21st November 2022 by Jamie
Practice is a crucial component of developing skills in any discipline. The repetition helps us to solidify and internalise what we do, with each sequential level of competence becoming a subconscious recalling of muscle memory.
Learning a musical instrument is no exception. Helping your child to develop a home practice routine will not only help them become a better musician, but will also give them an excellent head start in the skills of habit building and discipline which will help in later life.
1. Establishing The Practice Habit
One common misconception about music practice is that it has to be laborious and boring. This is not true. The courses we put together are designed to be fun, interactive and playful. We know children enjoy coming to their lessons at school, and it’s not too difficult to replicate this at home.
Using the mantra ‘little and often‘, we can support children to accelerate their proficiency in music and make real progress – where pupils learn new skills in their lessons, then develop those skills at home in between lessons.
Daily practice might sound unachievable in practice, and sometimes that can be true. But the intention of daily practice means that even if, in reality, your child only practices five out of seven days, what they achieve is pretty close.
Does ‘daily practice’ sound a lot like hard work? Something that will need a lot of discipline from you and your child?
It’s another misconception. The key with practice is to establish habit. Common daily habits might be brushing your teeth when you wake up, making a coffee before going out to work, or heading out on your morning commute. These are all things that take some time getting used to, but once the habit is established, are things you do without consciously thinking about them.
Try to establish a daily routine in practicing piano with your child. This could be first thing in the morning after breakfast or before they start their bedtime routine. It will take a few weeks for your child to become accustomed to this change, but once it is established it will become much easier to maintain.
2. Deliberate Practice
The concept of deliberate practice can be summed up by ‘practice the hard stuff‘. Progress isn’t achieved through playing the same pieces over and over again, but being specific and developing new techniques. Your child’s teacher will be specific about the areas & skills that need to be worked on, and this can be achieved through:
- Identifying the skill / area / part of a piece that needs work
- Slowing it right down, and breaking it into small chunks (1 bar, 2 bars, 4 bars) – or constituent parts (e.g. hands separately on piano)
- Using a metronome to help keep your tempo steady
- Don’t practice til you get it right – practice until you can’t get it wrong
Don’t forget to structure practice sessions too – start with a warm up, then move onto technical exercises (rhythm exercises, scales, arpeggios) then pieces. Your teacher will help with identifying how best to tackle each of these.
3. Creating A Space To Work
Try to have a dedicated workspace for your instrument(s). A place with a degree of tidiness and order, where a child comes to sit up correctly on their piano stool and practice their pieces and rhythm exercises.
Ten-to-fifteen minutes per day is ideal for children up to the age of 8, increasing to fifteen-to-twenty five minutes per day from 8 – 11 years old.
Simply facilitating this space for your child to independently work on their skills for this amount of daily practice will yield strong results.
4. Getting Involved – How Can You Help?
Parents often feel unconfident in assisting their children in playing piano. This may be because they are unsure of basic musical concepts and terminology, or because they are confused about some of the terminology we use (like Solfege and Rhythm Solfa).
If your child is using the Dogs & Birds method, there are a range of resources available from the website – we recommend the beginners set to start with. We also have an online video course which is designed to develop parents and carers techniques in supporting children with Dogs & Birds home practice. Children then usually move onto Bastien Piano Basics 1, and the Trinity grades (if they are on an exam pathway). These resources are available to purchase on our shop – having the correct books at home is essential for your child’s progress in music.
You will have been sent a login to our online system MyMusicStaff – your child’s teacher will update lesson notes weekly, add the songs they’re working on (known as ‘repertoire’) and give specific areas to work on in home practice. The resource library contains a range of PDFs, backing tracks and more – teachers will usually link to these resources in their weekly lesson notes to enable home practice.
5. Positive Reinforcement And Reward
To keep children engaged, sometimes they need a little encouragement. At school, we believe in a positive reward system where children are constantly encouraged and are rewarded for excellent effort or performance. We implement this normally using stickers/stamps and certificates, in addition to the soft reward system that the books utilise.
Remember to use the ‘Practice Log’ on MyMusicStaff each day – the system helps to track practice over time and we will be giving special prizes to children with the best home practice!
Celebrate success with your child e.g. video a performance when your child has perfected a piece (or written their own piece) and share it with family & friends. Success breeds success.
You could also employ long-term achievement rewards such as “a trip to Alton Towers when you’ve completed Book 2”!
Continued success on the piano is an ongoing process which needs the engagement of child, teacher and parent all working together in harmony.
If you have any further queries about practice, or if you’d like to come in to see one of your child’s lessons in school, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.