THE MOST INTEGRAL PART OF LEARNING A NEW SKILL IS THE
TIME SPENT OUTSIDE OF LESSONS IN DEVELOPING WHAT IS LEARNED.
Therefore, if you are investing in this journey, for yourself and your child, this is information you cannot do without.
In today’s world, many parents are confused about ‘piano practice’, after experiencing undue pressure, or force when they were a child, or just not knowing where the boundary is – how to apply encouragement without discouragement (push). Sometimes the parents would like lessons without practice - ‘just for fun’ - believing this to be the middle ground. Some parents think their child should practice on their own… that if they see their child not practicing, they believe their child is not committed.
I hope to offer ways and understanding through this, as:
while there are so many beautiful but complicated skill sets in the world that we see people performing… we need to know that even with natural talents thrown in, none are achieved without commitment to their development and support along the way. –
No one at the Golden Globes thanks ‘me, myself and I’ in their acceptance speeches.
Imagine your child confident and elated with the joy of achieving something amazing. Really achieving it, through persistence and struggle, ease and fun. Your child could do anything! They’d have the knowledge to work through difficulty, to enjoy the reward of smooth sailing and success, of sharing what they have. Life won’t knock them down easily.
You couldn’t put a price on it.
This is the hidden golden nugget that can be offered in a journey of learning any awe-inspiring skill set.
This is the middle ground that we can encourage from and I’ll list strategies as we read on.
For students to have success at this I believe it requires a team effort between all parties involved, including the right kind of understanding, help, encouragement and support. Because learning piano IS difficult at first – especially when a student is yet to see for themselves, the passage from ‘can’t-to-can’.
This article will outline the:
understanding of the scope of the content students are learning
commitments and responsibilities of the student, supporting parent, and teacher
my HOW TO PRACTICE formula for peak achievement (living document)
Understanding the scope of content and commitment to development:
The world of piano, you or your child are learning, is a VAST one… with whole new languages in written structures and performance concepts.
It can seem insurmountable and too hard, but thousands and thousands of people around the world are achieving, contributing and experiencing the joy and reward of it – through their commitment.
There is no getting around this one, no matter how much raw talent a student may have, nothing is achieved without commitment to the development of skill.
This is due to how the brain and muscles learn and store memory – working-memory, short-term memory and long-term memory. (A topic for another time).
One lesson, once a week, will not develop a student’s skill set alone, especially when learning piano.
Could someone learn to speak fluent French in 30 minutes a week? Most would not expect good results from this, but for some reason, there can be expectations that learning piano can be done in this way, with no outside commitment. Or, some, even the most well-meaning parents, expect this to be a journey that is easy for their child and feel that their child should be able to practice without their input or encouragement, simply because they want to.
To give you a small idea, piano students are learning:
2 completely different sets of notation – bass and treble – while reading them simultaneously, and creating a ‘see-do’ response to them in their hands, which are coordinating 2 separate actions together.
the language of rhythm, written and internal, to also respond and coordinate to.
myriads of muscle techniques and patterns, in 2 hands coordinating separately, that don’t naturally occur in other activities.
memorising vast amounts of structures and patterns that contribute to musical creation.
This is a challenge for any human being, but can be particularly overwhelming for the young child at first. I think with this in mind, we can start to see where the right kind of support is essential for the practising student.
To do this, we need a clear outline of our roles, along with strategies to achieve them.
Commitment and roles of the Teacher, Parent and Student:
To provide learning in a positive way that can be understood by each individual student.
To understand the goals and desires of the student in their musical journey, and/or help inspire them.
To ensure that the student has the knowledge needed for independent practice in the home.
To provide inspiration for the setting of goals, for motivation and enjoyment
To provide positive opportunities for the experience of success, to encourage perseverance.
To provide understanding to the student of the ups, downs and plateaus that occur in learning skill sets, for the resilience to perservere.
To offer practice strategies for use in the home for optimal development
To be receptive to new skill sets being taught.
To commit to the development of the skill sets by applying effective practice techniques at home.
To meet the practice goals set to the best of their ability.
To be open to the understanding that skill sets are not always learned quickly and easily – that difficult CAN become easy – that the journey cannot happen without mistakes.
“The master has failed millions of times more than the beginner has even tried.”
To provide understanding and encouragement to the student of the ups, downs and plateaus that occur in learning skill sets, for the resilience to peservere.
To provide aid in remembering practice schedules (whatever these look like – see extra tips below)
To provide an instrument that sounds and feels good and will develop pianistic technique
To read the practice information in the homework books and correspond with the teacher.
To encourage their children to apply the practice formula* and strategies provided.
Remembering to practice (development and play times) - strategies for the parent
First, lets call it ‘development and play time’ – or ‘making it awesome’ time, depending on what your child prefers. The word practice, is vague to the child, and usually promotes images of drilling with no real purpose.
Keep the piano in a visible place, that is easy to get to at any time.
Have the practice book set up at the piano on a relevant page at all times. This encourages 'visiting' practice. See it, play it. THIS WORKS!
