Seven Ways to Establish Good Piano Practice Habits
No one learns to play the piano without practicing: it simply can’t be done. A thirty or even sixty-minute lesson once per week just won’t cut it. Students need to practice at home. Musical concepts take time to grasp and the body movement required to play must be carefully repeated on a consistent basis in order to develop the strength and coordination it takes to play the piano.
I am often asked by parents how much practicing their child should be doing. For my youngest preschool students, I recommend five to ten minutes a day. As a student grows older and becomes more advanced, the length of practice time will gradually increase. Ideally, practicing would take place each and every day. While I know that sticking to a strict practice regimen is a real challenge for many of my students, I recommend that they try to come as close to this as possible.
Seven Ways to Establish Good Piano Practice Habits.
- Practice right after your lesson.I tell my students that the most important day to practice is on the day of the lesson, AFTER the lesson. The second most important day to practice is the following day. If students will go home and practice these things taught at the lesson on these two days it will ensure the information moves from short-term to long-term memory. This will set them up for a great week in terms of piano practice.
- Have a set time to practice each day.Having a scheduled practice time will help students to stay on track. Find a time that works well and try to stick with this time for practice.
- Do an “End-of-the-Day” checklist.Before bed, check through the things that should have been completed that day and make sure piano practice is on that list. I tell my students that before their head hits the pillow, to ask themselves if they’d practiced. If they haven’t, I ask parents to allow them to go to the piano even of it’s just for two or three minutes. It’s true that not much can be accomplished in just a couple of minutes but this establishes the piano as a regular part of the day just like brushing your teeth or doing your homework.
- Leave sheet music on the piano and opened.It really helps if the music is out, opened to the correct page and ready to go. Having to look around for a piece of music slows things down and creates a barrier to practicing. Of course, it goes without saying that the piano itself should be in an easy to get to space that is relatively free of distractions.
- Don’t forget about the weekends.Saturday, Sunday and holidays are often the best time for students to get some practice in, but these days can also be the most difficult days to practice. While it’s true that time off of school may provide some extra time for the piano, weekends are often jam-packed with birthday parties, sporting events, and other activities. Being out of the usual school day routine can also make it easy to forget to practice. I recommend that my students practice on Saturday morning before activities start and again on Sunday night before or after preparing for the school week.
- Take Five.If there is a day when practice is impossible, take five minutes to do something musical. It can be as simple as sitting at the piano and looking over the music or reviewing some musical concepts or definitions.
- Keep Listening.Listening to music is a very important part of any musician’s development: on days when practicing isn’t possible, add some extra listening.
The Oxford dictionary defines a habit as:
“A settled or regular tendency or practice especially one that is hard to give up.”
It is both possible and necessary to establish good practice habits. Children (even older children) need the help and support of parents to help them make piano practice a regular part of their daily lives. I have the parents of my preschool students attend the lesson and help with practice at home. For older students, I ask parents to remind them to practice or do some piano related activity each day. I tell my students that when Mom, Dad or whoever is in charge tells them it’s time to practice they need to do it right away and not argue or say they will do it later.
Of course, it would be fantastic if everyone had time to practice for a long period of time every day, but this is not always realistic. By doing something piano related on a daily basis good musical habits begin to take root. Five minutes of practice turns into ten and ten into twenty. The more a student practices the better he gets and playing becomes more fun. I have had many parents report to me over the years that they can’t get their kids off of the piano. I love it when I hear this!