Students are not born knowing how to practice. As with everything else, you must teach them how to do this.
Demonstration is the best method. It's not enough just to say, "Do it this way at home." Take lesson time to demonstrate why "this way" is effective. There is no better way to convince a student to use a technique than for him to find out--before he's asked to do it on his own--that the method is effective.
If you want the parent to assist his child, involve both of them in the learning process. Show the parent what you want him to do and make sure he understands his part in what you'd like to happen at home.
I also have good success if I call it "playing the piano at home" rather than "practicing." The former sounds like an engaging activity; the latter sounds like a grim requirement.
In addition to attitude, desire must be present. An adult or teen is doubtless taking lessons because *he* wants to do it, but with a child, it might be a different set of circumstances. For each student, discover why he is taking lessons. Is it something he wants to do? Is he being forced because "everybody in *this* family plays a musical instrument" or because there is a piano in the home already? When you answer a telephone query, always investigate why the parent is calling. If the child has asked for lessons, how long has he been asking (how ardently)? If the child isn't interested, it will be an up-hill struggle for him, you, and the parents. It's better not to start a child who doesn't want to play the piano. (He might prefer another instrument or art/theater/dance to music study.) At the interview, make clear to the student what you expect from him in terms of daily playing at home and be assured that he truly understands the commitment he is making before you accept him into your studio.
Mistakes are a part of practice. Everyone makes oodles of them. Counsel the student to "be gentle with" himself and not to be upset when mistakes happen. After all, they disappear instantly!
Clock-watching can be avoided by doing several things:
The four rhythms are short-long, long-short, long-short-short-short, and evenly, as illustrated above. Each short is represented by a one-count note and each long by a three-count note. For beginners, I use quarters and dotted-halves; with more advanced students, I use sixteenths and dotted-eighths
Most people think that SL is the most difficult rhythm, so this is the one to start with. The "offending" section--say those tricky scalar runs in the first movement of Mozart's "C Major Sonata" (K. 545)--should be played *with perfect fingering* ten times alternating short and long rhythm. Fingering must be perfect each time; this means the student must play slowly enough to control fingering exactly. Note that on alternate notes, the student has time to "rest and regroup" and read ahead to the next note; only every other note must he get to the next one quickly.
Then ten times using the long-short rhythm. Now the "rest and regroup" note is the opposite one of the pair, and the student has experience getting quickly *to* each note after doing SL and LS.
Next comes ten times with long-short-short-short, which means he can "rest and regroup" only once every four notes.
With an example similar to the Mozart, you might wish to insert an intermediate step of one long and seven shorts so that a "rest and regroup" note occurs twice in a measure.
The last step is to play the notes evenly (as written). Here is the big secret: this should be done at *half* the speed the student thinks he is able to do it. Ten times. (This requires the most discipline of all!) Then he may speed up his playing, using the metronome to guide this slow accelerando.
Now the repaired area is placed back in context--again at half the speed the student thinks he can play it-- and speeded up slowly to the tempo of the material which precedes.
I have never known rhythms to fail: either in my own playing or in that of my students. I recommend it to you if you are not now using it.
Small, reachable goals are another of my favorites as effective practice tools. If it can't be reached in one practice session, the goal was too broad. When goals aren't reached, the student becomes frustrated.
Control versus chance is another idea I drum into my students all the time. Suppose the student plays 100% correctly. Now the tough question: was that just good luck or could he do it again any time he wanted? Only the student knows for sure, and he can't lie to himself. (This is a crucial question when we're talking about recital preparation and helps avoid an inflated sense of readiness.)
Control has another virtue. I always tell my students to go for control rather than speed. If they aim for control, speed will take care of itself.
I'm a big fan of the metronome, too. Using it is a systematic way to increase speed, even for a beginner. One of my favorite techniques is to map out the week's tasks with the piece using the metronome. For example, Monday 5x @60 - Tuesday 2x @60 and 3x @63 - Wednesday 2x @63 and 3x @66, and so on.
The metronome also can be used to indicted a maximum speed the piece should go for the week. This helps the student stay within the "practice tempo" zone.
Any time you spend with a student showing him how to practice effectively will benefit both of you!
copyright 1996, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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