When Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

I have written numerous emails, newsletters and blogs about creative ways to get students to practice or how to encourage regular practice and often it’s been geared towards my younger students. This week, I have been thinking about my older students who do regularly practice but aren’t always seeing the progress or “perfection” they are hoping for.

My own daughter has begun work on a Christmas recital piece (yes, I did say Christmas). She chose a piece that was near and dear to her heart, but it is NOT an easy piece! She’s now been working on it for a couple of weeks but not a lot has been accomplished. We had a frank discussion about this at our last lesson. Being that I am her teacher AND her parent I get a rare insight into her practice habits that I don’t always get with my other students. She often practices downstairs in the wee hours of the morning while we are bustling around getting ready for school/work. I don’t hear everything but I do eavesdrop a little AND I did notice that she would head down for practice around 7:10 and resurface around 7:30. Is this a sufficient amount of practice for a piano student at a grade 6/7 level? Hmmmmm…let me think…probably NOT! Though I want my older students to think about practicing smarter, not harder, the truth is the further along you go the more time you are going to need to dedicate to practice….unless you just want to work on one piece at a time…..for a very long time….a very, very long time.

So, we talked about time, time management and goal setting. I really don’t like to assign a certain amount of time to practice because I think it is so easy to go on auto pilot, set the timer and just “git ‘er done” (although, I often tell my students who are grade 3 and higher that if they add a “0” to the grade they are in that is a pretty good indication of the MINIMUM amount of daily practice they should be logging). Instead, I like to talk about setting goals for each practice session–just little ones– and practicing until that goal is reached. But this is kind of general and kind of vague. So this week, Delaney and I are trying some specific strategies that I stumbled across (yes, I practice too and I am trying these too!) Though, these are geared towards advancing musicians, the younger students can certainly use these ideas as well!

1. BACKWARDS PRACTICE
Break piece into 5 sections
Practice section 5 to end, 5 times
Practice section 4 to end, 4 times
Practice section 3 to end, 3 times…..and so on

2. PRECISION PRACTICE
For those fast and tricky passages
Practice with staccato
Practice in a swing or dotted rhythm
Practice both staccato and dotted rhythm

For more information on Backwards and Precision practice check out this awesome blog post by Anne Crosby (yes, boys and girls, this IS the composer of that awesome grade 1 piece that you love so much: Celebration!): http://pianoanne.blogspot.ca/2011/03/practice-tips-for-teens.html

3. RANDOM PRACTICE
To keep your brain alert
Take 3 small sections and label A B and C
Practice A section for 3 minutes
Practice B section for 3 minutes
Practice C section for 3 minutes
repeat two more times either in same order or mixed up

For more information on Random practice and more great practice how-to, check out the Bulletproof Musician: http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/why-the-progress-in-the-practice-room-seems-to-disappear-overnight/

Above all, I like to remind my students that practice does NOT make perfect—a better saying would be PERFECT practice makes perfect! In other words be engaged, alert and practice with care rather than rushing through quickly just to get it over with.

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