practicing tips


Going Slow

Going slow is both the best tool a music student can have, and a student’s worst nightmare. Every student wants to play at lightning speed. Like the rest of us, little piano students want to get right into the fun and exciting parts, without having prepared correctly first. However, as the music gets progressively harder, they are quickly met with the frustration that their fingers can’t coordinate their rhythm and notes at their usual fast speed.

At this point, every teacher would suggest for their students to play slowly to adjust to all the difficult passages; just like how our driving instructor asked us to drive slowly when we first were learning. Or when our parents told us to slow down when we talk, because they can not understand what we are saying.

Slowing down allows the students to take in the information and examine the details of the music. By reducing their speed, they become more aware of what each finger is doing, therefore building a stronger understanding on how to execute the passage.

Here are 3 tips for parents to help piano students slow down!

       

    1.  Don’t equate slow with bad, and fast with good.  All music can sped up or slowed down for a variety of effects. Let the student know that playing fast can be great, but let them know that playing slow sounds great too. Don’t make playing fast the ultimate goal.
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    3.  Ask them to count out loud. Most students will have to adjust to being able to count out loud, and play at the same time. This is a terribly tricky skill but incredibly valuable. Once they can count out loud, and play at the same time, it means they have truly understood the rhythm of the passage we’re working on. Count with them!
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    5. Play along with them. Students (especially young students) can have a skewed sense of time (Don’t we all!). 30 seconds of playing can feel like 5 minutes to them. It is very common for the students to play at lightning speed and think that they played slower than usual. Play along with them in the low or high register to keep them on track. If you are not a piano player yourself, simply play a C in a steady beat with them to act as a metronome.

 
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Practice as a Habit

Good Practice is Undeniable

Throughout my time teaching, it has become abundantly clear to me that parents do not need to be reminded about the benefits of practice. Adults understand, without a doubt, that to learn a skill, one must put work into it. Whether that skill be cooking, climbing or driving, the key that ties all the lessons together is practice. How can we make children understand this? Unfortunately, they simply do not have enough life experience to understand that nothing can be achieved without putting the work into it.

It’s Up to Adults to Show the Way

How do we show kids that dental hygiene is important? When I was younger, my mom emphasized that I had to brush my teeth when I wake up, and when I go to bed. After enough times of asking me to do, it became part of my routine. 5 minutes in the morning, and 5 minutes at night have kept me cavity free for 24 years. When I forget to brush my teeth, I feel my inner voice nagging me that I have missed an important part of my day. While I don’t “enjoy” brushing my teeth, I certainly prefer it over sitting in the dentist’s chair.

This same concept applies to music practice. To encourage music practice, we adults should provide a steady routine until the kids settle into it.

Setting the Habit:

  1. Set a consistent time to practice! I practice my scales every morning, and every night (right after I brush my teeth!). Setting a consistent time allows the child to settle into the routine more effectively. There has been some research to suggest that the most effective way to set a routine is to do the hardest tasks in the morning.
  2. Make it a priority. If parents feel like it is a priority, kids will take by example and also begin to see it as priority. Simply put, parents must lead by example to show children the benefits of practice. What is the incentive for parents? Parents should aim to set a practice routine so the child makes consistent progress in their music classes, and continuously play more beautiful music!
  3. Use positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is highly effective in teaching and setting a routine. A simple positive reinforcement is giving a sticker, or a treat after practicing. Some parents may also find it effective to compliment the child on their progress and their visible improvement.

Happy Practicing!

Take Lessons with Eric Here


Left Hand VS Right Hand

 

Hands Separate or Hands Together-

When we are first learning to play the piano, it is very common for students to learn the music hand separately. This means the student will first play the right hand part, then the left hand part. The next stage is then putting the hands together. Why do we do this? Is this the best way to learn piano?

Playing hand separately is great for beginners:

  •  It is less intimidating than using both hands. Because the two hands use different clefs (treble, and bass), playing one hand at a time is easier for the beginning note reader. Until the student gets more comfortable reading in both clefs, playing with two hands will be very difficult. It is like being bi-lingual!
  • Playing one part a time lets the student focus on a single musical idea. Where is the phrase? Is my fingering right? Is the rhythm right? What other instrument can play this line?

Playing hand separately can be problematic when:

  • Students can become reliant on doing one hand at a time, and rely on muscle memory to put the hands together. Relying on muscle memory can be effective in picking up a piece, but is not smart practicing. Remember: random practicing vs blocked practicing!
  • Students have a tendency to focus on the right hand more, especially if they are right-handed in writing. The right hand usually has the melody, and is more interesting. However, every part of the music is important! Don’t forget to work on the bass part!

What are some ways we can work on playing with both hands?

  • Take the plunge and play with both hands! Only with persistence will the student gain the confidence of playing both hands. Sight reading exercises will help dramatically. 
  • Focus on note reading. Don’t let poor note-reading skills get in the way of piano playing. Everyone can read notes. Don’t guess! Take your time and figure out how note-reading works.
  • Listen to recordings. The more you are able to hear the music in your head, the more you’ll be able to play the music with your fingers.

 

Happy Practicing!