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Practice, Practice, Practice

As spring break is coming to an end for our young students, instruments will be dusted off and played again. The past two weeks have been filled with kids sleeping in, cartoons and sleep overs, sometimes making music practice an afterthought…. But remember, practice is still important!

As a musician, I really disliked practicing when I was a young student. Having to practice my instrument meant feuding with my parents over how long I had to sit inside alone and play music while all my friends were outside playing games. After twenty years of making music, practice is one of the most important ingredients to making a successful performance for a successful musician.

The first thing for any musician is to think about the end goal. In a few short months, East Valley School of Music will be having our annual Graduation Concert! This recital means standing in front of an audience playing memorized music. EVSM’s goal is to have all of our students play beautifully, and to enjoy playing music for their audience at this recital. This is a very easy task, but we all have to work together to make it happen!

So, how do we practice to make all of this possible?

First, we must set goals for ourselves musically. You should have a few short-term goals, like playing for your upcoming concert, being able to memorize your music, and having a regular practice schedule. Students should also have one long-term goal, such as learning a very challenging piece by the end of the year, or reaching a high note on your instrument flawlessly, etc.

Second, we must learn how to practice. Practice may not be fun, but if we set small goals for ourselves within our practice sessions, it makes our practicing have meaning, and we feel better and more accomplished at the end. When working through a piece of music one goal we should ALWAYS have is to get all of the notes right. Our brains learn patterns, and the more times you get the notes right 100% of the time, the better this pattern becomes imprinted on our brains for next time. Play the trouble sections slowly, making sure to get every note right first, then up the tempo. Practice patterns are also very helpful, such as changing the rhythm in a 16th note passage so it makes your brain think in all different combinations to learn the notes. Ask your teachers for some good practice patterns you can use!

Finally, plan a regular practice routine. If you need to, write down practice time in your schedule. You will never get practicing done if you don’t plan for it! Practicing every day will help in many ways – it will strengthen the small muscles you use in your playing, like your embouchure for wind players, or your fingers and back for string players. Every day practice will also help reinforce what you learned the day before. If you only practice once between lessons, it is hard for your fingers to create “muscle memory”, so even if you could play it at home the day after your lesson, six days later, your fingers may not remember!

What we need to remember:

  • Set goals for yourself: Daily, weekly, monthly. Write them down. Hold yourself accountable. Let friends and family know what these goals are so they can help you follow through!
  • Practice small chunks at a time very slowly, work your tempo up from there.
  • Find good practice patterns.
  • Make a regular practice routine. Write it down so you do it!
  • Reward yourself after you have reached your goals!
  • Practice, practice, practice!

How To Start Beginners in Music

In the Music Lesson

As we all know, it is hard to keep the attention of young children for more than a few short minutes. They will get the wiggles, find something shiny to play with, or request a delicious treat instead of doing what you want them to do. So what will motivate our young students? FUN!

First, let’s talk about what FUN means. These days, fun pretty much means instantly gratifying entertainment. Playing music takes a lot of work and dedication, and the end result of being able to play a song you love is fun, but it definitely takes a while to get there. Many children do not believe LEARNING is fun, so it is the job of the teacher AND parents to instill in their students/children that the learning process in itself is enjoyable and rewarding.

Short attention span will undoubtably be an issue, so keep the ideas short and entertaining.

The books we use for our beginners (usually ages 3-5) are My First Piano Adventure – these are specifically geared toward our Kiddie Keys program. Each page in these books has short ideas that help our youngsters get prepared to read musical notes and learn how to hold their hands and sit at a piano, as well as teaches them fun games and silly songs to sing and rhythms to tap.

Learning to play music needs a secure learning environment. This environment is also a safe place to explore. Let children know they are free to improvise, to create, to experiment. Encourage them to show you what they’ve done. Praise it enthusiastically. Don’t judge it or try to improve it. Accept it as it is, as an expression of the moment.

The most important part of music study takes place at home, not at the lesson.

Parents: If you don’t already sit in on your child’s music lessons, you should begin! Not only will this help your child learn to practice more effectively, but it also will provide you with very important memories when your children have left the nest!

**Important: The main reason children want to quit piano study is that the parent assumes the child can carry out the assignment by herself. They can’t.

It is very important for young students to practice at home in order for them to continue learning and practicing good musical habits. The longer they wait between practice sessions, the more frustrated your child will be with their inability to carry out the lesson assignments at home. This may be because they have already forgotten what to do, or, even worse, has forgotten to do it altogether. Daily practice will help your child progress and will help to keep their disappointment to a minimum.

Research shows us that maximum retention occurs if the informations repetition (or PRACTICE) happens within 24 hours or less from the lesson time. The child’s retention of this information will be about 90%! If your child waits to practice until 48 hours after their lesson (or skip a day of practicing), their retention drops off drastically.

