Last week my children were starting to push back when I asked them to go and do their piano practice. Each morning before school they both do 10-20 minutes practice. This has been the routine since they started learning piano last year. So when they started to go through a “I don’t want to” phase, I wasn’t surprised, but didn’t give them any room for negotiation.
Instead, after discussing why practice was important, I asked them how they felt about practicing and if they thought it helped them learn and improve. Both of them nodded reluctantly. I want them to enjoy their playing, but as we know practice isn’t always going to be fun. So I had a think about what I was doing when it came to their practice sessions. I have a hands-off approach with their piano practice. As much as it pains me to listen and walk in the opposite direction when they are slowly figuring things out (or not), it is their journey with their piano teacher and their discoveries are just that- theirs. Once a week I sit down with them and go through what they are practicing and they show me what they are up to and can ask me any questions they like. I choose not to do this all the time because I want them to make their own discoveries and break-throughs. My daughter rarely asks for help whereas my son (6.5yo) would have me sit next him and teach him every day if he could. Was there some other way I could be involved without it being a teaching session that would improve their attitude towards practice?
Was I rushing them to the piano in the mornings and making it all too hurried and stressful? Could this be changed?
Having my own children learning (from another teacher) has been very enlightening to watch and listen to how a student practices. What they think is good practice and what I consider good practice are two very separate beasts. Could we change something about the way they were practicing to make it more rewarding for them?
So we have changed a few things. I will continue to assist them once a week (probably the day after their lesson to get the practice week started well). Outside of this I’m going to encourage them with things like “Oh, I like that one! Play it again for me!” or “That’s my favourite song you are playing this week! Can you play it for me again while I eat breakfast?” The change in my son’s practice from these simple phrases has been great. Instead of reluctantly playing a song again, or only playing through a song once (not really practicing anything), he now very proudly plays through songs multiple times with gusto. My daughter doesn’t care so much but has begun to play the “song that mum likes” more frequently. For more ideas and phrases that might help, head on over to Piano Mama and check out this poster too.
Another change we have made is in the routine. If the morning becomes too rushed, I will not insist on them practising in the morning. We will shift it to the afternoon that day. I’m not yet sold on this solution but we will trial it.
Finally, how they are practicing. Are they practicing in a way that uses their time well and achieves results? They are both getting better at reading their practice diaries and actually doing the tasks the teacher requests. They both play through their set tasks multiple times and isolate problem spots and work on them. They both practice 5 or 6 days a week, so for a 6.5 and 8yo I think that is pretty good.
So we are on the right track, but these little tweaks have made a big difference to everyone’s attitude at the end of practice. We will see if it continues!