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How to get your students to practice the piano

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Imagine this: a young boy climbing into an attic to secretly practice his instrument. As any music teacher will tell you, this commitment is rare, despite the best efforts of the teacher. Even with endless patience and encouragement, lessons can quickly adopt a sense of déjà vu. G major might still miss that essential sharp after a term of teaching, or the tempo might remain as unsteady as a ship caught in Gale force 8 winds.

But with practice, as we all know, progress can be made. So how do you get your pupil to practice like the boy in the attic? 

Firstly, let us be honest. The boy in the attic was no ordinary musician. His career would see him write music for the grand pageantry of George I and one of his compositions has featured at every coronation since George II. This musician was, of course, George Frideric Handel.

Whilst the majority of students are unlikely to reach the musical heights of Handel, there are some simple teaching tricks that might just get that extra fifteen minutes of practice.

Practice in lesson

Try asking the student to practice a particular phrase for five minutes as they would at home. Say nothing and just observe. Do they just repeat the same phrase again and again? Do they get frustrated quickly? Then suggest some improvements such as singing the phrase or clapping the rhythms.

Enjoyment

The foundation of practice. With enjoyment, people invest much more time in an activity. Always challenge students when they say the piece or scales they are learning are boring. Pick out the exciting phrases and explain why they are enjoyable. Approach every piece with enthusiasm!  

Inspiration

With the rise of YouTube, finding a video of a stunning musician is almost immediate. Find an instrumentalist your student really engages with. Remember, they do not have to be the same instrument.  Pianists can be inspired by trombone players and singers, too!

VIDEO: András Schiff is sure to inspire!

Notebook

A really effective way for the student to keep an eye on what they need to practice. Write down goals and maybe even a practice plan.

Disappointment

Instead of showing your annoyance at a student's lack of practice, try to make them be the one who feels disappointed. Students quickly learn that they are ultimately practicing for themselves, not their teacher.

Hobbies

Can you link music to the student's other hobbies? If they enjoy football, could you use analogies that interest the student? This makes the teaching more personal and the music comes alive for the student.

Short and focused

Definitely the best way to practice. Try fifteen-minute practice sessions spread throughout the day. 

After all, practice is the route to improvement. As Mahātmā Gandhi once said, “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of teaching."

By Alec Coles-Aldridge. Alec is a student at the Royal College of Music studying for a Bachelor of Music Degree.

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