What does this mean for parents? Be directly involved! If your child is young, sit on the bench with them. Your child’s teacher will let you know exactly what you need to do to assist actively in home practice. During lessons, the teacher may ask you to watch the student’s hand position, or take note on how a certain idea is done, to make sure their student maintains the correct one at home!

Sometimes you may have to remind your child to practice. Sometimes, you will have to remind them more firmly. This is the unpleasant side to musical study, but helping to keep a regular practice schedule is very helpful. Try to have them practice every day at the same time to help keep things consistent.

With a young child, you will undoubtably need to be directly involved for their entire practice sessions in the beginning. Don’t expect your child to carry out their practice sessions entirely by themselves until they are almost 10 years of age! Music lessons are a family commitment. Allow your child to play “in home concerts” for you, even if it is just a four-measure piece!

You can also play some fun games with your child, just like the ones your child’s teacher does in lessons. Clap a rhythm and ask them to clap it back to you. Keep it short and simple at first (3 or 4 claps). Lengthen in a week or so if it sounds as if he’s catching on quickly. You can do this at the dinner table, too, with each family member giving the child a rhythm to clap and “trying to trick” them.

For our Kiddie Keys, this website provides insights into lessons you, as parents, might have missed. It discusses the importance of the things we teach our students in lessons, as well as provides a video to watch!

Also, make sure your child is practicing with the CD’s in their books: The accompaniment CD’s are especially motivating and engaging for the beginning levels and provide a fun support system for home practice to spice up the “simple sounding songs”. Parents don’t have to be a piano virtuoso… you just have to press play!

The secret weapon to success in piano study is you and your direct involvement in your child’s home practice!

What is practicing? What is not?

Practicing is not mindless repetition, even though repetition in practicing is involved. Practice uses the repetition of a small portion of a piece, or technical exercise (etude, method studies) WITH A SPECIFIC GOAL IN MIND. Your goal should be small enough to reach by the end of the session so that your student can judge whether or not they have met their goal!

If music study is something you want for your child, you can prepare for that first lesson.

At a very early age (birth-two years):
Make sure you play music for your child! Let them hear it in the car, after dinner, or as your child is falling asleep! Make sure it is good music – classical, jazz – but try to eliminate rap and other pop music because they will get this during their general culture during life – to make sure they are a well-rounded listener.

Encourage your child to move to music! Before your child can move, hold them and walk or sway to music. Later, dance to the music you are listening to together! Allowing your child to have their own interpretation in dance helps to foster their creativity. Allow them to be artistic and let them know what they’re doing is good!


If beginners think that piano study is a satisfying activity, they’ll keep at it and become intermediates.

The more you practice, the better you will become; the better you become, the more you will enjoy playing and the more you will practice; the more you practice, the better you will become; the better you become, the more you will enjoying playing and the more you will practice…

Parents – Although trying to get your children to practice may be hard, don’t give up! Stay the course! Everyone will be rewarded in the end.

The Musician’s Pledge, part 1

When you enter the lobby of East Valley School of Music, one of the first things you see is a large poster with The Musician’s Pledge on it.  As students, or even potential students, sit and wait, it is there as a reminder of how to be a successful musician. We are told that if you practice practice practice, you will play your instrument very well.  There is so much more to being a truly successful musician.

The Musician’s Pledge is broken into three sections. The first section says,

Because I am a well-behaved musician,
I listen and follow directions,
use self-control, respect people,
instruments, and materials,
and always do my best.

Well-behaved means, “to conduct oneself in a proper way”.  No matter your age, your instrument, or your level of experience, being well-behaved will set you apart as a serious musician.  Listening to your instructors and following their directions will show them you respect them as they help you master your craft.  Using self-control and showing respect to others, your instruments, and materials will show your instructors and others that you truly want to be the best musician you can be.  That is giving it your all and doing your best.

Playing a musical instrument has many benefits and giving it your best can also help you do your best in other areas.  According to an article from The Telegraph online magazine, “New research suggests that regularly playing an instrument changes the shape and power of the brain and may be used in therapy to improve cognitive skills.” There is continually more evidence that musicians have organizationally and functionally different brains compared to non-musicians, especially in the areas of the brain used in processing and playing music. If you learn how to play an instrument, the parts of your brain that control motor skills (ex: using your hands, running, swimming, balancing, etc.), hearing, storing audio information, and memory actually grow and become more active. Other results show that playing an instrument can help your IQ increase by seven points.

As you can see, playing a musical instrument has many benefits and hopefully that will motivate you to be a well-behaved musician and always hold music in high esteem. Whenever you come across challenges as a musician, think about the end results and always remind yourself of all the great reasons you love to play.

“Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”   Charlie Parker, jazz saxophonist and composer