Practice & Assignments
In order for a student to enjoy lessons, she or he must be prepared for lessons. Preparation includes practice. If a student doesn't put in regular practice time during the week, she or he often ends up having a frustrating lesson because we must review the materials that were not learned during the previous week. If we get into this cycle, new music isn't assigned as often, new concepts are not learned as quickly, learning pieces for festivals and performances becomes stressful, and lessons become drudgery instead of fun. When this happens, none of us are happy!
Regular practice is the key to success. Here are some practice tips:
Try to make a student's practice time part of his or her daily schedule. If you know that practice happens daily, say, right before dinner, then it becomes a habit, and it's not as tempting to skip. Students are also involved in so many different activities that it's easier to make practice part of the daily routine just like homework is.
At the beginning of the year we will set a weekly practice goal for your student. While on occasion it's OK to do fewer but longer practice sessions, it's actually more effective to do more, shorter practices. Some families break up 30 minute practices into 15 minutes in the morning and 15 in the afternoon. Others do 15 minutes a day on weekdays and 30 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays.
The most important practice of the week happens as soon as possible after the lesson. If you can practice immediately after your lesson or the very next day, the things we covered in the lesson will be better retained.
Some families find it easier for students to practice in the morning before going to school.
I've known families to employ very creative techniques to encourage their kids to practice. Some families don't allow any screen time (for entertainment) until practice is done. Some parents tie practice time to weekly allowance. One family I knew even said that the student didn't have to help with doing the dishes after dinner if that time was used for practice instead. Yes, ultimately, we would like to have students motivated to practice on their own, but until you have children who brush their teeth on their own or complete their homework without reminders, it is likely that you will have to remind them to practice.
The younger the child, the more his or her practice needs to be monitored. A parent does not need to know how to play the instrument to assist with practice time. The parent can look at the student's list of items to work on, ask to hear certain pieces, ask the child to teach the parent how to play things, and just spend time with the child at the instrument.
If a practice question comes up during the week (Where do I put my hands? What tempo should this song be played? What did you say about this piece's dynamics?), students or parents are welcome to contact me. In fact, I welcome texts, emails or calls from students, as it means they are taking some initiative in their own progress! The sooner you contact me after a question comes up, the better. Sometimes it will be helpful to snap a photo of the piece in question so that I have something to reference when answering.
This year I will have a system available where students log in to an account on my website to record practice days/time. This simple system is optional, but if used, may boost practice accountability.
Performing is an important part of being a musician, but I do understand that some students are very anxious about performance. Even if a student doesn't end up performing in a studio recital, I ask that every student prepare a piece as if he or she was going to perform. I will do my best to encourage students to participate in performances, but at the end of the day, it will be up to the student and parent. If a student decides not to perform, it is still a valuable experience for him or her to come to the event and hear and encourage the other students.
Sometimes it is easier for shy students to perform if they are not on stage by themselves. In this case, I will sometimes play a duet with the student or arrange for him or her to perform a duet with another student.
I will also be holding a number of performance classes this year where students will be able to perform for each other in an informal environment and where we can hone performance skills.