How, Not What
Often when sitting down to practice, we start with the whats: this warmup, that scale, this etude, then Movement II of this sonata, etc. This is as true of advanced music students as it is of beginners.
However, many of the skills we work on in lessons aren't "what" skills so much as they're "how" techniques. As a piano teacher, I care far less "what" pieces my students play, and more that they play them beautifully, with healthy technique, and that the selections they're playing are helping them to grow as musicians.
How we practice determines a lot about how we will progress. Especially in the beginning, young pianists and guitarists will often work well with timers. Set a timer for the practice goal, but don't forget the intention with each piece. If the assignment for the week was to make sure to play with the pads of the 5th fingers on Twinkle B, we want to make sure that we're being very deliberate with how the 5th fingers attack those notes.
This kind of deliberate focus on how we play each piece speeds mastery of any instrument, whether it be piano, guitar, violin, or harmonica!
It's also important to remember that the first day of practice after a music lesson will likely be the most challenging, as the lesson notes will be fresh and unpracticed. It's important to approach these changes carefully and slowly, with great patience. If it's too difficult to get through all the pieces from the lesson in the first practice session, make a note of where you left off, and start there the next day, so each assignment receives attention.
Let's go a step further though. When it's practice time, how does your young piano player handle mistakes or challenges? Is s/he frustrated and upset, quick to give up and play something more fun? Or do these challenges seem to motivate him/her to focus and work through them?
It's important that as parents, coaches, and teachers, we demonstrate a healthy approach to challenges, generally. The reactions and techniques with which we respond to a complex piece of music or a tricky life situation - these are being observed by the young ones around us. If we want to encourage children to have a healthy response to mistakes and difficulty on their instrument and in their lives, we must first set the example with our own behavior! These skills and responses aren't learned in a vacuum.
Do you have a funny or interesting story about how your child has mirrored your own behavior? We'd love to hear it!
Until next time, happy practicing!