One of the most popular posts on my blog is one from August of 2009 when I wrote about throwing out the practice log, just as I was starting a new term. Four years later, I wrote an update. I was sold on not requiring students to keep a log of the amount of time they practiced. 12 years later, I still am.
-Students fill it in on the drive to the lesson, and it’s not accurate
-The amount of time spent on the bench doesn’t always indicate whether or not the student made any progress.
-I teach students techniques for being efficient practicers. So, why would I reward them for taking longer?
-I am not the practice police.
You can read more about my reasons on the links to the previous posts, but here’s an update about what I *do* do.
When I start a beginner, I often draw five circles on the page of music and have them check a circle each day that they return to practice that piece. My youngest students are the ones who need to learn how to establish the practice habit, and they are also the ones who most enjoy showing off their record of practicing. I don’t give rewards for this other than verbal praise. I reward for finished pieces. Sometime during the first year, I quietly let this circle method fizzle out. Sometimes a student will say, “Ms. Laura, you forgot the circles!” If they want them, I draw them. If they don’t notice, I let it go. By the end of the year, I seldom have students checking circles.
This past school year, I have begun using Tonara. In general, I like the app, but I’m completely indifferent about the feature of recording practice minutes. Some of my students like it, and enjoy trying to improve their standing on the leaderboard. If they bring it up and talk about it, I get excited with them. Otherwise, I ignore it. I’m just not interested in whether they practiced for 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or 50 minutes. I’m interested in whether their pieces improved. Some students can make improvements in small amounts of time. Some can sit at the piano for long amounts of time and not get any better. In fact, this is one thing that I have found useful about the Tonara practice minutes. If I see that a student really is practicing a lot, but not improving, I know I need to do some work at helping them be more effective practicers or I need to give them easier music. But, I can usually tell that without seeing their practice minutes.
One of the first questions I often get from parents is “How long should my child practice?” I know it must be frustrating to them when I say, “that’s going to vary from child to child, from piece to piece, from day to day, from year to year,” but that’s the truth. So now, I still say that, but I also say, “In general, a first year student can do their daily practicing in about 20 minutes, but sometimes it might take more or less. My biggest concern in the first year is that they establish the habit of getting to the piano 4-6 days a week with 5 as the solid average. My second concern is that they learn to set goals for what they want to accomplish in each piece, create a plan for how to achieve those goals, and then execute the plan successfully. That’s a pretty high order skill for a 1st or 2nd grader, so they’ll need me to describe the process many times, and they’ll need you to help them at home.”
If you are a piano parent interested in my Piano Apprentices course, you’ll be happy to know that each lesson of this first year beginner course includes a video explaining exactly how to practice! I explain what to do and how to know whether or not you’ve finished a piece. And of course, you’ll be able to submit a video to me for personalized feedback. This is actually a better deal than my in-person students get since you have that practice video to view all week long! Click on Programs above to learn more.