“Those who move mountains begin by removing small stones”-Chinese Proverb
Although the idea of really moving a mountain by removing small stones may seem daunting, it is the concept behind it that we want to apply to our practice habits. As a matter of fact, we can apply that to any task that may seem as big as a mountain in our lives…
But, how exactly can a music student apply the “removing small stones” technique to their practice? As much as I’ve loved to play the piano, there are just a couple of things that have bothered me about it, but it just comes with the package. One of those things is the fact that every time we start to learn a new song, it is like starting all over again. Maybe you’re thinking, “well of course you’re starting all over again”, but let me explain why it bothers me.
There has been songs that I’ve worked very hard to finish, and some songs may take a couple of months to perfect (and I’m talking about advanced level music). There is a feeling of empowerment and conquer when I get to that point where I’ve “mastered” a hard song. It is just a beautiful feeling to be able to control and manipulate every aspect of a song to produce a desired effect….and then I start on a new song, and I find myself starting all over again. This has been a humbling experience throughout my life.
This same feeling is sometimes felt by my young students. And, that is why I’ve made it a goal to provide them with consistent practice habits that will yeild consistent, productive results. If you haven’t takent the time to glance over your son/daughter’s music, please do it. You will probably notice that I’ve made vertical lines throughout the entire song. I call these Practice Marks. You will also notice that at the end of each practice mark, I label either “2x” or “3x” or more. This means that I am suggesting that the student repeat each Practice Section that many times AT LEAST. The ideal process would be that the student does not leave that Practice Section until it is FLUENT regardless of how slow it might sound.
The idea and goal is that the students will do short, concentrated practices daily instead of just trying to play the entire practice song everyday. Playing over the songs may take up the “required” time for the student to practice at home, but doesn’t necessarily mean they are improving. On the other hand, just because the student does not spend a long time at the piano, it doesn’t mean that the student is slacking off. Now, we have to be careful with this since every individual is different. One size doesn’t fit all in this case.
The method of practice that I am promoting here is focused on the actual product rather than the process. Many times students practice mindlessly just to attain the approval of the parents’ time expectancy. Another focus when practicing in this manner is the feeling of small successes. I divide the song into a couple of Practice Sections knowing that they will probably be successful with the section soon and thus be motivated to practice in the same manner with the subsequent sections. This kind of practice method can be applied at all levels of piano study and will make the young or seasoned pianist feel equally motivated.
I understand that, in most parents cases, you have no real clue as to how to gauge your son/daughter’s progress. The most logical would be quantity, whether it be in songs, practice time, or individual’s motivation. I spend a substantial amount of time teaching, yes songs, but more than that, I enforce this and other practice habits during your child’s piano lesson. I do this until I can understand that my students are using effective practice methods. Learning how to practice effectively goes way beyond me, the teacher; it is making your child/self and independent learner, an effective learner, and a life long learner.