Saturday, February 7, 2015

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Today I'm blogging about individual practice habits. As we start getting into recorders at my school I'm reminded that all students need guidance when it comes to practicing at home. As their teacher I provide them with many tips an how to practice on their own.
This post is focused on how to guide practice at home from a parent's point of view.

Over the winter break my son and I started organizing his piano practice. He has been taking Suzuki piano lessons for a little over two years and we are approaching his Book 1 recital. In the Suzuki method students learn all of the pieces from the first book by rote and have a book party when they have perfected all of the pieces. There are nineteen pieces in Book I, seventeen of which he'll perform at the book party. He has played them all over the past couple of years but some pieces have been out of rotation and they all need to be performance ready. 

Also, while my son does enjoy playing, he does not always enjoy the hard work of practicing. He has reached the point where playing is not coming as easy for him as it did during his first year of playing. There have been some frustrations at the piano. Interestingly, I've noticed that he seems to be in a good mood after particularly challenging practice sessions.

Here are 5 tips for parent involvement in music practice.

1. Schedule practice time for around the same time every day
In our house, if it's not scheduled, it's probably not happening. While we are out of school, and on the weekends Jude practices in the morning. That way he doesn't have it hanging over his head all day, (and I don't have to remind him all day.) During a typical weekday we have to practice later in the day because we all have to be at school at 7:15am and I'm on duty supervising kids at 7:20am. Being at the same school definitely has advantages! On some days he practices in the music room after school if I know we're going to get home later. (If practice has to happen after dinner it probably won't be as productive!)

2. Develop a practice routine with your child
As a child I had a couple of years of piano lessons with a handful of mediocre piano teachers. One thing that was missing from my lessons was instruction on how to practice at home. I would half-heartedly play through my pieces, gloss over the more challenging measures and avoid working on them at all. (Or I would only try to tackle the hard parts after I had already been at the piano for a while and my concentration was spent!)

When Jude practices he plays a couple of warm-up scales, one or two easy pieces that he has mastered and feels good about, and then he focuses on his most challenging measures in a harder piece. I try to build his practice time the same way I build my class lessons: beginning with warm-ups and then alternating periods of high concentration, (pieces he has mastered,) with relaxation, (already mastered pieces that don't require as much concentration.) 

In December I created cards for him listing a separate piece on each card.  Each time he includes a piece in his practice we write the date in the top right corner. We draw a star if he can play it perfectly. If the piece is not yet 100%, I write in a different percentage of how far along it is along with the date. The percentage is not from a hard and fast number of mistakes, (I'm not a tiger mom who keeps those kinds of records!), it's just an idea of how far along the piece is. Jude responds well to the percentage idea. We have seventeen pieces he'll play at his book party and this way he can easily rotate through them. At this point his book party is in two weeks (!!) and he's playing most of the pieces in the order he'll play them for the recital. 

My son's book and practice cards.
(Can you tell that the book's been dropped in a puddle on a snowy day?) 
3. Stay nearby during practice
Part of the Suzuki requires parent to be actively involved in their child's practice. I definitely don't hover over Jude as he practices but I'm usually a few feet away making dinner or working on my laptop, (our art/music/play room is connected to the kitchen in our house.)  Like most kids, he can get side-tracked; those lego bricks are so close! I'm there to help and and get him back on track if needed.  

4. Don't watch the clock!
Practice time should be about working on the music, not a number of minutes sitting on the piano bench. Make a plan of what pieces to work on and stop when it makes sense or when your child shows that they are no longer productive and are just spinning their wheels. Sometimes it makes more sense to break up practice into two or even three shorter sessions during the day.
5. Encourage Your Child 
Give authentic and specific praise and encouragement. It is more meaningful to say, "I noticed you really brought out the dynamics in the second half of that piece!", then "great work!" 

6. Have fun!
Kids should have opportunities to have unstructured time with their instrument and just play whatever they what. I know free play in learning is not in-vogue in most public schools. There are so many tests and assessments to prepare for and the higher-ups don't acknowledge the value of learning through discovery, (at least in my district.) I want Jude to enjoy the piano and have fun figuring out songs by ear or making things up; even when it's cacophony, (especially when it's cacophony- that's a great release!)

There are a few ideas from me from my experiences as a mom.
At my Teachers Pay Teachers store I have some fun piano practice cards/records that I originally made for Jude. 

Do you have any helpful practicing tips you've stumbled on with your kids? Please share!

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