Practicing Music, Part 1: How to Make It Happen
Today I am going to discuss practicing music! For the next few months, I will dedicate a post to the subject of practicing about every four weeks, because it is something many parents and students struggle with. Practicing is a huge topic that brings up an abundance of questions, but the most common one is: "How do I get my child to practice??" In today's post, we are going to tackle this very conundrum!
I want to start off by talking about schedules. As the school year begins, many students are extremely busy and over-scheduled with no time to practice their instrument between lessons. Music, instead of becoming a source of enjoyment and enrichment, instead creates anxiety on top of school stress, leading to discouragement and the student eventually quitting lessons. A parent may also feel that their money and time is being wasted and threaten to end lessons if the student does not begin practicing.
As a music instructor, I want to emphasize that if a student is honestly too busy to practice, they will still make progress by attending weekly music lessons. This is super important!
Will progress happen more slowly? Yes. The alternative, though, is stopping lessons completely, at which point progress will come to a complete halt!
When family schedules prevent practice time, I like to have an open discussion between myself, the student, and the parent(s) so that we are all on the same page. Lessons can be setup differently so that during the 30 minutes we have together, the student still gets valuable practice and playing time to work on core music concepts. Expectations for progress get altered: the goals we have for the student will take more time to reach, but they will still be reached.
Now let's move on to the scenario of a student having the time, but practice still not happening. Some might say that this is a motivation issue, but I don't believe motivation is the main problem. Any professional musician can tell you that they are not always motivated to practice, yet they still manage to. This is the vital difference between relying on motivation versus relying on dedication and routine.
It is ok and normal to not feel motivated on certain days! We are only human, and there are numerous distractions in our everyday lives to keep us from practicing. That's when we need routine to help us stay dedicated to playing our instrument
So what does a practice routine look like?
First, have a space specifically for practicing. If your child is a piano student, practice space will be wherever the piano is located in the house. If he or she plays a more transportable instrument, you can both choose the practice space together. Keep the space consistent and accessible, so that when the student sits down their mind goes into "practice mode." For instance, it could be a corner of a bedroom where a music stand is already set up and the instrument case is close by. Be sure that the area is well lit and as quiet as possible to encourage focus and productivity
For myself, other small routines help me get into my music studio. I used to light a candle, which gave my studio warmth and a pleasant, calming aroma. Now that my fiancé bought me an essential oils diffuser, I'll put some peppermint and orange oil in there for energy and focus.
My 15 minutes of stretching is also part of my routine, so that after it's done I'm in a "practice zone," and doing anything except practicing seems silly. Your student could do a few simple stretches (touching toes, reaching arms up overhead) while listening to music that inspires them. After a few minutes of listening to their goal piece, the student will be more likely to practice so that they can attain that goal.
Another tool to set a routine is to create a schedule and stick to it. Instead of writing in practice as it happens, schedule practice ahead of time on a simple practice chart. For fun printable charts, I go to this website: https://makingmusicfun.net/htm/printit-oliver-sticker-practice-chart.php.
For instance, Mondays are simply too busy, so go ahead and cross that off the schedule. Tuesdays, though, have an open time right after dinner when 15 minutes of practicing could happen, so write in "7 pm--15 min" in that day's slot. Make the student feel that they are a part of the process and are making the decision to practice during these times, not just being told to. Each time they follow the schedule, put a sticker or a check mark on that day so that over time, they can see all of the work they have put into their instrument!
For an older and slightly more advanced student, a practice journal is an effective tool to create routine and to also encourage mindfulness. The website pianopantry.com has wonderful resources in this area!
To sum up the most important points about how to make practice happen:
If the student absolutely does not have any time to practice, attending weekly lessons will still equal improvement and progress, albeit at a slower rate
Rely on routine, not motivation
Create a dedicated practice space that is pleasant to be in and encourages focus
Attach other small and enjoyable actions to the beginning of practice time, such as stretching or listening to a favorite song
Come up with a practice game plan together
Keep track of practicing, either with a simple chart or a more detailed journal, so that hard work and progress can be seen
Stay positive and focus on accomplishments! Playing a musical instrument should in the end be enjoyable and rewarding, not a source of stress
That's all for Part 1 in my "How to Practice" series. Next month, I'll discuss what practicing should look like for different levels of students so that it is as effective and efficient as it can be.
If you have any questions or comments, leave them down below!