The old saying goes, “Practice makes perfect!” The reality is correct practice is central to learning a skill, such as playing piano. Most students start lessons with the understanding that they will need to devote some time to practicing apart from lessons. Yet, not many students start with an understanding of why or how they should practice.

As time goes on, a lack of purpose can lead to frustration. When asked why they need to practice, a student might reply, “To get it right!” This is a warning sign that the student feels lost and lacks an important sense of achievement and direction. Music is a challenge and a discipline, but above all it needs to be pleasurable. Music provides a way of communicating that is difficult with mere words. An unhappy student will communicate their feelings through harsh sounds.

A positive approach to practice is developed most easily in the early stages of learning. Every student is different and the activities enjoyed also vary – some like composition and improvisation, some work diligently at every note, others find anything new to sight-read. Remember to encourage and reward these efforts.

Why should we practice?

Practice builds the brain and builds the muscles.

Music is a social activity – just like language. It is meant for enjoyment, communication and sharing.

HOW should we practice?

Practice is far more than playing lesson pieces over and over in the hope that next time there won’t be any mistakes! Parents and students who have studied music in the past might have been required to play the same scales and pieces repeatedly in the hopes that one time, maybe next time, they will “get it right”. Students who do not have this background are fortunate not to have this false expectation.

Although the practice methods for learning music and for perfecting a performance piece are different, an overall, automatic-repetitive approach should never be used.

Practice includes many activities that involve experiencing, creating and reacting to patterns of sound. Many of these experiences are more meaningful when they are shared.

Practice Suggestions:

Useful practice activities depend very much on age and learning styles (if the student likes to learn by listening, doing or seeing). Here are some suggestions:
Every young student needs to talk and share their learning with family. For a young child, spend time sitting at the piano stool with them. For an older child, spend time in the same room when they are at the piano.
Sit and listen or dance / move to music – classical and popular.
Read to your child the stories about some of the famous composers (e.g. Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Haydn, Gershwin). Listen to their music. Find pictures – where they lived, what they looked like, what life was like in their times. Even dress up.
Be aware that a child ‘just making a noise’ at the piano is practicing. The piano is a source of many variations of sounds: soft to loud, harmonic or discordant (a mess of noise). Exploring is a very important part of developing musically. Can they ‘play’ a flower or a crocodile? Etc.
Sing songs together. See how many of the notes from the song you can find on the piano.

Whatever practice a student chooses, it is vital that they are encouraged at home (self-rewarded or praised and rewarded by a parent) for the efforts they make. All the time you give to helping your child learn will enrich their musical learning experience, whether they go on to higher levels of performance or are simply studying music to broaden experiences in the shorter term.