Choose a quality instrument that is fun to play. (THIS IS VITAL - the instrument's sounds and feel are paramount to the enjoyment of playing it. If it feels or sounds horrible or has broken keys, it simply won't get practiced on).
Find regular times and days that work with your schedules. (eg: when dinner is being cooked, after the teeth are brushed at night, etc).
Reward Cards can be ticked off with a prize awarded. (While we like our children to be intrinsically motivated... incentive rewards are a great help! We use this as adults... after a session of hard work, I reward myself with a large cup of tea. We celebrate achievements with champagne. My Mother used chocolate to encourage my practice and it worked like a charm).
Check the homework book to see what they are practicing and to ensure they focus where they need. Sometimes the students need help where to 'start' (put their hands, etc)... and those tips are often written in their method books and homework books, and can be pointed out by the parent.
Remind your children to...
be patient with their fingers when learning new songs. (learning to dance)
use their 'cheat sheets' to help them when they get stuck.
try a little bit at a time. (One note, or bar at a time. MAKE THE TASK SMALLER).
It’s important to avoid PRESSURE WORDS, like 'You must'.
"Let's see what you can do, after you practice this 3 times,”
stop watch games can be motivating for some students, while off putting to others.
*Specific Practice Strategies and Formulas for the student
Please expect updates on these methods as I expand my own knowledge and the world also brings new knowledge to bear here.
It’s not THAT you practice… it’s HOW you practice.
It’s an incredible advantage that we have in being given awareness of, and access to, the scientifically formulated strategies and knowledge in how the brain learns in this Century.
I aim to apply a few of these so students can keep up the inspiration, motivation and perseverance that are often killed by the old boring, drilling and repetitive practice techniques of yore.
4 main facts I used to create my suggested practice formula are:
The brain will retain memory when it’s producing endorphins. In other words, enjoying what you are doing, goes a long way towards retaining a new skill. The brain needs to be kept engaged and not be bored – repetition needs to be monitored around engagement.
The brain will discard all new information that isn’t inputted at least 3 times a week. It’ll expand on new skill sets when practiced 4-5 times a week. Simply put, if your child doesn’t work with new information given in the lesson, it will be forgotten and need to be retaught. (Discouraging and boring for both student and teacher).
Slow down to Speed Up. Fingers and brains will learn new patterns faster when given the opportunity to inspect and FEEL the correct pattern from the get go. Playing at a speed that allows success, no matter how slow, will speed up the retention of that pattern.
The brain remembers the LAST way it played a pattern.
THE MAGIC FORMULA FOR FASTER SUCCESS IN LESS TIME!
-A minimal formula that allows for all areas of learning to be remembered in practice schedules, without becoming dry and repetitive, using techniques that allow skills to be developed faster.
(This not to say that a student can’t have random play sessions, where you simply choose from your repertoire and play for pure enjoyment. After all, THAT’S what it’s all about. =D But we call this play, not development).
Structure development practice in this order:
1. Learn / Improve
2. Drop and Swap – maintenance and exercises
Techniques used in development:
Detective Inspector Technique
Detective Inspector - Closely inspecting a section of music for interpretation. Looking for notation, fingering, rhythm, dynamics and articulation – seeing patterns and structures that may occur, on the page and on the piano.
Slow Motion - The patterns are played, with ALL notation included at a speed that is slow enough to play it correctly – this gives the fingers the opportunity to FEEL the movements that will achieve success from the beginning. Repetition of this correct pattern, will learn a lot more quickly than repetition of different patterns (ie mistakes that happen when played too quickly).
Safe-Keep - The song or exercise is played once through, at a speed that ensures a correct pattern. Do not be tempted to rush through, with a series of mistakes. This is due to the fact that the brain remembers the LAST way it plays a pattern – it will ruin good work that you may have put in earlier to learn it. A maintenance technique will reinforce and improve what you’ve learned as well. This is a true golden nugget of information, for success in shorter time periods – but takes patience to implement. ‘Slow down to speed up’.
Learn and Improve
Student chooses a section of a new song and/or exercise to learn, employing the Detective Inspector and Slow Motion. The section will be worked, employing development strategies, until the brain gets bored of it, aiming for achievement of the new skill. Student can also set themselves a timer if they prefer. Achievement can happen in one practice session, or it may happen over a series of practice sessions.
Drop & Swap
The instant the brain gets tired of learning the new patterns, students go through a series of dropping one exercise for another. They choose between a list of technique development exercises, and songs, that they are maintaining. It’s important that students use the Safe Keep technique for all songs/exercises/parts of songs that they are not choosing to develop further today.
THE most important part of your development practice. Do not miss this bit.
After dropping and swapping the brain is refreshed enough to return to the chosen section for the day, for development. Apply the Safe Keep technique, running the pattern through a few times to ‘lock it in’. Keep this pattern as your ‘learn improve/reinforce’ until it’s good enough to transfer into your Drop and Swap list.