May I first apologise to those reading that there are lots of links to the charts in this blog. My particular website builder recommends this method.
Please click on the title to reveal the chart. The adult numbers largely reflect those who took part online.
2. Why do you practise?
One pupil said they practised to please parents or the teacher - oh dear - lack of intrinsic motivation here? For beginners, it may be better to concentrate on positive encouragement rather than being overly critical. Parents play a vital role in the early stages of learning, by supervising, gently coaxing if necessary and above all praising every new milestone reached. As students grow in skill and expertise, practice will seem more enticing if pieces are chosen that are of specific interest to them. Criticism can begin to be a little more constructive, so the practice engine moves up a gear. Older students should have specific targets discussed with them, so they take ownership of their learning. They are likely to be more motivated and see practice as an enjoyable experience as well as being of benefit in the long run.
One third of respondents said they did some kind of warm up before practising, but it is not clear how many classed scales and arpeggios as 'warming up'. Two thirds said they didn't, and one commented that they 'probably should'. Mea culpa - I should do this more myself too! I would class warming up as something not associated with playing the keys at first - perhaps some shoulder rolls while standing, arms raised, out to the side, bring hands in front and down again, then relax the arms by the sides and then do this sitting on the piano stool. Hands should feel warm, massage the fingers or wiggle/shake them gently. There's the opportunity then to do some little five finger runs up and down the keyboard at octaves to create a sense of control over the entire keyboard. Technical exercises can follow on from this.
Most practise at home, but a few also said they took advantage of time at school. Please click on the title to see the chart.
Some pupils would appear to be succeeding at practice against the odds. One of my pupils admitted to the piano being in the living room, where the TV also was, and it wasn't unusual for a family member to come in and turn the TV on, albeit quietly, while they were practising! Not only that, but a conversation could be struck up at the same time. I'm always telling my pupils that the most important musical instrument they have is their ear, so it's vital that they are able to listen intently to every sound they make and not have distractions if at all possible. It was adults mainly who had a piano in a separate room. A tactful word to parents, or to the pupil to try and mention it, is so important in such cases. Having the piano in a separate room is the ideal, but at least with a digital instrument and headphones, focus can be maintained without disrupting family routine too much. The room should ideally be warm, too.
Location of piano - a couple of staccato touches on the title please!
Frequency - please click here to see timescales
Seriously, though, planning for practice is important if it is to be effective. Many teachers hope that students practise daily - if a regular time can be found. I advocate that practice is done in shorter sessions over the week rather than in one longer one done in panic just before the next lesson. It's all about balance and knowing the student in the long run - the last thing anyone wants to do is to be so rigid that students see the process as regimental and become demotivated.
Thankfully, of all my students, and considering that a quarter of them are 11 or under, only one practised for less than ten minutes. This is heartening, considering that very young pupils may only have the ability to focus for short periods. All adult respondents acknowledged a desire to practise specific things and that they might practise for an hour or more. From 20 minutes up to an hour is the choice for most students. Comments included:
- I will practise longer at weekends when I have more time
- Sometimes my practice goes on for longer than I planned (determination or enjoyment?)
- Times vary because of whatever I have to do
- Always depends on homework level
One thing I ask students to do occasionally is to record a practice session. This gives both of us insight into how effective it is - whether more use of the metronome would be of benefit, for example, or how deconstructing a piece or even a few bars can expedite improvement.
8. Do you enjoy practising?
Ah....the nitty-gritty question! Rather than simple Yes/No answers, I invited comments about how practice sessions went - descriptions of effective practice sessions (or otherwise) and how the student felt after these. Positive responses included the following comments:
- I like it, it's fun. I use my free time to practise. I feel proud when it goes well.
- Yes, I enjoy practising - I do my scales (hurrah!)
- Most of the time I find practising OK apart from when I really can't do something.
- It depends where I am in the piece. If I've got 2-3 pieces and am focussing on the story it's much more enjoyable. Last week I conquered 3 bars after taking them apart which felt good.
- I enjoy practising if I like the piece I am playing and feel impressed with myself for doing my pieces well. My scales should be more fluent.
- Not at home
- I get frustrated if not so well [sic]
To summarise, from the responses given, most students appreciate that practice is important in order to progress. The nature of the practice done and how long it takes will depend on individual requirements. Students respond well when practice has been discussed with a teacher and know WHY they are practising. Older students appreciate being given responsibility for their practice, while younger students usually need more guidance from teacher and the support of parents/carers. Once the benefits of focussed practice are understood, progress, success and further enjoyment result. we shouldn't allow practice to 'coast' along. Periodic questioning will check that students have the strategies to enable practice to be a successful and worthwhile enterprise.