“Ms. Hall, I was so busy this week I didn’t have any time to practice”
I hear this from at least one student every week. I understand life can be busy. Students have school projects, exams, and other events that come up and prevent them from being able to practice. I don’t consider the occasional ‘off week’ when it comes to practicing a major problem. But what about students who are involved in so many activities that they almost never have time to practice? Can they learn to play? What about students who have the time but just refuse to practice? Can these students get anything out of piano lessons?
The short answer is no. If you don’t practice at home, you simply can’t learn to play much. Playing the piano for 30 minutes a week at the lesson just won’t cut it. Imagine going to school for just 30 minutes per week. You would not learn a lot.
This is How Piano Lessons Work.
A piano student attends a weekly lesson of 30-60 minutes in duration. During the lesson, the teacher reviews the material (music, scales, etc.) that has been presented the previous week and suggests ways to refine or improve the material. If the student has made sufficient progress new material is presented. A good teacher thoroughly explains any new concepts, answers any questions, and then assigns specific things to practice.
the student is supposed to go home and practice the piano.
Let me be more specific.
Practice the things the teacher has assigned.
Or at least as close to every day as possible.
How Long Should Practice Sessions Be?
That depends upon two things. First, the level at which the student is playing. Beginners need less practice than advanced students. Second the goals of the student. A high school student who plans to major in music will most likely practice more than one who is playing for enjoyment and has other career plans. The key is consistent, careful, mindful practice that focuses on tasks, not time. However, practicing should not take more than 30 and 60 minutes per day for most students.
Note: Young beginners should practice 10-20 minutes per day.
Why Must Students Practice.
Because learning to play the piano (or any musical instrument) is a complex process. It is as physical as it is mental. Think of it as a cross between learning a foreign language and playing a sport.
Foreign language students need to learn to read and understand the language they are studying. They also need to be able to listen and understand what speakers of that language are saying to them so that they can respond. Music is similar in that; musicians not only have to learn to read music notation, but confident playing involves learning to understand music as it is heard.
Athletes train the body to respond to the possible scenarios that may arise during a game or match. A basketball player practices until his or her muscles know exactly how much force and at what angle the ball needs to be shot in order to get it into the basket from any point on the court. During a game muscle memory helps players make those baskets under pressure. Pianists rely on muscle memory as well. Play something enough times correctly and the body learns the music.
Athletes Need to Build Strength and Flexibility, so do Pianists.
Of course, there is a lot of cross over between mental and physical pursuits. Athletes have to strategize, plan, and use their minds. There is an aspect of physicality involved in learning a foreign language as it is the mouth, tongue, and vocal apparatus that must move to produce words. However, playing a musical instrument uses both mind and body to the fullest extent.
In other words, playing the piano is a challenge.
You have to practice.
But Why Every Day?
Daily practice is optimal because it helps the brain to retain information and helps the muscles to stay strong and flexible. A student can make some progress practicing only a few days per week, but learning is amplified with daily practice.
This is because of long term and short-term memory
“The brain stores information in its short-term memory that it only needs for a few minutes, such as a phone number. Long-term memory contains data that the brain will use for years, such as how to use a telephone.” Sciencing.com
When you learn something new you need to think about it multiple times so that it moves from short term to long term memory. In my experience, this needs to be done within a certain period of time. Which is; a few hours after the new information has been presented and the very next day.
For example, I can teach a student that a whole note receives 4 beats. If it isn’t written down where he can look it up and he doesn’t recall it to his memory he will likely forget it. However, if he thinks about it later that day and the next, he most probably will remember it for the rest of his life.
This works when practicing as well. When a student practices something on Monday and doesn’t return to practicing until Thursday she will have lost some of the progress that had been made when she did practice. On the other hand, daily practice means that she will retain what she had practiced the day before and she will add to it making daily practice much more efficacious.
But What if My Child Really Doesn’t Have the Time to Practice?
As I said in the opening of this post, I don’t consider the occasional busy week something to be concerned about. But if your child does not have the time or want to take the time to devote to piano practicing you need to ask yourself a couple of questions.
The first question is,
Are we willing to make the necessary changes in order to fit piano practicing into the schedule?
Can you drop some things so that there will be time for the piano? If you tell your child to practice will he do it?
Read the post “Over Scheduling Children”
If not the second question is,
What are we doing?
While your child will learn something by simply coming to lessons for 30 minutes each week if she isn’t practicing it’s doubtful that she will make much progress. Do you really want to spend money and time on something that will yield little results?
The world is full of people who have taken piano lessons as a child. But only those who are willing to devote time and effort to the instrument will learn to play well enough to really enjoy the piano.
I understand parents hold on to the dream of their child being able to play the piano. Every single day I am thankful that I can. But it was not easy. I had to practice. In fact, I still do pretty every day (almost.)
I think I speak for most music teachers when I ask you to help your child make time to practice and encourage him to practice with care. The results will speak for themselves and your child will thank you in the end.
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