When I sit down to practice, I usually set a practice goal. The practice goal is pretty clear and not needing a lot of thought when I have to have a piece ready to go for the next day. Practice goals become more important when I have a bunch of pieces that are in different states of readiness. At any one time, I have a number of pieces that I’m working on that are scheduled to be performed at different times.
Much of this comes from my job as a church organist where there’s a weekly requirement to have new music ready. Fortunately, I have a lot of experience doing this, so it’s pretty routine. My students, however, may be new to this, or have at most a few years of figuring out how to manage their practice. For that reason, I like to help all my students learn how to set a practice goal each time they sit down to practice.
What Does Practice Look Like For A Beginner?
For the beginning pianist, practice is going to be pretty straightforward. Read through all of the pieces in the assignment, and then repeat two or three times. Stop along the way if you need to figure out the notes, or clap the rhythm. You might remember that I talk about establishing good practice from the beginning in the post Guide Your Child to Independent Practice.
How Does Practice Change for the Intermediate Student?
An issue I see frequently is when a pianist moves on to early intermediate repertoire where pieces typically double in length and become more difficult. No longer is it possible to practice every piece cover to cover in each practice session with good results. Intentional practice becomes a lot more important for this student. Why? The tendency is to start from the beginning, which means that sometimes the student doesn’t get to the end. Ever!
I typically will notate practice zones in the score. Sometimes I map them to the recognizable structure of the piece, like exposition, development, and recapitulation. At other times, I might just choose zones that equalize the amount of difficulty in each section so that there is a similar amount of material to be practiced each day. If there are three sections, and a student practices six days a week, she can cover each zone twice during the week. This fixes the problem of getting really good at the first page or two while neglecting the rest of the piece or movement.
Practice Often Includes Other Things
Many of my students forget to budget time to do other parts in their lessons plan. Technique comes to mind, even though I’m not specifically addressing technique in this post. It also might be a little homework assignment or activity page, which is really theory work. Depending on the size of this supplemental work, you might choose to do a little bit each day, or two or three times per week. Typically it’s not good to do it all at once unless it really is a small assignment.
It’s really easy for me to preach practice goals when I’m not the one enforcing them in the home. However, it’s my goal to be a partner with the parent and the student to make practice a normal part of each day’s activities. Please let me know how I can provide the support and guidance you need, no matter where you are in your piano journey. Certainly doing a little bit each day, moving forward bit by bit, is going to get you far when weeks become months, and months become years.