Practice outside of the music lesson is vital for timely progression when learning an instrument. Practice should be focused and goal driven, and occur 4-5 times per week to maximise learning. Practice is *not* sitting down at the piano and playing a piece all the way through one time.
Rather, it is dedicated and focused time to improving your skills and refining the pieces or technique you are working on. Practice shouldn’t be boring, difficult or last for hours on end to make it effective! We want to improve as efficiently as possible - the goal is to spend less time practicing while achieving better improvements through the use of effective practice techniques! Often, parents will need to remind children of this, and encourage dedicated piano practice that incorporates the following techniques. I use these practice techniques myself, and I encourage all my students to as well!
1. Read your lesson notes before starting. I know it seems unnecessary sometimes, and maybe even boring, but it is helpful to remind yourself of the things we focused on the last lesson, and expectations for the next lesson. It is great for parents, especially those of younger students, to read the lesson notes as well to understand and better support the goals your child is working towards that week
2. Make your warm up fun! If you’re playing scales, try adding dynamics, different rhythms, or playing at different octaves
3. Block practice. Playing your piece from beginning to end in one go can overwhelm you, and doesn’t let you focus on the details and areas that need some work. Instead, pick a line, or even just a bar, and begin there. Do this section-work to work through the piece.
4. Looping! All my students know how much I love looping. Looping is playing only a small section, such as a single bar or phrase (block practice!), 3-5 times in a row without any mistakes. This is to help build your muscle memory. After looping, which only takes 10-30 seconds, students are much more confident in the section and tend to play without mistakes afterwards!
5. Altering the rhythm in block practice. Trying swinging the notes in a long-short-long-short pattern, or short-long-short-long pattern, to create a new stimulus that you have to focus on. This must be done slowly to begin with 100% correct fingering and notes to be effective. If we continue playing the wrong patterns with this novel rhythm, then we will be reinforcing those mistakes. Aim for small sections and slow it down to establish a good foundation of muscle memory.
6. Finally, commit to practicing 4-5 days/week. It doesn’t have to be long practice sessions, even 10 minutes per practice is a great start for certain students depending on age and level. Find a time that works for you (or your child). For some students, weekends are the optimal time because it allows parents to be present to help and guide the practice session. For others, morning practice before school allows the student to tick the practice session off for the day early, so it doesn’t get forgotten later.
Anecdotally, I can attest that when students come back and tell me what practice techniques they have used over their past week of practice, the ones who report using even just one or two of the above techniques have advanced their skills further in the past 7 days and report more enjoyable practice sessions, which ultimately leads to a fun, engaging and progressive piano lesson! It is so rewarding to come to your music lesson well prepared from a good week of practice, so we can advance through the repertoire and add more challenging components to making music beautiful.
Happy practicing! ✨