Getting the Most From Lessons: What is Required At Home?

By Courtney Hall

Playing an instrument IS:

  • Learning a new language. (Just as you learn alphabet letters in preschool & kindergarten first, then you learn to combine them into sight words in first grade, then read hundreds of children’s books before reading fluently– musical notation is an identical process)
  • Learning a new sport. (Precise fine motor skills are required to play instruments. A musician is “good” when muscle memory takes over, which requires many hours of repetition, just as professional sports players spend many hours repeating the same action. There is no shortcut.)
  • Having a goal of independence! The music teacher’s job is to teach the student how to teach themselves.

HOME ENVIRONMENT:

  • Placement of instrument– away from distractions (away from TV!) but not too isolated (walk past it often! Out of sight, out of mind)
  • Be an occasional audience for your child instead of isolating them (with young children, help practicing is necessary every time!)
  • Musically rich– Both live music exposure & YouTube exploration– this helps the student have a goal to reach toward, discover music that motivates, and develop a good ear for music

QUALITY OVER QUANTITY

  • 2+2=7… If I practiced that over and over and over while preparing for my math test, would I get a good grade? Of course not! But why not? They say practice makes perfect and I practiced that for hours!! But in reality, practice does NOT make perfect. Only Perfect Practice Makes Perfect!
    • Quickly running through songs is not very helpful. Very focused playing and stopping to fix mistakes is what counts!
  • 5 days a week: play each assigned song 3 times plus reviewing 2 old songs rather than a set # of minutes
  • Split up practice (10 minutes of piano before school, 5 minutes of piano after school, 15 minutes of homework, 10 minutes of piano, 30 minutes for dinner, 5 minutes of piano, 30 minutes of TV, 10 minutes of piano) Remember that tired brains aren’t accomplishing much!

WHEN FRUSTRATION SETS IN:

  • For difficult pieces, try to break it down in some way.
    • A lot of times this may be done by playing one hand at a time before attempting both hands at the same time.
    • If there is a certain spot in a piece that is more difficult than the rest, isolate only that small section and practice just those measures for a while before attempting the entire piece again.

MOTIVATION IS KEY:

  • Piano Maestro App for iPad
  • Let the teacher know of songs they love

SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT:

  • PARTICIPATE, PARTICIPATE, PARTICIPATE!!!!
    • Workshops have a duel purpose: they give children the social environment they crave & allow them to meet other kids taking lessons & give them a chance to expand musical knowledge beyond what can be covered in a 30 minute lesson
    • Recitals give children the opportunity to show off what they’ve learned & have a sense of pride over their accomplishments as well as giving them goals to work toward to keep them motivated
    • Attending other musical performances (live when possible, but also watching youtube videos) helps them have goals, know what they’re working toward, & inspires them.

GRIT

  • Youtube: “Grit: the power of passion and perseverance | Angela Lee Duckworth”
  • Growth mindset- children must believe that practice changes their brain and just because they aren’t getting it in this moment doesn’t mean they aren’t going to get it
  • Teach your children how the brain learns. Help them to understand that repetition develops muscle memory and there is no shortcut other than repetition.

Tips adapted from Suzuki Method of Education:

  • Remember that practicing is lonely and children often like company when practicing
  • 2 or more enthusiastic practice periods a day are far better than 1 long period where the student becomes bored
  • Children do not tire of repetition unless others show boredom in their remarks, manner, or tone of voice
  • Avoid discouragement. Use very specific positive comments about the progress they are making such as:
    • “You certainly can play that part of the piece faster than yesterday!”
    • “Your arms and hands looked so much more relaxed today!”
    • “I was able to hear the staccatos much better in the middle section today!”
    • “Sounds like you’re playing it with a much steadier beat than last week!”
  • See that your child attends all recitals, classes, and special events

Other notes:

  • set small, attainable goals
  • consider what else works best in your particular household– could piano practice be included on a chart your child uses?
  • have a consistent practice schedule (always practice after dinner or whatever works best for your family)
  • use a visual— certain amount of coins/candy/etc lined up on the music stand or piano that represent each time they play a song correctly that they get to keep
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