The Answer To the Practicing Question

piano practice

“What are we going to do today?” I asked my young 7-year-old student. “Why don’t we make a plan together. Go grab your notebook and let’s brainstorm together.”

“What was your favorite piece you played this week?”

“Swans on a Lake!” he replied. “Great! Let’s review it. Write that down as an activity.” and we wrote it down in his notebook.

“What else should we do?” “Cards!” He replied emphatically. And so we wrote down piano safari reading cards together on the to-do list.

One by one we set up a plan for that lesson. Review pieces, cards, recital pieces, improv, games, and learn a new piece. A lot of this was preplanned by me but I guided him to have ownership in the process.

“Which should we do first? Let’s pick between these activities.” “Learn a new piece!” and we launched into learning a blues piece from the Little Gems series. As soon as we started the piece, we added the piece to his “Rep List.” His rep list was a special list handwritten by the both of us that consisted of all the pieces he had ever worked on. Often we go back and pick a piece at random to review or add new pieces to the list. He had been taking lessons for a few months and had a long list of accomplished pieces at this point. Some of which was being played at the recital.

I talk with colleagues about the “illusion of choice” as it pertains to lessons and ownership with kids. Often with kids, I will say “We have one of two options, X, or X, which would you like?” Or I’ll brainstorm activities for the lesson together with heavy suggestions from myself. Or we will play a “game” where we switch off calling pieces from their rep list to review. Often at the beginning of the lesson, I’ll say “Play me your favorite piece you played this week” to reinforce practicing from week to week. Regardless, I insist on heavy involvement of the kid so they feel a sense of independence and ownership in the process.

The more invested kids are with activities like managing a rep list, being involved in decision making, and feeling like they have a very adult-like relationship with the piano, the more I’ve found kids feel committed to the instrument and practice. With ownership and independence, they feel like they are very much learning, not simply being lectured. They feel a part of something, and that feeling of *being a part of* encourages ownership, exploration, and practicing.