Month: February 2020

Making time for practice

“How much practice did you do this week?”

I remember dreading this question as an adult voice student because my answer would almost always be “not much”. I was in my early 20s, starting out a career in a fast-paced organisation, partying on Friday nights and trying to show up to lessons on Saturday mornings. Singing practice was unfortunately a low priority when there were so many competing interests for my time during the week.

Alas, as a teacher now, I find myself asking this same question to my young piano students: “How much practice did you do this week?”

The responses I get are varied. Some will incoherently mumble something (= not much practice), some will go straight into giving excuses (“I had a birthday party to go to”), and some will very confidently say, “I practiced a lot.”  (That last response is always great, but sometimes “a lot” in a seven-year old’s mind can be different to what I think of as “a lot”).

Hearing the same kinds of responses week-in week-out gave me pause to think, why am I asking this question? What information am I really trying to get from my students?

It’s not that I want to police their practicing. Rather, I’m trying to help them develop the skills needed to play the piano in a proficient and confident way, while fostering a lifelong love of music. Anything that gets in the way of that – such as lack of practice – is a problem that needs to be addressed.

What I’m really wanting to find out therefore is, “Did anything prevent you from practicing this week and if so, what was it?”

“I Didn’t Have Time”

There are many reasons why students don’t practice, not the least being that it’s not always fun to do. It can be tedious and repetitive, and the benefits from doing it aren’t always immediate. That being said, “I just didn’t want to practice” isn’t something any of my students say (even though that might well be the truth).

Rather, the most common answer I hear is “I didn’t have time”. Then they’ll proceed to tell me all the things that they did have time for – tennis, swimming, watching YouTube, etc. Just this week, I had a student tell me he couldn’t practice because his dad made him play board games with him all week!

So when a student says, “I didn’t have time to practice”, what they’re really saying is, “I didn’t make time to practice.”

The great thing about time is that we get a fresh batch of it every day when we wake up and to an extent, we can decide how we will spend that time. There are certain things we do every day that can’t be left off the list – going to school / work, eating meals, going to sleep, etc. We give our time over to these activities without even thinking about it – they are just what we need to do every day. We always have time to do these things because we make the time for them.

The key, therefore, to addressing this first roadblock to piano practice is to actually make the time to do it. To prioritise it as something that needs to be done on any given day, as much as we need to take a shower or brush our teeth.

How to Make Time

Board games with dad aside, some of my students really do have a lot on their plates and have formally scheduled activities almost every single day of the week. Activities include competitive sports (training and competition days), tutoring (yes, even the little ones do this a lot here), language lessons, extra-curricular activities at school, and of course piano lessons.

I can see why a lot of them think that the only time they can practice the piano is on a day when they don’t have something else scheduled in.

However, when you dig a little deeper, there are usually spaces in the day when they could easily do a practice session of 15 to 20 minutes. It just hasn’t occurred to them to allocate their time this way because piano practice isn’t something that is locked into their schedule. It’s different if you have to physically go to a tutoring class or if a teacher shows up at your doorstep. There’s a trigger for you to go and do the activity. But practicing the piano is pretty solitary and it doesn’t have an obvious trigger for action. It’s easy to forget to do it or even to deliberately do something else instead (TV anyone?).

To get around this, it’s essential to treat piano practice as an activity that needs to be scheduled in. In the same way that you would set aside time for a ballet or gymnastics class, you need to set time aside on certain days for practicing the piano. This changes piano practice from being something that “I’ll only do if I have spare time” to being something that “I have to do today because it’s in my schedule.”

An Inclusive Process

For my students who need it, we will take time during the lesson to go through their weekly timetables to see where they can make time to practice the piano. I really like to include them in this process because I think it’s important for them to take ownership of the commitment to practice and to be clear on what’s being asked of them. Having a conversation about it also creates accountability because they’re the ones telling me when they will have time and how much they can commit to doing. There’s clarity on what’s being agreed upon and therefore a higher chance they’ll follow through.

To make sure they don’t forget what we’ve agreed, we write on their practice assignment sheets the days of the week they will practice (and even the time of day if possible). This makes it easy to have a conversation the following week about how things went.

Most school-age students have a fairly set schedule during a school term so the practice times will remain the same every week for the most part. Eventually the practice schedule should become so routine that they no longer need it written out explicitly from week to week. An in-depth conversation about it doesn’t need to take place again until a new term starts or something changes with their other activities.


Days of the Week Faces

A Little Nudge from Parents

While it’s well and good to have practice times written down and scheduled in, we all still need reminders sometimes to do what we’re supposed to. By including students in the development of a practice schedule, I’ve tried to shift a large part of the responsibility for practicing to the students themselves. Depending on the age of the student however, they’ll probably still need mum or dad to give them a nudge every now and then to remind them that it’s time to practice. With a practice schedule in place though, hopefully there will be less debate about it and parents don’t have to be nagging machines on this subject.


Do you have a story to share about practice routines? Do your kids follow a schedule? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear about it!

Posted by Piano with Po, 0 comments