And here we have the mythical creature some call “Piano Practice”…

Today’s blog topic is inspired by a photo of a “music room” that belongs to one of my piano families. In this bright, open “I used to be a living room” room, there are several child-sized pieces of furniture, musical equipment that is always set up and ready to go, easily accessible containers to corral music materials (there are three children taking lessons for two instruments each – that’s a lot of books!), and colorful decorations (check out that piano!). It may not surprise you to learn that these kids love to practice, and it occurred to me that it might have something to do with how happy their practice environment is, and how seamlessly practice is incorporated into their everyday lives. For the young musicians in this family, practicing is not something you trudge off into a dark corner to do on your own. It’s a delightful detour as you skip your way downstairs and into the kitchen for a snack.

The Music Room: What a lovely space!

The Music Room: What a lovely space! Note the height-adjustable piano bench to accommodate even the smallest of aspiring pianists. ūüėÉ And how often do you get to play a turquoise piano?! (AWESOME!!)

I know not every family is able to dedicate an entire room in their home to music, and that’s OK. I’m also not suggesting¬†that you¬†go out and buy a truckload of new, petite furniture in order to lure your children into this mystical world of practicing. However, I do believe that¬†a few simple adjustments can go a long way to making music practice an everyday occurrence in your household, instead of a rarely seen (or heard) mythical creature.

The “Practice Nest”
In a blog post on teachpianotoday.com, Andrea Dow talks about¬†what she calls the “Practice Nest.” This is the idea of making your child’s practice environment a warm, supportive, and inclusive¬†place to be. And don’t we all want to be warm, supported, and included? She offers several tips for creating a “Practice Nest” in your home.

1. Select a location for your piano¬†that is lived-in, welcoming, and well-lit. Keep it close to¬†‚Äúthe action‚ÄĚ but not in the action. Your children will gravitate to the piano more often if it is in a central place¬†in your home. Avoid bedrooms, basements and other ‚Äúput away‚ÄĚ places. Feeling shut-off from the family while practicing¬†will inevitably¬†lead to a reluctance to spend time on the piano (as well as a possible side-issue of performance anxiety in public!).

When choosing an appropriate space, also consider the noise factor; not only from the piano, but also from your family’s day-to-day activities. Your children want to be close by, but not competing with household noise.

2. Make the space warm and welcoming. Is this a happy place to spend 30 minutes or more of nearly every day of the week? Small adjustments to lighting and heating can make a world of difference. Seek out places with natural light and ensure it is a cheerful and welcoming space that will encourage your child to visit the piano often for their own enjoyment. Involve your children in finding a few small objects that will make the space welcoming to them.

3. Ensure all required materials are at hand. Help your children put together a small basket or bin of everything they may need for home practice. Pencils and post-it notes will give your children a sense of organization that will then spill over into their practice habits. Your children will also need adequate lighting to see their music, and a comfortable bench at the correct height.

4. Make the ‚ÄúPractice Nest‚ÄĚ a communal¬†space.¬† Children of any age appreciate company while they practice (although the older ones will deny it!). Having seating¬†nearby where family members will be inclined¬†to pause, listen and enjoy the¬†music¬†immediately sets the tone for happy time on the piano. A set-up that is inclusive¬†will encourage the entire family to enjoy piano practice time.

5. Set the stage for organization. Ensure your children’s practice space is uncluttered and organized. Clear out old books and papers from the piano bag and general piano area. Use an organizer to hold current and favorite materials. Minimize irrelevant knickknacks from the top of the piano. Try to avoid having the piano room filled with laundry, toys, and other distractions. Having the books your children need at their fingertips reliably ensures that no time is spent searching for lost or crumpled music. Being organized also ensures your children know where all of their materials are when it comes time to go to lessons! After each lesson, get into the habit of placing piano books back into their appropriate space as soon as you return home.

6.¬†Add small surprises to your “Practice Nest.”¬†Fresh flowers, a hand-written note¬†of encouragement, a small treat, or a new sticker pad can help show your children that you value the time they are spending on the piano and that you appreciate their efforts and dedication. Preserving the ‚Äúspecialness‚ÄĚ of their practice space encourages positive feelings towards their home music time.

It is so important to have the right environment, tools, and attitude when it comes to practicing music. Practice is not something that kids inherently love to do or want to do – when you think about it, practicing embodies almost everything kids don’t like to do: it’s hard, it takes a long time, they have to sit in one place to do it, and they have to do the same thing over and over and over. As parents, we need to gently cultivate a love for learning through practice. The ability to work at something until success is achieved is a skill that will benefit our children their entire lives.

