How To Be an AWESOME Practice Partner
It’s a given that becoming a good piano player at any age takes practice. What a lot of parents don’t realize is that no matter how enthusiastic, a beginning student needs quite a bit of help to do it! A “practice partner” can be a parent, an older sibling, or even an advanced piano student who is hired as a practice tutor for one or several days per week. Each child’s needs will be a little different depending on their age when they start piano lessons, but here are some of the ideas and tips we share with the parents of our new Piano Academy students:
- Before you start practicing, make sure the student has had a snack, used the bathroom, etc. If their physical needs aren’t met first, they won’t be able to focus on practicing. Look over the student’s lesson sheet while they do those things so that you know what needs to be done in that practice session.
- Have the student play each item on the lesson sheet a minimum of 3x daily – more if the teacher suggests it or if the student needs it to accomplish their goal.
- Encourage the student to sing note names, finger numbers, or the counting out loud.
- Use the metronome often! Let the student choose the tempo at which they are comfortable playing. For beginner students, 60-80 bpm is a good place to start.
- Constantly remind them to curve their fingers as they play. This is a crucial habit to develop from the very beginning!
- If the student is looking back and forth between their hands and the music, cover their hands with an extra book or piece of paper so that they have to focus on the music.
- If you think the student might be memorizing the song and not reading the notes, have them play the song backwards and say the notes out loud with you.
- Compliment them when they do their best! Reward beginning students after each item is done 3 times (or more if they are assigned to do so). Use whatever reward works for you – M&Ms, high fives, stickers, or anything else you can think of.
- Right after the practice session is a great time to sit on the couch and play the flashcard game for a few minutes to reinforce note reading.
- Try to focus on accomplishing goals (i.e. playing each item 3x) rather than practicing for a total set length of time.
- However, if the student has a hard time focusing long enough to practice everything in one sitting, have them sit for as many minutes as they are years old, then take a 1-minute break and come back. A 7-year old student would practice for 7 minutes at a time, take a quick break, then repeat until he’s completed all his assigned practicing.
- Be positive all the time and keep smiling! Tell them it is a pleasure to hear them play! Tell them it makes you happy to share music with them! Above all, be kind. Know that being a kind teacher is a very noble and great thing to be, and the student will come to love and appreciate your efforts with them.
The “First Sitting”
The day after the piano lesson is called the “First Sitting.” This is an important day. It is not only the first day they begin to practice their new pieces, but it is the day where you need to help them learn that they can do it, that they can really play their new songs. At this practice session, have them play each new song/exercise slowly and only twice, as the songs are apt to feel a little more challenging and seem longer than on previous days.
The whole goal of this practice session is to help the child feel “I can do this!” Keep saying motivating lines like: “You are the kind of kid who can do hard things!” “I knew you would get it!” “You really try hard!” “You are fabulous!” “I admire the way you stick to something when it is new!” or “Wow! You are getting so good at reading your notes!” This is a great time to build self-esteem.
HOW TO KNOW WHEN YOU ARE INVOLVED IN A ‘BAD’ PRACTICE SESSION:
• You forgot to feed the child a snack before beginning.
• Neither you nor the student is singing or counting out loud.
• The metronome is not on while the child is playing.
• You are not doing each item and song 3X during the session.
• You are not complimenting or positively reinforcing the child’s efforts.
• You are not smiling or making it fun.
• You lost your temper or were negative.
• You are not rewarding the student in some way after 3X through each song.
If you find yourself in one of these situations, take a break, remind the child how proud you are of them for working hard, and come back to it later. While practicing is hard work, it can and should be a positive experience overall for both you and the student. Keep up the great practicing!