Happy New Year! This is always such an exciting time–it gives us a moment to reflect on our choices in 2014, and to think about what we can do better in 2015. Which brings me to the topic of…
New Year’s Resolutions.
These can almost quite certainly be a joke to all of us, because we break most of the ones we make, but this can be a healthy activity to teach your children about making goals and sticking with them.
Every week, I always have one student come in and say, “Eh, I meant to get around to the piano, but I got distracted…” Over the course of December, I began experimenting with the idea of practice charts, and what kind of impact they would have on student productivity. When I ask students if they always complete school homework, they almost always say, “Yes–I have to!” When I asked them what the difference between school homework and piano homework was, most of the responses I get are a sheepish, “Nothing…really….” But what one student said this winter changed my perspective on practicing.
Lee, at this time 9 years old, learning his five-finger scales.
This student said to me (and not in an ill manner), “Well, we don’t have anything to turn in. If you forget to do your homework at school, you have nothing to turn in, and the teacher gets mad, and then your parents get mad, and then your report card gets bad. If we forget to practice, it doesn’t matter as much, I guess, because there’s no physical thing to show you that we did it or didn’t do it.”
Geez, he had a point. Not having something to turn in creates an accountability issue, because there isn’t anything physical to prove whether a student practiced or not. So the following week, I began drawing practice charts in some of the students’ practice notebooks, and mapped out their goals and the time it would take to complete those goals. “What do you want to get done in this piece?” I asked. Some said, “I want to finish this by next week!” Others said, “I reaaaaally want to get to the cool part of this one.”
Goals are different for every child and I help the students realize what goals are wise to set, and which are a little too easy or too difficult to obtain in a one week time frame. This is why not every child will practice for the same amount of time. It depends on their schedule, other extracurricular activities, parents’ schedules (sometimes), and, honestly, what they want out of piano lessons. Some kids want to be able to play movie music–great! Others really want to “get good” at playing Bach and Beethoven. The amount of time that each student practices simply isn’t going to be the same.
Which brings me to my newest “invention” for RMS: Practice Charts. After the month long experiment, almost all of the students showed consistent progress in their pieces. All because they had something to turn in! It blew my mind, to be honest.
TIP: For super-duper effectiveness on using this practice chart, pair this chart with their sticker incentive charts they they bring home every week. If they’re able to practice every day, they can put stickers on their charts to turn in for awesome new prizes from the prize box.
Happy New Year, and have a musical month!