We have all heard the statistics about how studying and playing music makes children smarter, or at least helps them get better grades. I’m sure there are many reasons for that, but I believe the primary reason is because learning an instrument takes practice, builds discipline, determination, patience, and resilience. You might say it builds character. And all those character traits make a very good student, whether in primary school or the school of life.
To make the most of your child’s piano lessons, it’s important to establish a consistent practice routine. Unlike most sports where kids meet for multiple guided practices throughout the week, piano students are expected to practice individually at home. Figuring out how to practice can be a process, especially for a young student. It’s common for parents to experience frustration in this department (“Getting Timmy to practice is a non-stop battle!”), but with a few basic guidelines it’s possible to facilitate an effective practice routine for your child.
The Daily Routine
I encourage my students to practice 5 days a week. Everyone needs a breather now and then, and life gets busy – that’s why there are 2 “off” days built into this schedule.
In general, kids thrive on consistency. If your child doesn’t already have an established practice routine, you might help him or her by choosing 5 specific days that your child will practice piano. Think about your daily routine and decide when would be the most convenient time for your child to practice. When I was growing up, practicing piano was the very last thing I did before going to bed every night. Luckily, I was an only child and my practicing didn’t keep any younger siblings awake!
I often ask my students “When would be the best time of day for you to practice?” Many answer with ‘right after dinner,’ or ‘after I get home from school and have a snack.’ Practicing at the same time every day will help your child get into that focused mindset more quickly as it becomes routine.
How to Practice
Here is a wonderful guide from www.teachpianotoday.com:
- Read Lesson Notes: Read over practice assignments for the week
- Technical work: This includes scales, triads, warm-ups etc.
- Focus on Rhythm: Play assigned pieces with a focus on the rhythm
- Focus on Expression: Play assigned pieces with a focus on phrasing, dynamics and articulation
- Pick 4 Measures: Choose 4 measures that were difficult and/or needed extra attention and spend extra time on those.
- Review: Choose 2 “old” pieces and review them. (This is optional, but a great way to solidify prior learning and boost confidence by playing something they are already good at.)
The length of time students practice will vary depending on their age, skill level, and performances for which they are preparing. A brand new 6-year-old student will not be practicing 30 minutes a day, but a 16-year-old student who has been in lessons for 10 years and will perform in a judged competition will be practicing for at least 30 minutes a day. The main thing is that all students are focusing on improving their technique, rhythm, expression, and fixing trouble spots. A young student or new student will most likely need the help of a parent or older sibling while practicing each day.
What you do to motivate your child to practice depends on his or her personality. Here are some ideas I’ve heard from parents of my students:
- “Brendan gets an extra 5 minutes of screen time for each day that he practices piano for 20 minutes.”
- “Sarah’s practicing is directly related to her privilege to drive her car.”
- “When Charley meets his weekly practice goal, we let him download a new song or two from iTunes.”
Though I am not a parent, I imagine one of the best things you can do to support your child in piano lessons is praise their effort and express how much you love hearing them play. Here are some more ideas to help kids get excited about their music studies and motivate them to practice:
- Remind them that they are a musician and they have special skills that not everyone else has.
- Express your excitement about what they will play at the next recital or festival.
- Bring parents and grandparents or your children’s friends to our recitals and go out to eat afterward to celebrate their accomplishment.
- Take them to the music store to look around.
- Go to concerts and professional recitals. (Check out local colleges like JCCC, the Bell Cultural Events Center, or venues like the Folly Theater and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.)
Though practicing piano certainly is a discipline, music truly is a gift and I hope that your child’s piano lessons bring a lifetime of joy to them!
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s practicing, don’t hesitate to contact me.