Saturday, April 24, 2010

My Take on Practicing

(Update: I just want to add that I am not pointing this post at anyone whose kids take piano from me. I have a great group of families and students. This really is a question I have to answer a lot when people call about piano lessons, and I thought it would be good to have my policy online so folks could access it easily.)

Often when folks ask me about teaching their kids piano, they want to know what expectations I have about practicing.

I try to work with my students' and their families' vision for music education. I understand that folks have things going on other than piano lessons, that perhaps music is not a central focus in their home, and that practicing can fall off the schedule pretty easily. I do not give guilt trips for not practicing 'enough', nor do I hand out prizes for students who practice.

But what is enough?

When a new family comes into my studio, I explain to them that the student gets out of piano lessons what he or she puts into it. If the student is only practicing a few minutes a couple of days per week, that student will not progress as quickly as a student who dedicates a half hour to practicing every day. I am fine with that to a certain extent (as long as the family understands that it is the lack of practicing that is slowing us down). However, I do not want the student getting discouraged. Discouraged students often quit piano, telling themselves that they failed at it.

That is not good.

I want my students to love music and be able to participate in it, so this means I need to help my students and their families figure out how to balance time constraints with the demands of practicing.

This is a sticky wicket.

I am a parent as well as a music teacher. We pay for two of our children to take private violin lessons. They have a great, detail-oriented teacher who is also one of the least expensive in our area, but still, tuition for their lessons takes the lion's share of our school budget every month. I realize that economics is not everything, but if I am paying that much for the kids to have private lessons, my frugal intuition says they had better be practicing at least thirty to sixty minutes every day so they can get as much mileage out of those lessons as possible.

It is easy to let other activities take over time that could be spent practicing an instrument. We have that issue at our house-- especially with three kids focusing on one to three instruments apiece (if you count the voice as an instrument, and I do) in a little house. We have to limit other things (and have to be willing to hear piano/violin/singing almost constantly) in order to meet practice requirements, and I am not always good at that myself, so I certainly understand how hard it is.

This doesn't change the fact that students get out of musical instrument lessons what they put into them. More practice equals more progress.

If the student's schedule is relaxed enough to have adequate time for practicing, but the student doesn't want to practice, that is another issue entirely. Perhaps a change in approach is necessary, or a little more composer study, or perhaps it is time to dwell at the same level for awhile, gaining additional fluency before moving on. But we cannot know for sure unless the student has time for practicing.

That is my take on practicing: it is good. Make time for it. I am not going to guilt-trip or manipulate my students into practicing, but music students need to understand that you get out of music lessons what you put into them.

Let's say it together: You get out of music lessons what you put into them.

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