” the piano instead of practicing. Unbeknownst to parents, the notes that are seemingly progressive in nature are actually the child avoiding hard parts. In order to fix this, students should follow the Three S’s Rule: Slowly, Separately, and Sections. According to Graham Fitch, pianist and teacher, dividing pieces into sections will help a child set attainable, but challenging goals. Playing those sections hands apart helps a student focus on technical and musical elements, one hand at a time. Finally, playing slowly will allow the brain to analyze the selected passage and increase note accuracy.

Practice problem spots first. After your child warms up, they should begin with their hardest pieces and most difficult sections. I typically circle or use brackets around these sections in my students’ music. Putting the energy and focus into these spots will allow for more effective use of practice time. Remember: it’s better to have short and sweet practice sessions, rather than lengthy, monotonous ones. By starting each session with problem spots, your child is guaranteed to make more noticeable progress.

Turn on Auto-pilot. There is no such thing as practicing too much. Cognitive psychologists have noted that the key to mastering a skill is not just to learn it, but to overlearn it. The neural connections in our brain are constantly firing with each repetition of a musical phrase. Overlearning a piece helps to free up the energy necessary to inject more musicality, emotion, and passion. This is when you know they’ve reached the “auto-pilot” stage of mastery. They can just play without a lot of thinking, giving them a real chance to connect with the music.

Have a pop performance. Teachers love to throw a surprise “pop quiz” on you during a class going over a concept you learned earlier that week. Pop performances are similar, in that when given the chance to perform, most music students, albeit hesitantly, will oblige. The adrenaline is just enough to put the child to the test. This is called the “audience effect,” and can lead to better performance. Call the elderly next door neighbor, invite the grandparents over for coffee, or have your child’s best friends over for a jam session. Giving your child a chance to show off a little will give them just the right amount of nerves and confidence to keep mastering the piano.

Sound off: What tips can you give a beginner piano student to make practicing more interesting? How long are your practice sessions? When did you find you were most motivated to practice?

References:

http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/20/dont-just-practice-over-practice/

http://oxfordindex.oup.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095731503?rskey=syTmSW&result=4&q=

https://citizensketcher.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/persistence-the-only-technique-that-that-matters/

http://www.practisingthepiano.com/top-ten-tips-maximise-practice/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_Engine_That_Could

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