Congratulations! Your child is in lessons! However you’re here, I am so glad you are. But you are probably wondering…what do I need to do to make this worth our while? How do I make sure my child is prepared for their lesson?
Well, lucky for you, there's really one main thing you need to do. Make sure your child is practicing! There is really no way to improve our playing without practicing outside of our lesson. We can't sign up to run a marathon, and expect it to be easy sailing with no training leading up to it, right?
First, I think it’s helpful to talk about what the expectations are for practicing.
My expectations are the same for every one of my students: We focus on goal-based practicing. Every week, we decide what our goals are for that week. That may be, “Play this all the way through without breaks,” or “Sing this passage on ‘ee,’ and then the words, to keep more resonance in our sound.” Whatever your goals are, we need to practice as much as it takes to get to our goal. That may mean 3 days a week for 20 minutes, or 5 days a week for 15 minutes, or whatever works best for the individual student.
I don’t typically give a minimum amount of time to practice for each week, because I don’t want to encourage mindless practicing just to fulfill a time requirement. I’d rather us focus on reaching our goals through purposeful practicing–where our brain is engaged and critically thinking the whole time. Sometimes, that means practicing for a little bit less time, as long as you are working hard the entire practice session. Make sense?
In general, practicing for short amounts of time (think 15-20 minutes for younger students, or 30-45 minutes for older students) many times a week is much better than just one very long practice session.
So, how do we actually get kids to practice? Here are some tips!
1. Build practicing into your routine. This is the BEST thing you can do for your child’s practicing habits. Maybe right before/after dinner, right when they come home from school, or 30 minutes before bedtime. If it’s understood it's just one of those things you do, like brush your teeth, or wash your hands before dinner, it's much more likely they will build healthy practice routines that will last a lifetime! Maybe even connect practicing with a habit they already do, so it doesn't disrupt too much of your already established routine.
2. Have them be YOUR teacher. If you have no clue what a quarter note is, or how to put your hand on the piano, then have them teach you how to do it! If your child enjoys teaching you, you could look in their book or repertoire and ask questions. I typically write important words/concepts in their lesson book (pianists) and their homework spreadsheet (everyone!). If you don't know what the words mean, ask them! They should know and be able to explain it, and if not, help them find it in their lesson book. If they still can't explain it, thats okay. That just means it's a good thing to note for me to go over at our next lesson.
**Some sample questions to ask: “What does this marking mean?” “What do you do in order to sing those high notes?” “What do these lyrics mean to you?” "Did you play your dynamics? What are dynamics?" "Rate yourself from 1-5 how did you do with your legato? Rhythm? Diction (for voice)?" etc. etc.
3. Give extra help. For our littles, ages 3-7, they probably need some extra support while they are practicing to stay focused. This might be as simple as checking in every once in a while to make sure they are playing, and remembering any tips I gave during the lesson. Or, sit with them and tap a steady beat for them to play their song for you. Maybe they need help pulling up recordings for them to sing with. Just a check in every once in a while can help keep them on track!
**Try building a routine where they practice independently for 15 minutes, and at the end, they play their song for you. Ask them questions about any notes I've written down for them to remember.
4. Give encouragement. For our more independent students, practicing can start to feel like a chore. We want to do anything and everything to make it NOT feel that way! Sometimes just a kind question or statement about practicing (that isn’t the dreaded, “have you practiced today”) can help remind them how this is something fun for them! Such as, “What is your favorite part of the song you’re working on?” or, “You have improved so much from when you started! I can’t wait to hear what you do next!” or, helpful suggestions, such as, “Remember how much fun you had with *a song they liked*? How about you go back to that song for some inspiration!” or, “Would you like to set a reminder to practice so you don’t forget? I can help remind you!” We want to give older students responsibility, but we have to remember, they are still kids, and may get out of their practicing habits once in a while. My philosophy is to always encourage responsibility, but give support when needed.
**If you notice your child is really dreading practicing, encourage them to tell me. I have been there--trust me. If I know they aren't having fun, we can switch things up to find something more interesting to play! I will never ever be upset with them because of this--I just want to help get them back on track :)
5. Email me! If you have a question about ANYTHING that has to do with practicing, text me, email me, or write it down so they can give me a note at the next lesson. The more informed I am, the more I can tailor our lessons to exactly what the student needs. I am always here to help!
For more ideas of what to do during practicing, check out my other blogs labeled Practice Tips!