Plato famously said, “The beginning is the most important part of any work.” He said this because in the young we have a person that is unformed. The ability to be formed by good information and good habits is at its highest.
Relating this to piano we can ask what is the most important habit we can develop in an unformed young piano student, in a student that does not, as yet, have any bad habits?
Before we answer that I think it’s important to highlight that when we begin a new student there are not bad habits to unlearn. We get a blank slate. We get to form the first habits in our student. We get the first and best chance to help this young person develop a love for music. We get the first and best chance to develop a healthy attitude toward education, especially if we are dealing with a preschool student. We get the first and best chance to impress on the child a positive concept of “teacher”. These are all huge responsibilities but also great opportunities to think through and make some deliberate steps to move this life in a positive direction.
Certainly one of the most important parts of our work as a piano teacher is to instill in our beginning student the habit of DAILY PRACTICE. We would do well to think about a planned systematic approach to develop this crucial habit. If we do, the many challenges we find in piano study will have a means to be successfully dealt. If we do not, accomplishing these challenges will be made immensely more difficult.
I believe that DAILY PRACTICE is so fundamental a habit that it must be established even before a daily duration of practice time is discussed. Here’s a plan I’ve devised to develop the habit of DAILY PRACTICE that works, even, especially, for the youngest of piano students.
THE SIX HOUR PIANO PRACTICE INCENTIVE
I created a little folio for my students. Here’s the cover.
On the cover the student writes their name to give them pride of ownership of their efforts. Make this incentive like a contract between you and the student. Of course, your job is to guide the student to develop the habit of daily practice one step at a time, always moving the student forward to the goal of daily practice.
The next page of the little folio contain several Daily Practice Charts. Each chart can record five weeks of piano practice. Below each chart is a place for the parent to sign (verify) that the record is accurate.
First, you and the student set a goal; how many days am I going to practice this week. The student is to fill in the number of minutes they practice each day they practice. At this point it’s not too important to set a duration for each practice session. The important issue is the number of days. As quickly as the student is ready, move this up to 6 days per week. The important thing is not how quickly the student gets to 6 days a week but that you are always moving/encouraging the student to reach higher. I like the maxim – HURRY SLOWLY.
NEXT — THE CLOCKS
This incentive is called THE 6 HOUR PRACTICE INCENTIVE because as we are working toward the goal of daily practice, we accomplish this goal in 6 hour increments. Our 6 HOUR PRACTICE INCENTIVE begins at 12:00. Let’s say our student, after the first week, practiced for 40 minutes. If this is the case, set the clock at 12:40. If, on the second week, our student practiced for 65 minutes, then, set the second clock at 1:45. Do this for as many weeks as it takes to reach the goal of 6 hours of practice. But, to repeat, the goal is to move the student to DAILY PRACTICE.
If the student practices for more minutes in fewer days, encourage the student that it’s better to practice 60 minutes in three days than doing it all in one day. We all know that music learning doesn’t “cram” well. In other words, “guide/mentor” the student into daily practice.
After accomplishing the 6 hours of practice the student is awarded a handsome certificate for the good effort. There is a place on the certificate for awarding the certificate”With Honors” (practicing 4 days a week) or “With High Honors” (practicing 5 days a week) or “With Highest Honors” (practicing 6 days a week).
After the certificate is awarded you can begin working toward a 2nd certificate. For the second certificate see if you can move the student to a higher goal, practicing more days per week. On the 3rd certificate again see if you can move the student to an even higher goal.
When this becomes easy move the goal posts to a 12 hour or a 24 hour goal.
This product may be purchased at Piano Teacher Press. It is sold in a Licensed Edition for $3.95. This means you can use the materials given here IN YOUR STUDIO on each and every student in your studio for as long as you teach. It is priced low because DAILY PRACTICE is so important. (ALSO – for those with black and white printers this product also comes with a Black and White Cover page and a Black and White Certificate included). Click on the Piano Teacher Press LOGO to get your copy of THE SIX HOUR PRACTICE INCENTIVE.