Before we begin the count-down, let me set a little scene. I am a piano teacher mom so we have a studio in our home. It’s a room that has my Kawai baby grand piano and all of my other music stuff. It’s where I teach all of my students. My boys also like to “practice” in the studio. Which works out just fine. I have always encouraged my boys to practice their instruments. Well anyway, one day, one of my sons, whom I’ll call Johnny (his real name) was in the studio “practicing” his violin. I had a friend over and she was really impressed with this. “Wow! Johnny is really practicing hard” she said. “No he’s not.” I told her. “What do you mean?” she asked “I hear him, he sounds great”. “OK. Yes, he sounds great”, I told her. “He’s very talented, but he’s not practicing right now, he’s playing, but he’s not practicing” My friend turned her right palm over and raised an eyebrow as if to ask, “What’s the difference?”
Alas, what is the difference?
This is a
question I face almost every day. Parents will tell me their child is
practicing and I believe that they are seeing their sons and
daughters go to the piano and hearing them play something. But
honestly, if I am not seeing progress in the students abilities, they
are not practicing, or at least they’re not practicing correctly.
Why is this so important? Because
incorrect practice can actually be worse than no practice at all.
Spend an hour practicing wrong notes, incorrect rhythm and bad
technique and what do you get? Wrong notes, incorrect rhythm and bad
technique. I am only with a student for one short lesson per week so
I think that it’s important for parents to be able to distinguish
proper, productive practicing from other things that may be going on
during practice time.
I am writing under the assumption that
you have a competent teacher that you trust has your child’s best
interest at heart and understands his unique abilities.
To begin, I think we should define the
word practice; practice is “the repeated performance or systematic
exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency”. With
this definition in mind, here are 10 ways you can tell when your
child is not really practicing while they are at the piano:
1- The teacher tells you that your
child is not practicing.
This may seem like a no brainer, but if
your teacher is questioning your son’s practice habits it may be time
to check into what is going on in the practice room.
2-You are hearing the same piece or
pieces over an over.
While it’s true that practice is about
repeating parts of the music until the music is learned, you
shouldn’t hear your daughter playing “Carol of the Bells” over
and over especially if we’re in the month of July. If you suspect
this may not be what the teacher has assigned go ahead and check.
3-Your child is spending weeks and
weeks on the same page in her piano book.
Beginning through early-intermediate
students should progress through their method books fairly quickly.
At the beginning, even the youngest students should be learning at
least one new piece per week. Toward the end of most piano methods
(about books 3 or 4) students should spend no more than three or four
weeks on any particular piece. As for the late-intermediate through
advanced crew, it is more difficult to say how long each piece should
take to learn. But, by this point, students should be responsible
enough to manage their own practicing.
5-The music doesn’t sound good
Too slow, full of mistakes, bad rhythm.
All of these things are signs that something is not right and it’s
time to find out what’s going on during practice time.
6- The music sounds more like just
This can be a tricky one, because I am
all for a certain amount of doodling (or I should say improvisation).
I once saw an interview with Billy Joel, where he said his mother
would tell him to spend more time on Beethoven. I guess the point is,
Beethoven is great but you also need some doodle time.
7-He doesn’t want to go to his lesson
It’s no fun to go to a lesson
unprepared. If your child is regularly trying to get out of going to
his lesson it may be because he isn’t learning what has been assigned
by the teacher. I’m not talking about the occasional “off week”;
Most teachers make exceptions for that. When going to the lesson
becomes a problem for more than two or three weeks, it may be a
8- The music books are always getting
This falls under not wanting to go to
the lesson. When my student shows up without his books odds are
good that he hasn’t done much practicing.
9-He never seems to get any better.
Maybe your son plays a few thing pretty
well, but he never seems to progress to a higher level. You may also
notice that his piano peers seem to be leaving him “in the dust”.
10- Your child wants to opt out at
It’s probably not a big deal to miss a
recital from time to time. But if your child is isn’t getting pieces
together in time for performances he may not be practicing enough or
I hope this blog post will help parents
to be more aware of what is going in the practice room. I know it
isn’t easy. Practicing is super hard work and kids will sometimes
come up with lots of ways to make it easier. I once had a student who
would record himself playing and then just hit the playback button
for 20 minutes so his mom would think he was practicing. His sister
finally “ratted him out”. I had to give him an “A plus” for
Sometimes students may not know how
they should be practicing. If there is an question, discuss it with
the teacher. Teaching kids how to practice is a big part of the job.
Your teacher wants to see your child succeed.
Learning piano is a long-term project.
There are bound to be ups and downs in your child’s practice routine.
Helping your child to stay on track can help him reach his goals and
make playing the piano a lot more fun.
So what ever happened with Johnny? He
actually became a Worship Leader and plays music all of the time. He
is married and has three kids, now it’s his turn to get them to
How can you tell if you child/student is really practicing? Leave a comment below