Thursday, April 12, 2012

Teaching Piano Practice Strategies and "Pathways to Perfection"

Playing the piano is fun... but eager new students learn soon that practice takes effort, focus and diligent work. But what an exhilarating feeling it is to master a difficult passage, or rise to level of competency to play the songs you always dreamed about playing. I recently purchased this wall plaque with a quote that I LOVE! It applies well both to piano practice troubles and life in general.

To start out the new year in my studio I did a focus month on practice strategies using many of the fun game suggestions from one of my favorite Christmas presents - the book The Practice Revolution by Philip Johnston .
Although I already had been using several of the tools for practicing suggested in this book like identifying patterns, dividing and practicing in small sections and tackling difficult sections first, I picked up a lot of new great ideas that have been making lessons and practice time a bit more fun in our home.

Two of my favorite ideas were

  • When labeling form and dividing into practice sections let the student choose a name for each section. My younger students especially seemed to really enjoy this and used a broad range of labels that reflect their personalities... ice cream flavors, princesses, NFL heroes or fun names like Creepy Fingers, Squish & Slip n Slide that reflect the musical elements of that section. So instead of asking my son to "Practice the 'A' Section 3x," his practice session became an imaginary playful competition to see if he could beat his favorite football teams.
  • Have students record the practice steps they complete above each section so the student (and teacher) can quickly see at a glance what they accomplished during their home practice. For example if your typical prescribed practice steps are 1-L.H. slow, 2- R. H. slow 3 - Hands Together Slow 4- Hand Together w/ metronome at full tempo, etc., then the student writes the #s of the steps as they master them each day. Through this they can see their accomplishments and focus practice on spots that really need it rather than playing through songs mindlessly from start to finish with little improvement.
It was delightful to see one of my children playfully smiling and giggling through her practice and having fun using imaginary dice to play "The Great Race" practice game to improve one section of her music. For my "Kindergarten Piano Princess" rather than using numbers or letters to label different practice sections of the song, she chose to name them after her favorite Princesses- Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, etc. She approached her practice much more carefully when "battling" with her princesses, because she wanted to make sure she won the match.

Just a few mornings ago while I was nursing our newest baby boy around 1:00 a.m. (which happens to be my excuse for such sparse posts the last few months)...

I discovered the source of this inspiring quote in the book "Pathways to Perfection" by Thomas S. Monson.

"Can we not appreciate that our very business in life is not to get ahead of others but to get ahead of ourselves? To break our own records, to outstrip our yesterdays by our todays, to bear our trials more beautifully than we ever dreamed we could, to give as we have never given, to do our work with more force and a finer finish than ever - this is the true idea: to get ahead of ourselves.
To live greatly, we must develop the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness, and triumph with humility." - Thomas S. Monson
(To read the full article click here Thomas S. Monson "Yellow Canaries with Gray on Their Wings")

What an inspiring reminder! With 6 children in our family it can be easy for my kids to be in competition with each other and sometimes get discouraged when they don't measure up in wrestling, piano or school when compared with their older siblings. I think there definitely is a place for competition, but I love this reminder that ultimately life is about competing with our own yesterdays...making our good better, and our better best. I love how these strategies in the Practice Revolution help them to focus on doing that.


  1. I really like the idea to name sections of our music. I think I'll try that. Thank-you.

  2. Heidi, I love this post...esp. the quote. Thanks!