The first piano lesson takes place in the form of an evaluation/consultation to assess musical proficiency, prior knowledge (if any), goals and expectations. Based on this, a course of study is composed tailored to the students’ individual needs. The lesson also includes an introduction to the basics of piano playing and teaching style.
At each lesson, students are assigned tasks to work on for their next piano lesson. Students are given a notebook for instructors to record goals for them to accomplish during the week. These are short-term goals designed to help students prepare for their next lesson and on the road to steady improvement.
Examples of short-term goals:
- Work through the left hand of a tricky piece.
- Play a piece with solid rhythm at a slow tempo.
- Increase the tempo of a piece by several metronome markings.
- Master a difficult measure once and for all.
- Learn a challenging scale.
- Memorize the first page of a song.
- Fit in regular practice times all week.
Regular home practice is essential for student success. Short, daily practice sessions are more effective than one or two long sessions per week. The most important time for students to practice is right after their weekly lesson, to solidify what they have just learned. Research has shown that retention of new knowledge drops to 60% after only 24 hours. It’s not a good idea to wait until the end of the week, then “cram” practice right before the next lesson!
In order to make practice effective, it is important to set aside regular, fulfilling, and disciplined practice time. Showing up is half the battle. The one thing that must be in place before anything else is a regular practice schedule.
Students 12 and Under
One of the most valuable things that parents can impart to their children in a musical study is a sense of schedule and structure in their day-to-day life.
These are some optimal practice times for a young student’s daily routine:
- Before school: Children will have to get up earlier to do this, but if you work it into their schedule, you’ll have kids bursting with mental energy as they head off to school.
- After school: Getting children into the habit of practicing as soon as they come home from school in the afternoon fits nicely into a regular schedule and doesn’t take significant time away from homework or other activities. Their minds are still in learning mode right after school.
- Right after dinner.
- Mid-evening: This can be difficult to fit in around homework and other activities, as well as television and computer games.
- Right before bed is not ideal unless there are no other options. Only children who have a lot of energy later in the evening may benefit from practicing just before going to bed.
While mixing and matching practice times can work for some, for younger students it’s more effective to stick with one or two regular times of day.
Two things can get in the way of regular practice:
The first problem is lack of parental engagement early on. Parents can be a positive model by taking an active interest in their child’s musical life. It can be as simple as sitting with them while they are practicing. Practicing can be a lonely endeavour, especially for children who like company. Give them an audience!
The second problem is overbooking. Music students who are involved in too many extra-curricular activities don’t have a chance to fit in sufficient practice time in any activity because they are continually being shuttled to the next one
Have you ever wondered why traditional piano technique include scales, chords, and arpeggios played in all keys in a variety of ways, as well as finger dexterity exercises to build finger strength and independence?
Just as an athlete needs to warm up properly before more serious exertion, a musician needs to warm up before playing. This is particularly important for pianists, who need to develop a great deal of fluency. They play more notes per work than any other instrument. When you warm up your hands and fingers, your mind is being warmed up as well.
Here are some suggestions for interesting warm-up routines:
- Play standard techniques before playing repertoire. Play a wide variety of scales, chords, and arpeggios appropriate to your instrument and level. Don’t just repeat them mechanically, really listen for accuracy, quality of sound, and even tone. The goal of technical exercises is awareness as much as dexterity.
- Play various technical exercises or studies before playing repertoire. Hanon exercises (especially the first 20) are excellent and can be practiced in a limitless number of ways. Try various articulations, in all 12 keys, or with rhythms. Unlike traditional piano technique where the fifth finger rarely hits, using Hanon exercises as a warm up exercises fifth fingers.
- Try a physical warm-up like yoga or tai chi. Stretching exercises before practice can drastically cut down on the chance of physical injury from playing.
- Jump to the most problematic areas of your current repertoire and fix the spots that are giving you the most grief. Take them apart and practice them in new and interesting ways.
- Before launching into your regular work, play something you love, with the most beautiful sound you are capable of.
- Sight-read. Over the course of weeks or months, you can improve your reading skills to an incredible extent by setting aside time to sight read every day. What better time to do it than at the beginning of your session.
- Practice slowly. Just as athletes take it slow at the beginning of a training session, so should musicians. Work on a short section of a piece, whether problematic or not. Practicing slowly allows you to be in total command of your instrument and develop greater awareness of the music and your approach to it.
- Change things from time to time. The more interesting you can make your first few minutes at your instrument, the better off you will be for the rest of your time with it.