The following entry was written by Joseph Mook, one of our piano teachers in Columbus. Joseph graduated from the Ohio State University, with his degree in Music Education with Piano as his primary focus, but also plays trumpet and violin. His enthusiasm for music is contagious, and his knowledge invaluable. Please enjoy the following entry about getting the most out of your practice time!
When students first begin to take music lessons, it’s only natural that they really don’t have a whole lot to practice. For example, they could just be learning simple rhythms of quarter and half notes paired with only three to four pitches, with songs lasting a whopping fifteen seconds. However as they start to progress and their songs/ pieces become longer and more complex, they might find it hard to practice in a more efficient method. Most likely, students will want to practice the whole song over and over again and quickly tire of the process, causing their practice schedule to be spotty and short-lived. Others will progress in certain spots or aspects and will want to only practice those areas, completely ignoring the rest.
There are a few key ways to effectively utilize what little practice time students have today. Here are a few you can try with your child (or yourself!):
(1) If already playing pieces with both hands, take hands apart and practice each hand separately. This really works if the student has just recently started learning to play with both hands. Caution must be taken not to play the simpler hand’s part (usually left hand) with a much faster tempo than what the other hand is ready for. When both hands are combined again, it should be a tempo that the student can handle.
(2) The last part of the previous point leads to this: play at a slower tempo. Sometimes this will have to be very slow and tedious, and most younger students will want to simply rush through everything, but it allows the student to securely understand the music and what their fingers have to do.
(3) Identify the hardest sections and focus on them. They can be as small as two to three beats, or as long as three measures. It really depends on the complexity of the music. Don’t focus on the easy parts, or parts you’ve already mastered. Sure, it might be a confidence boost, but it’s taking away time from the parts that really do need more work. It’s that simple!
(4) Study the music—don’t just play through it! Students should look for clear patterns, any group of notes and rhythms that happen to pop up in different parts of the piece. This helps in two ways: first, the student isn’t as psychologically burdened by the immensity of the music—they now know it may only be eight measures that look and sound different, that are only repeated later on and modified slightly at the end. Second, they also know they can practice these first few measures and only practice the slight changes later on in the music. Students can understand patterns as early as preschool, so this should be talked about as early as possible.
(5) Put it all together! Now that certain trouble-making sections are tamed, students will need to make sure they can easily transition between these and other parts. If it was smaller-scale, it might mean linking measures. A major connection issue is always going from page to page, so be sure that is secure.
To recap, these are the biggest common practice techniques: practice hands separated, slowly and carefully. Focus on the hardest sections, and take time to study the music for patterns and see the overall structure. Wrap it all up by putting everything back together. There are also plenty of other techniques that can be individualized to the student’s needs and learning styles. So stay tuned- for more to come!
– Joseph M.