When a young student first begins to take lessons, the songs are short and the practice expectations are usually very clear. His assignment sheet will usually include specific steps that should be followed for each assigned exercise. These steps will include things like clapping the rhythm, naming the notes out loud while playing, etc. Repetition of these steps is expected, and all steps should be followed at each practice session. In the early months of lessons, practice time primarily serves the purpose of reinforcing concepts, developing strength and coordination, training the student to use proper fingering and technique, and establishing effective, consistent practice habits. It’s actually very much like learning a new sport…you have to learn the skills and practice them daily before you can be successful in a game.
Eventually, a student knows enough concepts, and is solid enough in her skills and techniques that she is ready to “play the game,” so to speak. Or, as may young students put it, they’re ready to move on to “real music.” At this point, you will begin to see a significant change in her assignments and practice requirements. Not only will she be practicing new things, such as scales, arpeggios, Hanon exercises, and more challenging music, but the instructions will look different. Instead of a list of specific practice steps, their assignment may say something like “learn page one,” or “memorize measures 16-32,” or “work on increasing tempo.” Specific instructions are often written directly in the music.
This is also the point when the “perfect practice” requirement should be considered a minimum. The goal is no longer to go through practice steps until the timer goes off. The goal also is not to practice until he gets it right one time. The goal now is to practice until he never gets it wrong. In order to accomplish this, students will sometimes have to spend 15 minutes on one three-measure section. This can be annoying to listen to. But if parents can refrain from expressing that and, instead, praise the student for his diligence, they will be helping him develop the self-discipline that is required to be successful.
Unfortunately, this is also the point at which lessons may not seem as “fun” anymore. There will seem to be more correction and criticism than praise. A student will find that she rarely passes a song in one week. This is very normal, and does not necessarily mean that she is not doing well. It means the songs are longer and harder. It also means, though, that the parents may actually have to do more to remind/encourage/motivate the student to practice every day. This will seem backwards. Some may think, “By now, I shouldn’t have to remind her to practice. If it’s important to her, she should just want to practice.” The fact is, it’s not important enough to her…yet. She has not yet had the opportunity to experience the immense satisfaction that comes from giving a performance that was truly amazing. Sometimes, the parents, themselves, have to decide that it’s important enough to encourage their child to keep going. After all, none of us would allow our children to neglect their math homework just because it’s difficult.
I have enjoyed seeing a few students get to the point this year where they are beginning to experience this “metamorphosis” in their lessons. I know that it can be a hard transition for the student, the parents….and the teacher. If yours is one of these students, I encourage you to avoid letting them give up. Find what motivates them, and use it to get them to practice. If you are the student who is at this point, don’t get discouraged. This is a sign of progress, and of wonderful things to come. Soon, you will begin to see amazing results from your hard work and dedication.