This summer, having recovered from the -race to the finish- of the Spring Examinations, I decided to do some therapeutic -housecleaning- of my studio library. However, I didn’t get too far because I became engrossed in some articles and books on practicing. Like most teachers, I tend to become obsessed with seeking new ideas and ways to inspire and motivate students to practice more efficiently (and just practice more!). What caught my attention was an article that summarized the ideas from students in a summer program regarding what they had learned that would help them in the following year.

That really set me to thinking about what my own students have learned (if anything) about practicing. Since my students are often -guinea pigs- for trying out new ways of doing things, I decided to ask them a series of questions ranging from -Is daily practice necessary?- -How to practice if there isn’t enough time- – What are some of your basic practice techniques?- and -Any ideas on goals and practicing?- Initially, the response was stony silence or rolled eyes and a guilty look. However, when I explained that this was a -research- project, the response was almost enthusiastic, with some rather eye-opening comments. It has given me a new perspective on my students and in particular, on how I can encourage them to be more creative in their practice routines. The following is a compilation of my -research- organized in a fairly loose arrangement The () after some are my comments.

– Goals are your homework. If you get them right, your next lesson will be a dream!
– Have weekly goals (a big picture) and small goals (daily)
– Goals should not be too big or too hard. Otherwise, you just don’t try
– Small goals are better than big Chunks
– You won’t get anything done if you don’t (Bravo!)

– Pick a specific time to practice and stick to it, no matter what. It may change each day but the important thing is to do some practice each day, no matter how little
– Stay away from the computer and the Internet until you’ve finished practicing
– Try to practice in small bits of time instead of all at once
– Think of what you can practice in 10 minutes, 20 minutes, etc.
– Practice technique and sight reading in the morning before school. Then you can get to the good stuff after school
– Take short breaks
– If the school has a piano, try to practice in your free time or at lunch
– Don’t let your little brothers or sisters interrupt your practicing
– Focus on doing your best, even if it is only a short time
– Work harder
– Don’t go to sleep until your practicing is done
– I know I could do much better if I spent more time

– Yes. It gives you a chance to fix the mistakes you made the last time you practice
– It’s dumb to miss practice…but not a national crises
– Sometimes skipping a day makes you think and listen more
– Take one day off…we’re not machines
– If I miss a day, I will try to make up the time on the weekend
– I never practice on my lesson day
– It depends (a frequent response)

– I hate counting out loud, but it does make 2 against 3 works
– What bugs me is that when I use the metronome, it’s always right
– Using the Pencil Practice technique or the 3 Pennies takes time, but you really do know the section you’ve practiced. (Play a section 3 times. If perfect move the pencil or a penny to the middle of the keyboard rack. Play 3 times again. If perfect, move the pencil or penny to the right side. Any mistake sends you back to the first step!!)
– Table top practice forces me to imagine the sound as my fingers play on the table. I -see- the music in my mind and there are no distractions such as wrong notes. (Good for memory and practicing difficult section in fingering)
– Write things down. You can remember it better
– Be a detective: find your trouble spots, mark them and do whatever it takes to fix them.
– Get It Right The First Time (my national creed)
– Repeat, repeat, repeat…
– It’s only boring if you make it boring
– Change the passage someway to make it harder (repeat each measure 3 times, play a staccato passage legato and vice versa or use a dotted rhythm to make the section sound different
– Practice with your eyes closed
– If you have an octave jump, practice jumping 2 octaves. It makes the 1 octave seem easier.
– Think about the tempo of a piece before you start. It’s too late after you have started.
– You have 2 ears and 10 fingers. They must work together. Listen!
– Always warm up with Hanon, scales, arpeggios, whatever gets the fingers moving
– Practice the stuff you don’t know first

– Stop making excuses
– When you practice, use your brain first
– Don’t forget to ask -Is it better?- when you have finished practicing a section or piece
– Small sections are good to work with. If you take too large a -chunk-, you wind up with musical -indigestion
– Reviewing an old piece is dangerous, Play it through once, then practice sections, and then play through again. The fingers need reminders (so does the mind)
– Rests are really big deals and should be loud! (this from a student who is studying a Haydn sonata
– Never, never, never play with the wrong fingering ( a student who had just finished reworking a Bach fugue)
– Just do it because you like it
– Stop worrying about what others think, just play
– Play a lot, especially for people who don’t know much about the music. They usually think you’re great.
– Don’t give up. It takes a long time to be good

Thanks to my students who took time to share with me their ideas and I look forward to trying some of them in the new year. At least they won’t get bored since they are going to be introduced to a -new- way to practice each week.
If you have new or novel ideas about practicing, don’t hold back. Share it with us..

Mary Tickner