How do I get my child to practise? What should they be doing, and how? How can I help them?
When players first start, most learning is done in lessons and practice is about establishing a routine of sitting at the piano each day. As learning progresses, practice becomes important to remember what they’ve learnt so that learning builds from lesson to lesson. Eventually, players will become independent so that most of the learning is done at home, with lessons for review.
I write down in their practice record book what I’d like them to practise. In the lesson we discuss how they are going to practise it.
Getting your child to practise
Establishing a practice routine is essential if they are going to make progress. Parents need to organise this: children won’t just do it by themselves. Here are some tips:
- Integrate practice time into their normal daily routine. It’s useful to set aside a specific time each day.
- Start small and set a target for what you’d like them to play, rather than a set amount of time. Just 5 minutes per day is plenty at first.
- Rather than saying “now do your practice”, try “I’d love to hear you play Charlie Chipmunk!” (or whatever piece it is they’re playing).
- Be very encouraging and give them plenty of praise.
- You may need to sit with them to encourage them, or do things like helping them find the right page in the book.
- Pick your battles. If they’re getting frustrated, or it’s just really not working one day, leave it so that they don’t build up negative associations.
- Think about location, although I realise there’s limited scope for moving pianos! Young children tend to like to be at the centre of what’s happening and don’t like being sent to the other end of the house to practise. Teenagers might prefer to practise somewhere they can be on their own.
- Inspire your child by taking them to concerts and showing them videos of pianists, or other children playing the pieces they’re playing.
- Let them follow their interests. The luxury of individual lessons is that everyone can have their own learning path: some will want to work methodically through a book while some will want to be creative and improvise or compose. If there’s a particular piece of music or pop song they want to play, let me know and I can try to find (or write) an arrangement that’s at the right level for them.
- Be realistic about how many different extra-curricular activities a child can do in a week and also play a musical instrument.
- Don’t let homework take over practice time. Remember that in the long run, playing a musical instrument develops their brain and makes homework easier.
Helping your child with their practice
- Players should aim to play every day. Just a few minutes every day produces much better progress than a longer session once or twice a week.
- Don’t feel as though you need to teach them. Mainly you need to be encouraging. But if you want to be more involved I’m happy to give you some pointers.
- Encourage them to refer to their practice record book so that they’re playing what I’ve asked them to play.
- However, if they want to be creative and make up their own tunes, that’s also great! We can build on this in lessons.
- Younger children will need help accessing technology, such as reminder videos and learning apps.
- Remember to check their sitting height and distance.
- Read Joanna Garcia’s article about supporting practice: 3 things to say to your child or teen about their piano practice
How much practice?
I am not prescriptive about exact timings, only about what I would like pupils to achieve by the following lesson. Beginners will find that they can get through their tasks in a few minutes, and very young beginners (using Piano Safari Friends) might not always have a piece that they can play independently at home. Once pupils are able to learn independently, a useful goal to work up to is 30 minutes per day to make good progress. Ultimately, the pupil (and their parents) need to decide how fast they want to progress. The more a pupil practises, the quicker they will learn. And remember that daily practice is best.
Using the Piano Safari Books
Technique exercises should be learnt from the reminder video, rather than the book. The exercise should be memorised and the videos will explain how to play the exercise with the right hand shape and arm movement. Reading pieces are about learning notation and should be learnt from the book. Rote pieces are about making sense of the music by memorising patterns, and should be mainly learnt from the reminder video.
In the front of each Piano Safari book is a link with password to download audio tracks of all the pieces. Play-along accompaniment tracks are available to purchase separately.
Using the Ready To Play book
Each song in Ready To Play is a springboard for musicianship games and exercises which are done in the lesson. The songs also have a checklist of tasks to complete at home. The child can complete the checklist (with a tick, star or any other symbol) when they’re confident they can do each task. Videos are also available of all the songs on the Ready To Play YouTube channel.
As pianists get more advanced, practice moves on from reminding them what they’ve learnt in their lesson, to learning independently. Lessons become about learning new skills and polishing what they can play. Here are some practice tips for more established players:
- Always listen carefully to everything you are playing.
- Warm up first with scales and exercises, paying particular attention to hand shape and arm movements.
- Don’t always start at the beginning of a piece. Isolate the tricky bits to work on.
- Break pieces down into micro-sections, for example a bar, or even just two notes.
- Do plenty of hands separate practice.
- Do plenty of slow practice. Start at half the slowest speed you can think of, then build up speed gradually.
- If you feel as though it’s not getting better, move on to something else then come back to the first thing later. Or finish and come back to it the following day.
- For advanced practice tips, head to Graham Fitch’s excellent website https://practisingthepiano.com/.