“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is practice.”
– Vladimir Horowitz, Classical Pianist
We’ve heard it a million times: practice makes perfect.
It is true that practicing is a key component of improving and applies to basically any activity; this includes learning an instrument. At Crescendo Music Studios, we often say these final words to the student as they walk out the door: “don’t forget to practice!” We hold this as a high value at our studio!
The famous adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is said for a reason; however, at Crescendo Music Studios our preferred quotes are these:
practice makes permanent OR practice makes progress
Students, we encourage you to maintain consistent practice routines and at the same time, learn how to best practice your instruments throughout the week – quality and quantity are both important. Ideally, we love to see you practice on the days you eat (let’s hope that translates to practicing every day)! At the same time, we absolutely recognize that life can be busy so we will work with you to build a realistic practice schedule you can achieve. We want students to be sure that any goals we set are realistic and achievable. Starting with a goal of 15-minutes per day, 5 days a week, is a great place to start. As you practice and therefore, progress, we assure you that you will enjoy playing your instrument even more. We know that through diligent practice, we will unleash a heightened passion for music and a love for sharing our music. This, in turn, will lead you to want to practice more and achieve success with your music!
How To Structure Your Practice
Each practice session should have a similar structure. Usually, a student will practice the way their teacher shows them in lessons, which typically mirrors the music lesson. Students should:
- Begin with warming up: for voice, this will mean following the warm-ups they recorded in lessons, or perhaps a video the teacher has provided.
- For piano, guitar, and other instruments, this usually includes working through scales, triads, chords, or rudiments. Warm-ups and technique should take at least 5-10 minutes of the practice.
- It is wise to include warm-ups that relate to the pieces you are playing; for example, you are playing a piece in the key of D Major, then you should do a series of warm-ups in the key of D Major. Or maybe, you have a piece that has a number of fast runs within the piece…then fast scale runs might be the warm-up of choice.
Then we move into our repertoire. Here is some advice for you, as you navigate each piece:
- Pieces should not be played from beginning to end each time! Start from various spots in the piece.
- When learning a piece, be sure to play at a tempo that is manageable for you. You will work you way up to the full tempo, as you become more familiar with the piece.
- Stop and practice any ‘trouble spots’ – don’t let yourself move on until you can play the section five times correctly!
- Break your music up into smaller sections; i.e. line by line or phrase by phrase.
- It is important that the most difficult parts of your piece receive the most attention; typically, the beginning is the strongest section of any piece as it is the part that gets played the most and therefore practiced the most. Try starting at the ending and working backwards through your music! Try beginning in the middle and then finishing with the start.
You may wish to START with theory or you may wish to wrap up your practice time with theory; either way, be sure to complete the theory the teacher has assigned. Understanding and working through the written aspects of music is just as important as the playing time. It is our desire to ensure every student understands the why and how of music, and theory will help support this learning. If you have no theory for the week — look through your music and answer questions like:
- Is there anything on the music you don’t recognize like an unfamiliar symbol or dynamic marking? Research answers to these questions.
- Can you name all of the notes in your treble clef on sight? Can you sight-read the bass notes?
Should We Incentify a Child’s Practice Routine?
Providing an incentive for practicing correctly (such as a treat, sticker, activity, or other reward) can help to inspire the hard work and dedication needed to make progress. Ideally, over time, we find that students do eventually want to practice for the sake of practicing, and the reward that comes from the beautiful music they create, but typically younger students will need a little extra motivation to get them going!
One way to encourage practicing without having to reward every single practice is to put a practice chart in your practice area. Each practice should be a stepping stone to some sort of reward! Perhaps the child gets a sticker for each practice and for every five stickers the student receives a treat or the reward of an activity they love.
Please be sure to connect with your child’s teacher often by coming into the first 5 minutes of the lesson! We are always looking for ways to reward practicing; perhaps we can partner with you to help celebrate success. For example, at Crescendo Music Studios we have a “Wall of Fame” that is used to celebrate the success of our students. Let us know when you see success at home so we can celebrate this at the studio. Perhaps we will have the student perform a piece they really love in our reception (or for their teacher and/or parents in the lesson).
We have tried so many “incentives” at Crescendo Music Studios and can honestly say the number one way to incentify progress is to CELEBRATE the successes and achievements, no matter how small!
Tips for Parents to Encourage and Assist With Practice
The number one, most important thing that you can do as a parent is to communicate with your child’s teacher often. Write us notes, stop in during lessons and even sit in on a lesson every so often. At Crescendo Music Studios, we hold our parent week twice a year where the parent is invited to come in and discuss the upcoming events and goals of the individual student. Parents are welcome at any time, but these specific weeks are scheduled to help us ensure everyone is on the same page regarding the students’ progress, goals, and practicing routine.
The lesson plan the teacher provides is specifically written to ensure the student practices correctly and is provided with enough information to support them throughout the six-days they are away from us! Parents, please ensure that your child is following the directions of the teacher and is practicing the songs that have been assigned! If you have questions for your teacher, please write them on the lesson plan so we can stay in close communication with you.
Another way a parent can encourage and assist with practices from the home is to spend time with your child as they practice. Although this is a time commitment on your part, it shows your child you are invested in their music learning journey. Ask them questions about their pieces like:
- Do you enjoy this song? What do you enjoy about it?
- What is the story of the song – what do you think it is about?
- You know what I like about this piece is….
- Who composed this song?
Students should be able to answer most of these questions and they will be thrilled that you are interested, which will then in turn create a deeper interest for them. Also, if they don’t know the answers to your questions, they can then research the answers! And remember, encouragement is always the best motivator! Perhaps your son/daughter didn’t realize you enjoyed their playing or singing and the more specific you can be, the better!
Engaging and showing interest in your child’s instrument and learning is by far the most important thing you can do to encourage practice, progress, and a genuine love of music in your home.
Attached is a practice chart a student or parent may use at home! We hope you enjoy and remember: practice makes progress!