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Effective practice starts with notes (from your teacher)

It is piano lesson deja-vu. I am sitting with a student listening to a piece for the 4th week. The piece sounds exactly like it did last week and the week before. The phrase mark that blankets bars 6,7 and 8 has been ignored and the notes of the left hand are still being played incorrectly. I refer to my notes from last week. They say in bold letters. “Focus on bars 6 – 8. Play hands separately to master the LH notes/fingering. Be sure to keep the phrase intact. There should be no break in the sound until the end of the phrase.” I remembered the 10 minutes we spent last week going through the notes for this piece, how we played the phrase over and over until my student understood what I was asking…or so I thought.  Without the reinforcement of effective practice at home, our hard work from the previous week will have to be repeated again this lesson….and next week and the next….this makes for pretty dull lessons for both student and teacher.  

 At the beginning of each MYC class, the parents copy the weekly assignment into their child’s student activity book. Recording page numbers, helpful hints and other important information. It is an exercise that encourages parents to be involved, ask questions and to monitor progress at home.

When working with a student one on one, it is I who records the info for the student. All technique and pieces (or sections of pieces) to be practiced are recorded – usually with specific instructions. I try to give students a clear expectation for the following lesson. I also include a practice checklist so students can keep track of what they have done each day.

I find it very interesting to hear a student say that they didn’t know they had to play a song hands together or that they were supposed to play their scales staccato that week, when it is written clearly in their book. The reality is that there are some students who never open their assignment book at home and just practice the details that they remember discussing with me at their lesson.

Sadly, I have to admit to being a young student who didn’t read their assignment book carefully – sorry Ms. Laurie!- I am sure that my teacher was frustrated as I returned to my lesson having practiced, but not having accomplished the detailed goals she had set out for me.  I learned over time that reading my assignment book saved me hours of practice time as I could focus on the details and polish pieces more quickly. Eventually that book became my practice buddy. (much like my metronome!)

Your teacher is an expert….it’s true. Your teacher has the experience of countless lessons and practice sessions of their own, plus all of the lessons they have taught, not to mention professional development workshops, conferences, discussions with colleagues…etc. Your teacher knows how to most effectively master a piece in the shortest amount of time. Ignoring the specific instructions recorded for you each week can cost you precious hours of practice time and can also make for slow progress. The faster you learn your pieces, the more pieces you can learn and the more fun your practices will become!

I don’t think that students deliberately ignore the carefully detailed notes written out for them each week. I just think that, for some students, the assignment book rarely gets sprung from the music bag in the first place.

Save time! Follow these helpful hints.

  • Right after your lesson unpack your books. Set your assignment book on the piano open to the appropriate page and set your music book beside it. Now you will be tempted to play each time to pass the piano.
  • Check things off as you practice them
  • Have a parent sign your book after each practice – it will encourage them to be involved in your practice time and gives you the added benefit of their reminders
  • Keep a practice diary – detail the goals you have for each practice and record how close you came ot that goal.

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