One of the things that teachers might forget is that a beginning music student needs to learn how to practice – a process that takes some many years. When the student is young and under a parent’s care, help from a parent is vital in helping the student in that process. Unless the student’s parents took lessons themselves, parents need a little help helping their student. And even parents who took as children might need a refresher. So here’s a easy guide that you can point your parents to.
1. Practice area should be free from outside distractions.
Make sure the piano is in an area of the house that is free from distraction, at least while the student is practicing. TVs and radios should not be audible.
2. Take away the tech.
Take away their smartphone, their tablet, their laptop, and any other devices that might distract them while practicing unless the teacher instructs otherwise. The constant texting, etc. breaks concentration and therefore makes practice less constructive. To that end, buy a real metronome rather than letting them use an app, at least until they are mature enough to not allow the phone to be a distraction (which may not occur until college with some). Metronomes vary in the way their controls work, so it’s a good idea to bring your student’s metronome to lessons until he or she understands how to use it.
3. Schedule practice appointments.
Schedule practicing in your student’s daily routine. Making appointments in their calendar is the best way to insure that practice becomes a habit. For example, I practice every night between 9 and 10pm. Make it part of their routine.
4. Practicing should be done regularly.
No fewer than 4 times per week. Preferably every day, including lesson days. Practice after a lesson reinforces what was learned during that lesson.
5. Act as a coach for your student while she learns to practice.
This may take several practice sessions and may require you to sporadically check in on her practicing. As much as a teacher may try to tell them exactly how to practice, young students routinely simply play the piece from beginning to end over and over again which is a highly ineffective method of practice. They also tend to take shortcuts. If you have questions about how the student should practice, make sure you communicate with the teacher – ask if you can sit through a lesson or come in for a chat during the last 5-10 minutes of the lesson. (Don’t try to chat after the scheduled time is over – the teacher likely has another student or has a short break which he or she needs).
6. Check your student’s work to make sure they’ve completed it.
Make sure your student completes ALL of their assignment each week. Students often fail to refer to their written assignments and come in without having completed all the required tasks. This is a waste of time and your investment in lessons. Verify that she has indeed practiced everything on the list and done all written work. Students especially love to neglect their music theory homework.
7. Enforce practice time goals set by your teacher.
Make sure you know how much your student is expected to practice weekly and you make sure that the student does it. If the student is not practicing enough, he or she is wasting your investment and will not progress very quickly. If the teacher assigns the student to practice a total of 60 minutes during the week, make sure that 60 minutes are completed. Of course, be gentle in enforcing these goals. You may have to “trick” younger students into practicing through various methods of encouragement.
8. Don’t allow students to cram practice.
If 60 minutes of practice are assigned, the student should not do all of it the night before. An ideal schedule, assuming the lesson is on Monday, would be to practice 15 minutes on 4 different nights – T, W, F, Sunday – for example. Or don’t divde the time up exactly evenly and practice T, W, Th, F, S, Sun. Frequent repetition after periods of rest is vital to allow the material to “sink in.”
9. Don’t make practice or participation in lessons optional.
Once you have committed to lessons, stick with it. There will certainly be times when your student wants to quit from fatigue or lack of interest or because he or she wants to pursue something else. Make sure to decide before they start that you will give it 3-5 years before you allow them to quit. So many adults seek me out for lessons who didn’t take it seriously as children – I hear over and over again that “I only wish my parents had forced me to stick with it.” Don’t let that be your child. Worst case scenario, let your student take a few weeks off in lieu of quitting.
10. Reinforce that learning their instrument is important.
Praise the student for accomplishing goals, such as memorizing a piece or learning a new scale. Take time to listen to them play when they want to show you something and act really enthusiastic. Also, giving little rewards for completing practice assignments doesn’t hurt either (ex) ice cream.