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Practice Strategies

What should my child be doing during practice time? We hear it all the time, and the answer is simple: pattern your practice time in the image of your private lesson. Start with scales, etudes and familiar pieces to warm-up with, and then work your way into unfamiliar territory with the new material.

Thoughtful and efficient practicing can overcome our time constraints while producing consistent and encouraging improvement. Maintain a positive, non-judgmental attitude. When something goes wrong do not simply repeat the action, but begin to teach yourself:

Identify exactly what was wrong. Usually a technical glitch involves only two or three notes. Including the measure or a line is a huge time-waster.

Analyze why there was difficulty, and what the technical solution is.

Now play the two or three notes slowly, applying the technical fix. Be patient! Do not insist on velocity.

Begin to gradually speed up the passage when you are satisfied you have found the proper solution to the original glitch. Advance the metronome one click at a time until you reach a proper tempo.

With so much else to do in a day, the hardest thing about practicing is starting. So set a regular time every day and stick to it. Science has shown that after 21 days of repeating an action a new habit is born and you actually begin to feel like something important is "missing" from your day when you skip a practice.

In an ideal world, students would look forward to daily practice without being reminded to do so by their parents. All teachers have had the joy of teaching a student who is intrinsically motivated through his or her pure love of music. This type of student is hardly the norm, however, and parents need a repertoire of extrinsic motivational ideas to encourage those students who do not understand the importance of practice. As time passes, the students can be weaned off the reward systems on their way to becoming mature musicians.

Some examples of strategies that parents have used successfully to positively reinforce a consistent practice schedule:

Keep a practice record on a calendar and give a reward for 7 days in a row.
Tape record your practice.
Perform a family recital.
Sing while you do the note fingerings.
Practice with the lights off.
Memorize your favorite song.
Start your favorite song on a different note.
Dance while you play.
Practice in slow motion.
Play twice as fast.
Practice in front of a mirror.
Practice with your eyes shut.
Produce a monthly music video starring you.
Create an animal sound on your instrument.
Play for your pet.
Make up a new rhythm to a familiar song.
Wear a funny hat while you practice.
Make up words to one of your songs.
Play "Mystery Tune" with your little brother or sister.
Play a song for the neighbors.
Give a candlelight concert.
Wear sunglasses while you practice.
Compose a song.
Leave a "song" message on a relative's answering machine.
See how long you can hold a note.
Practice in a new place.
Practice 100 days in a row!
Practice in your pajamas.
Practice with a timer.
See how many times you can play something in one minute.
Play duets with a friend over the phone.
Invent your own strategy!