- October 17, 2011, 4:49pm
If there is one universal truth in the world of teaching music, it is this: the majority of kids do not want to practice. Either they are taking lessons because their parents want them to or they like to play, just not their lesson assignments. In any case, each day I feel like a broken record as I ask a good majority of my students, "How many times did you practice this song?"
The part of me that is desperate to be a good teacher usually goes through the same conversation with each student. I explain to them that even though it's my job to teach them to play the piano, I can't do my job unless they do theirs. Their job is to practice what I teach them so that we can move on to something new each week. Then I try to help them by showing them "good practice habits." These usually involve things like playing each hand separately correctly three times before putting the hands together, slowing the tempo down, isolating sections, or even playing the song measure by measure... only backwards.
Yet right now, I'm going to have a "bad teacher" moment. That means I'm going to be completely honest and tell the students something their parents would be shocked at. Drumroll please...Kids, I hated practicing too. I didn't do it often enough or well enough. I did just enough to avoid getting in trouble with my teacher, which never worked out in my favor. I'm a classical pianist. In classical piano, your best is never good enough. There's always something else you can do. With that sort of background, how could I not hate practicing?
My wake up call came during college when I joined the theatre program. I became the accompanist, and later music director, for all of the musicals. The first show that I played, A Man of No Importance, had two spiral bound scores. Two. I instantly entered the world of practicing at least four hours a day, sometimes up to ten if we had a full rehearsal that day. Not even a month into it, I discovered something wonderful: it was the best time I'd ever had in my life. I was able to play Irish themed music with a group of incredibly talented people, including one of my best friends who made me fall in love with fiddle. I was able to find my own unique place in the theatre department, doing something I loved and was good at, and here's the kicker: I also got college credit for it.
Another example of this "enjoyable" practicing is that I also recently joined a choir. Not because I wanted class credit or felt I needed to further fine tune my skills. I joined for the pure joy of singing. I practice my harmonies for a half hour a day, and go to two hour long rehearsals each Sunday. Right now we're working on a forty page medley. But guess what- it's not hard work. In fact, it's the best part of my week. It's just plain fun.
So, students, here's the moral of the story. The truth of the situation is that no matter what tips or tricks I or your teacher may give you, practicing doesn't need to be that complicated. I'll tell you a secret, and I'll go against everything I was taught in saying it. Practicing is playing. If you make a mistake, you stop, fix it, and then you get to play it again. It's like a bonus!
Parents, here's my advice to you. Be supportive. Let your student find their own practice style. As long as it's working for the teacher, then it should work for you as well. If the student is understanding and enjoying their music, then that is all we should ask for. I don't expect my students to grow up to be concert pianists. My family expected that of me and continue, every year at Christmas, to try to ask me why I went into education and when I plan to go back to my studies. They just don't get it.
I don't think anyone will ever be the model student, teachers included. In fact, at our Grand Opening this coming Saturday, another teacher and I are performing a duet. I don't even think we have decided who is singing which part. (Note: Carolyn, if you're reading this, I claim the alto.) Will we crash and burn? Maybe. But we'll make sure to have a fabulous time doing it.