What To Practise

Published on 25 November 2022 at 11:34

Your child is practicing 4-5 days a week for a reasonable length of time; however, you get a message from their piano teacher saying they are seeing very little if any progress from little Sarah.  What could be the problem????  It is usually one of the following culprits:


 1  - They are not practising effectively

 2  - They are not practising what they are supposed to be practising!


Today we will be dealing with number 2 – WHAT to practise - as this is the easiest to counteract!  Every student of mine has a notebook in which I write down what was covered in the lesson, what areas they need to improve on, which piece needs to be “performed” for me next week and any theory homework they may have.  So many times, I have opened the book at the next lesson and said, “Oh good, we have a performance of “insert name or piece set for performance” today” and the student looks stunned! 

I say, “Look, it says it right here in your notebook!” 

“Oh I never look in there!” 

“Why not?”

“I don’t know……”


So, Step 1 is pretty obvious – remind your child to read their notebook before EVERY practice.  Even if they think they already know what it says because they opened it yesterday or they just have a really amazing memory, they must open it again because I can guarantee on most occasions there will be something in there that will be useful!  Whether it’s simply to remind them which songs to play or has more specific details as to areas we are trying to improve on (speed, learning a certain section by next lesson, breathing where indicated on a wind instrument).


Step 2 – Play the songs you have been set for the week.  Many students, particularly those in their first couple of years of lessons, love to sit at the piano and play all their favourite songs every “practice” session.  While this is fun and certainly worthwhile in developing their love of music and general musicianship, it is completely useless in progressing them further with the assigned work for the week. The result is that the next lesson will be largely a repeat of the previous lesson as the student has not improved on this work.  If this pattern continues, lessons turn into Groundhog Day and nobody is happy.  The student is bored with the piece they can’t even play yet and the teacher is bored and feeling like they are wasting their time as they have taught this material to the same student for the last x number of weeks.  Meanwhile the student thinks they are pretty clever because as long as their butt is on the piano stool and their parents can hear something sounding like music coming from the keys, they will get their credit for doing their practice without having to put in any real effort.


If you have one of these students, encourage them to work on their assigned tasks FIRST, after which they can spend however long they like enjoying playing songs they are already quite accomplished at.


Step 3 – Play Your Scales.  Unless you have only just started lessons and have not yet been introduced to the wonderful world of scales, you will have scales to practice – always.  You don’t have to play every scale every day, but I like to encourage the discipline of playing at least ONE scale every day to begin with.  I suggest doing this at the start of the lesson so it gets done.  Recently I asked a student why they still can’t play a particular scale after several months to which she replied, “Oh, I never play scales at home.”  There is your answer.  Play them!  We will cover effective methods in the next article, but for now, just play them, slowly, with the brain switched to “on”.  We will look at the importance of learning scales in another article, and it’s not just about developing technique.


Step 4 – Do your theory homework. Just do it!  I don’t want to hear you didn’t have time in your entire week to do a 5-minute written task.  “What was that?  You didn’t think you had any?  But that’s not possible, it’s written right here in your notebook.”

“Oh I never look in there!”

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