Practice: how and why

Practice. How I hate that word! Enough to put fear into any child’s heart. I wish I never had to mention it.

Unfortunately it is a fact of life that skills need to be practised and piano is no different.

What is a skill? A skill is any activity that requires knowledge of technique and needs to be practiced to acquire the necessary, often delicate, physical movements. Think of juggling, intricate sewing, playing basket ball or any sport, running, even playing complicated computer games.

It is rather sad but true that I can usually tell within the first few weeks of lessons if a child is going to succeed or not. Sometimes I am wrong and pleasantly surprised or …disappointed. But the truth is the first few weeks set the pattern that usually continues at home.

What are the things I look for and notice? These are in order of importance.

  • The relationship between parent and child, the enthusiasm and gentleness of the parent.
  • The understanding of the parent of the importance of practice. Here I am often fooled as parents at an interview will profess that of course they understand the importance of practice.
  • The focus of the child, and their ability to concentrate on a task.

You will notice the emphasis is on the parent. This is because the parent will make or break the ability of the child to succeed. Usually children are too young to know whether they will like it or not. But children are finely tuned to parents’ moods and views and will respond accordingly.

It is essential to establish a routine whereby the child practises at the very least 5 days a week, preferably every day. Practice needs to become part of life. A parent telling a child to go and practise does not cut it. They will feel rebellious and anti-music. Make it a given and not open to negotiation.

Focus of the child: repetitive practice is next to useless and should be discouraged. Make sure a child always knows what they are practising and why. Stop the mindless playing through and break down the piece so it can be quickly learned well.

And that’s it! Not as simple as it sounds but doable. No child wants to play badly but they really don’t know how to set about improving so need your support and patience to succeed.