Why are we constantly searching for ways to motivate our students to practice consistently? I think Philip Johnson sums it up perfectly when he says:
“If practicing fails, then the lessons fail. It’s that simple, and it’s that important.”
We know as teachers that the only way lessons are going to be effective is if the student is practicing effectively at home. Without practice, we start each week from scratch, hoping that some of what we taught a week before has stuck with the student through a full week of school, homework, video games, television, and more. Once we have bridged the gap between weekly lessons with consistent practice the student is much more likely to remember what we worked on and to be ready for new concepts and pieces.
But, do you ever have a student who promises they practiced throughout the week even though there is no apparent progress? Maybe these students really don’t know how to practice. Philip Johnson’s book The Practice Revolution is all about teaching our students to get the most out of their practice time. I would recommend this book to any music teacher, not only will it help you teach your students to practice better, you may also learn some helpful strategies to incorporate into your own practice. Here are some points from the book that I’ve found most helpful:
1. Shift the attention from quantity to quality. The best way to accomplish this shift is to give the student specific goals for each piece. Once they have completed these goals, their practice for the week is complete.
2. Set up challenges for each piece, for example, “be able to play Page 1, from beginning to end THREE TIMES IN A ROW, with no false notes, and correct fingerings throughout.”
3. Teach students to avoid common practice flaws such as “shiny object polishing.” Johnson describes this flaw as “spending all their practice time working on things that they can already play well.” Do you know any students like this? Of course we do, because it is much more fun to play the parts that you already know! But we really need students to spend time on the hard parts. This is only one of 15 common flaws Johnson addresses in the book.
4. Set students up for a positive performance by teaching practice methods specifically for making the piece reliable and preparing it for performance. Johnson includes several “pressure games” that can be used to help recreate some of the pressure of performance in regular practice time. If a student proves that they can pass these games, they should be better prepared for the pressure they will face in a recital.
I encourage you to find a copy of this book and incorporate some of Johnson’s ideas into your teaching. What are some of the best practice methods you teach your students or use in your own practice time?
Spring Seals, NCTM, teaches 60 piano students ranging from age 3 to 70 in Fort Worth, Texas. She also serves as the Director of Certification for TMTA. She is passionate about helping teachers become more effective in their studios through professional development, new resources, and fresh ideas.