Saturday, February 16, 2008

How to Get Out of a Practice Slump

Parents and students often ask me how to motivate their child or themselves to practice --- especially when the they feel stuck in a musical rut. If only I had the magic formula! Alas, I do not, however, here are a few suggestions that have worked for me or for my students.

1. Be patient! Being in a practice slump often means that the student is about to break through to a new technical level.

2. Think quality not quantity. Practice as little as 10 minutes a day. Set specific goals for each 10 minutes. Work on only one measure, phrase, or piece per day. Learn a scale a day. Or don't practice any new repertoire -- just play your favorite pieces for 10 minutes a day.

3. Repertoire. Sometimes the pieces students are working on are just not inspiring, even though they may be important to study to continue to develop piano skills. Find a piece on the piano that you just can't wait to play (old or new repertoire). This is a strategy that works for me. I always have a least one piece that I have to play every day, because I love it so. Once students are at the piano playing something they love, it is easier to work on the repertoire that is hard or giving them trouble.

4. Think Teamwork. For parents: offer to be your child's piano coach. Then offer your child the opportunity to coach you through something you are having difficulty with --- getting enough exercise, stopping smoking, cutting calories etc. It's always easier to get through a down period when you are part of a team.

What the parent can do as part of the team: Sit with your child while they practice. Playing an instrument by yourself is lonely - especially when the rest of the family is watching TV or playing games. Don't offer suggestions or corrections. Just be there and offer gentle encouragement if it is needed.

5. Rewards. When students are in a slump, punishment is not going to help. Offer rewards for practice. Pay yourself to practice. It is work, after all. Go to a concert --- find performances that will inspire in any genre. Arrange a lesson with a different coach or master teacher as a special motivation. Your regular teacher may be the best in the world, but outside perspective often provides a needed spark.

6. Make a "PLAY" date! Arrange to have a friend or family member who also plays the piano or another musical instrument to get together with the student -- perform for others informally including your family -- adult students have arranged piano potlucks with other pianists to practice performing a complete work, or simply to share the repertoire they are learning.

Most important of all - don't give up! As with any difficult time in life...a musical slump too shall pass.


David Saslav said...

Here's another tip...have students practice migrating from other popular places in their houses to the piano bench. Three supervised repetitions of motion from favorite TV viewing location to piano bench will surely have students practicing during commercial breaks, for instance...Since their butt and leg muscle memories will have been trained!

- David Saslav

Linda said...

Great suggestions. In most romance languages the verb to make music is literally to "play". So when practicing becomes mundane, I tell my students to make a game of it! Turn the music upside down. Play twice as fast and/or slow without trying to make it perfect. Be silly!

Many happy returns to the Birthday Blogger, Melissa!

Brad Templeton said...

Another useful idea to make sure you practice at least once a year is to set aside a few minutes each birthday to play your favourite piece!

Jan said...

Happy Birthday Melissa! We're looking forward to you coming to Boonville, perhaps when the rains have passed and the wildflowers are in bloom. Meantime, we hope to see you in the city when the Saslavs are in town.

My boss recently started guitar lessons and is feeling quite inadequate, so I steered him to your tips suggestions.

Enjoy your special day!


elandau said...

Many happy returns of the day, dahling. Hope you have a great year and play some delicious music.


Gilles said...

Argh Melissa,

I truly do not appreciate blogs, a representation of our navel-prone culture, but here it is (and to stay, I am afraid....the blogging phenomenon) and it's your birthday... I won't get into another of my well-known rants.

Happy birthday to you. Be well, and keep enlightening us all with your beautiful music.

Did I say something about my dislike of bloggers? If I did, please forgive me. It's your birthday after all, ant that what's counts.

Kindest regards,

Gilles d'Aymery
Swans Commentary

Gilles said...

Oops sorry, the last line should read: "and that's what counts."

Frenchie's typos, you know... I'll go to typing class, I promise!


Lea Saslav said...

Dear Melissa,

A very Happy Birthday to you, and on a slightly different note (sorry, Gilles!) - I really loved your blog! Especially the notes from the Met and looking at Baroque tapestries. Right up my alley, i.e. art and music of the same period.

Meanwhile, excellent ideas re: getting kids to practice, especially the play "date".
I'd love to know more about your harpsichord lesson and teacher as well.

Again, many happy returns and see you tomorrow night for the Schumann screenplay reading!


Anonymous said...

Great thoughts!

I usually focus on two pieces during a practice session. I work on one when I want a break from the other. I saw a performance of Mozart's piano concerto in D Minor recently, which inspired me to learn a short arrangement for solo piano of the second movement. It's music that Patrick McLoughlin played when he was studying with Eliane. I'm sorry that I waited so long to play it myself. I love this wonderful little piece.

Speaking of wonderful, have a wonderful birthday Melissa!!


Dhanraj said...

Happy birthday Melissa! Hope you had a wonderful day. Wishing you a great successful year ahead.

I imagine David singing "happy beeerthdaaay..." :)

-- Lisa & Dhanraj