Getting Students To Use The Practice Tools

Following the launch of my ebook series last week, I had an email from a reader who tells me she is enjoying reading about the practice tools. She is excited to start using them herself, but is a bit dubious that she is going to get her students to practise like this. This seems like an excellent point, and one I thought I would address here today.

I’ll start by sharing a personal story about my gardening skills – or rather total lack of them. I once had a property with a beautiful garden, designed and laid out by its previous owner with great love and attention to detail. Along with the house came a shed full of garden implements – shears, secateurs, and other gizmos – everything you would ever need. One bright Sunday morning, I decided to do a spot of gardening and got all these things out from the shed. I stood there scratching my head, uncertain as to what needed to be lopped from where, where I needed to dig, what was a weed – it all looked fine to me. So, I promptly put the tools back in the shed and called in the professionals, who looked after the plot beautifully from then on. This showed me there’s no point having tools unless you know how to use them, when to use them, and for what.

Probably the single most important and most basic practice tool is the feedback loop. It helps us diagnose what’s good or bad, weak or strong so we can attempt to correct or improve it. This applies universally from beginners to advanced to professionals. It is perfectly possible to get a beginner to use the feedback loop by asking questions in lessons rather than simply giving information. The word ‘educate’ is derived from the Latin verb ‘educere’, to lead/draw out, and questions such as, “What did you notice about your LH in that bar?”, “What character do you feel in the music here?” and “Which finger goes here?” encourage critical listening. Before you know it, your young pupil is on the path to thinking and listening for themselves, and to using the feedback loop when they practise.

Some of the other important practice tools, such as The Three S’s (Slowly, Separately, Sections) can absolutely be given to younger players, provided they are shown how to use them and encouraged to do so. Here are some random thoughts on the subject:

  • Write down in their assignment book exactly how you expect them to practise that week.
  • We need to hear in the lessons what we have assigned for practice. If we have instructed the student to practise slowly, we must let them know we expect to hear this slow practice in the next lesson. Then, we can either refine it further or give it our seal of approval and outline the next step.
  • If we have told a student to practise the left hand alone, start by hearing this in the next lesson. Otherwise there is no incentive for them to actually do it. The more conscientious ones will be motivated enough to do it, the others probably won’t!
  • If we have put two or three sections in quarantine, then we need to hear those sections in the lesson before hearing the piece as a whole. If those sections remain unpractised, then work on them for a short while but don’t hear the rest of the piece (if possible).

You won’t give all the tools at once, and clearly the tools that deal with refinement, such as miming, may not be suitable for the very young. Then again I wouldn’t want to put limitations on them! If they cotton on when shown, there is no reason not to use this tool and to develop tonal refinement in their playing from the start.

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If you are interested to know more about the practice tools, please click on the buttons below to preview or purchase one or both of the publications in my new ebook series.  Alternatively you can find out more about the series by clicking here.

Volume 1

Buy a beta version of Volume 1 now for a special introductory price (Full launch price of £4.99 applies from 31 March) or click on the button below for a free preview.

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Volume 2

Buy a beta version of Volume 2 now for a special introductory price (Full launch price of £4.99 applies from 31 March) or click on the button below for a free preview.

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Special offer bundle – Volume 1 & 2 Bundle

Take advantage of our beta launch bundle and buy Practising The Piano Volumes 1 and 2 for a further 20% off the individual launch prices (Currently £2.50 per volume, full price of £4.99 per volume applies from 31 March).

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