Let’s face it: Kids don’t always look forward to practice, even if they enjoy playing piano. Parents can easily get overwhelmed and forget to check if daily practice occurs. The result? Piano progress sometimes comes to a grinding halt. That is where you can guide your child to independent practice.
It Takes Time
Independent practice typically emerges once a child is past the early elementary school years. When it comes earlier, it’s a real blessing. But, even then, it can abruptly stop when a child hits a plateau, or other interests take precedence. Roblox, anyone?!
If you have a young beginner, you will have to sit with your child during part or all of their practice. When your child shows independence, you can do regular check-ins instead of monitored practice.
Fallacy vs Reality
Fallacy: If my kid likes playing piano, he should be inspired to practice on his own, even at age six or seven.
Reality: All of us have activities that we love but are challenging to begin. Even for me, practicing can be difficult to start. There are other things we don’t enjoy, but the result makes the task worthwhile – washing dishes, taking out the garbage, and doing laundry.
Bottom Line: Kids need reminders to do chores and homework; piano practice is similar!
Structuring the Practice Session
If you have a younger child, consider helping to structure her practice time. For a 5- or 6-year-old, this might be just 10 or 15 minutes per day. An 8-year-old can do 20 minutes per day, and a 10-year-old and above can handle a half-hour of practice, especially as she approaches intermediate repertoire. Set a timer at first. Eventually, the child will get a good sense of how long practice should be.
Checking the Work
Once this routine is established, see if your child can take it over himself. Once you move from monitoring to check-ins, ask if the entire assignment is covered. There are always several elements, like technique, theory, sight reading, and pieces. If you don’t understand the assignment, ask your child or your child’s instructor to describe it to you.
Have They Covered Everything?
Once they get started, kids often like to practice, but they sometimes willfully neglect parts of the assignment. There is no particular pattern since some kids avoid theory and technique and just practice pieces. Some do the opposite since technique is often a quicker success than learning a new piece!
Confession: When I was a graduate student at Juilliard, I didn’t spend as much time on keyboard harmony as I should have. I wasn’t alone in that regard; much of my class came minimally prepared for assignments since we wanted to spend most of our time practicing repertoire!
Stay Interested Beyond Independence
Even when your child has reached independence, stay interested in what she is doing. It can be as simple as asking to hear a piece she is playing. Be sure to ask once in a while if she still finds the piano fun and meaningful. Sometimes a child might want to explore different repertoire or a certain popular piece. I allow my older students to have a more significant say in what we do in lessons, but it’s ultimately up to them to speak up.
Awards Versus Rewards
Everyone has ideas about awards and rewards. Younger children should get frequent and lavish weekly praise, which I reward through stars on accomplished pieces. You might reward your child with ice cream after a successful lesson. As a child gets older, I switch from rewards to awards to appeal to the child’s intrinsic motivation. That is what will lead to the child becoming a musician for life.
Intrinsic motivation leads to the student playing a piece successfully at a recital, achieving a commendation at a music festival, or achieving a long-term goal. These awards are a lot more important than a star on the page or an ice cream cone. An award can also be given for achieving 50 days of practice, learning all the major five-finger patterns, or all the two-octave scales in minor keys.
Independent practice isn’t something that just happens. Every successful piano student has a piano parent who takes the time to be involved to some degree and in the appropriate amount. The role of the piano teacher is essential, but it’s just part of the success.
Most of the work is to be done by the student at home. It won’t always be smooth sailing. However, great things can happen when student, teacher, and parent work together! At the very least, we have a lot of fun along the way.
If you liked this article, please visit the complete list of Classic Practice Corner Posts. You’ll find posts on other teaching subjects categorized there as well.