So if you’re starting to think that piano practice in your home is approaching extinction (or maybe never really existed in the first place), consider some of the ways in which you can create a “Practice Nest” in your home. See what small changes you can make this weekend that will have a big impact on practice habits. If you try some of these ideas or come up with ideas of your own, drop me a comment and share them with me!

Everything With A Purpose

"Fun" Jobs Deck :)

“Fun” Jobs Deck :)

Has your student asked you to help with a “job” yet this term? If so, fantastic! You probably helped complete a Wild, Wild West incentive job for the week! Successful performance of this job enabled your student to take one more step towards the completion of this term’s incentive game.

This assigned job also served a greater purpose in overall musical development – it allowed your student to focus on an important task or skill that we covered during lessons that week, or that your student has been working to improve over time.

  • Struggling with specific measures in a song? Teach them to someone else!
  • Finding rhythm challenging? Make up a rhythm game to play with me next week!
  • Practice technique a little spotty? Use your Practice Abacus this week!

Sometimes it’s difficult to cover everything I want in the detail that I want during a 30 minute lesson. (Wait – who am I kidding?? That’s like every week and every lesson!!) The weekly jobs really go a long way towards reinforcing concepts covered only briefly during lessons, and allow the student to discover how to apply these concepts on his/her own. This kind of experiential, real-time learning is essential for building long-term memory storage and recall of what we are learning in piano lessons. And isn’t this what we all want? Yippee!!

“But I don’t play piano!” How any parent can enable effective practicing

Several parents have asked me recently how they can help their student get more out of piano lessons, especially if the parents have limited/no musical knowledge. This is a great question, and it shows that you, as a parent, are taking an active interest in your student’s music lessons. (And you should‚Ķ You’re investing in them, after all!) Learning piano (or any instrument, really), involves more than just showing up for¬†a weekly 30 minute lesson. In fact, most of the reinforcement of new concepts occurs during valuable practice time. This is why practice is so important, and why this is actually the area in which parents can make the biggest difference in how much their student benefits from piano lessons.

I’m sharing with you a list that the cool folks at teachpianotoday.com published in one of their blog posts. It’s a list of things any parent can do – musical background or not. Please feel free to discuss any of these with me at your student’s next lesson!

How I can Help My Child with Piano Lessons

How I can Help My Child with Piano Lessons

THIS IS HOW YOU CAN HELP YOUR CHILD BE SUCCESSFUL IN PIANO LESSONS!

1. ¬†Provide a good in-tune home instrument¬†‚Äď Having a decent instrument at home¬†is paramount to the success of your piano student‚Äôs lessons. ¬†Without a way to properly practice at home, your child will feel inadequate come lesson time and will rapidly lose motivation and interest.

2. ¬†Attend lessons regularly with all needed materials and a well-rested child¬†‚Äď Regular attendance ensures that your child progresses. Progression leads to feelings of self-confidence and achievement. ¬†Piano students need their books at every lesson as well as any other materials suggested by their teacher. ¬†Keep books organized at home and teach your child learn to be responsible for their materials.

Children learn best when they are well-rested (not only in terms of sleep, but also in terms of ‚Äúextracurricular over-load‚ÄĚ) and when they are healthy. ¬†Sick piano kids don‚Äôt retain very much‚Ķ and result in sick piano teachers!

3. ¬†Establish a consistent and daily practice routine¬†‚Äď Piano lessons are one of the few extracurricular activities that require daily attention. Choose a specific time of day that works for your family (before school, after dinner, after the bath etc.) and make piano practice a regular and consistent event every single day. ¬†Avoid times that are hectic or rushed, remove distractions (like the TV or smaller siblings) and try to be in the vicinity to offer encouragement and/or help with piano practice. ** I cannot emphasize enough how important this item is!! **

4. ¬†Be Positive‚Ķ provide constant encouragement¬†‚Äď Comment often on your child‚Äôs progress. ¬†Remember the names of the pieces they are working on and make requests as you go about your day to encourage regular visits to the piano. ¬†Show your pride by sharing videos, photos or musical phone calls with friends and family. Help your child to identify themselves as a ‚Äúpianist‚ÄĚ.

5.  Stay involved!  Show that you value music by providing live-music opportunities, encouraging your child’s participation in recitals and performances and being a part of their daily practice in some way (even if it’s only as a happy listener). Seek out opportunities to involve music in your daily routines (some great ideas here!).

As we continue our Wild West practice incentive, students will be performing jobs that will involve other members of their family. Please help them to make these jobs fun and enable them to complete them!