Believe it or not, many bad habits steer students away from practicing more efficiently. As a pianist, teacher, and student, I will address some of these tendencies from my own personal perspective. The wise student who practices effectively will reap greater benefits and achieve quicker results.
While it is a large part of my job to teach students “how” to practice, I cannot be with them at home when they are practicing. Parents, if you are reading this blog, please be vigilant about your role in encouraging efficient practice. Even if you are not a musician, you can still be a very effective “practice detective.”
Below are five of my top 10 practice issues with suggestions for helping students to use their practice time more efficiently (check out the next five in part two of this blog!).
- We think we can be successful without a steady practice regimen.
One week away from practice causes regression. It is a fact that we must have continuous, steady practice in order to get our pieces polished and into long-term memory. Parents often ask me how long should Johnny practice? There is no one answer because it depends on the individual student and the level. Here’s a great article to reference on this topic.
- We overlook our focus on proper sitting and avoid working on technique.
Technique is the foundation for success. Like the foundation of a home, it must be solid and strong, and it starts with correct alignment and posture at the piano. Proper hand positions, sitting at a correct distance and height from the keyboard, and having both feet on the floor are fundamentals for success. We avoid practicing scales, chords, and arpeggios, but snippets of these appear in every piece of repertoire. I suggest starting the first 5-minutes of every practice session with focus on technique. It serves as a warm-up, and students can make it more interesting by playing with different touches, rhythms, and/or tempos.
- We avoid attention to details such as key, form, and structure.
These are the building blocks in the tapestry of the music, and without them the music would not exist! They are an integral part of the music and must be discovered as an initial step before learning a piece.
- We are reluctant to count and use a metronome.
We rush to play pieces with a reluctance to count and/or use a metronome because we don’t think it is necessary. The metronome and counting out loud are parts of the learning process that accelerate understanding and advancement. Students who refuse to use these tools fall behind in grasping rhythm which is an indispensable element of music.
- We avoid working hands separately.
We just want to dive in and play a new piece with our hands together. The problem in doing this is that it requires inter-hemispheric communication in the brain. The left side of the brain controls the right hand, and the right side controls the left hand. Hand and finger independence are crucial for building the ability to play hands together. Each part should be mastered individually as a foundation for putting the hands together.
Be sure to check back for part two of this bog series!