Old school piano practice rules for kids are useless unless the child is interested. Piano teachers rarely give advice on how to practice to kids. They give you an assignment. How to do it is up to you, leaving most kids quite lost.
Let’s say you tried getting your kid to love the piano, but the piano teacher is a disciplinarian and only gives your kid the driest of exercise pieces to play, saying, “Tradition is good.”
This same piano teacher gives your child no rules for practice or practical guidance, so how is your child supposed to make a practice regime that is palatable and effective?
Many teachers will simply say, “Play it five times a day,” with no explanation or demonstration of how to do this most effectively. To kids, this is a poisonous recipe for boredom.
Here are some guidelines that may help parents deal with this all-too-frequent situation:
First of all, just like school homework, you will need to involve yourself if only to the point of knowing what is being asked of your child. Sit down from the first day with your child and ask them to show you what they are asked to do. Have them try to play it and be proud, and be creative about it. For best results, take up piano yourself and make it a parent-child activity.
1. Because the music selected by the teacher is odious, you must make practice short and sweet. Five minutes a day may be enough if it is regularly applied. (The real secret, of course, is to find a teacher who assigns music so interesting and familiar to the child that they will want to repeat it, like a toy.)
2. If you miss a day, no guilt, just go do your five minutes the next day.
3. If your child is assigned a page of music, figure out how long one repetition of it is. If it takes your child thirty seconds to play the piece, they can repeat it ten times in five minutes.
Here’s the problem with the above, rational method:
By the second day, I guarantee you that your child will be bored, largely because the same material, boring in itself, is unbearable to a child after only a few repetitions. Applied every day it becomes a nightmare and will make your child quit.
The only way to combat this boredom is with a real pianist’s skill. And a real pianist is able to dismantle a tiny portion of a piece and focus on only that for hours, like a mechanic with a carburetor or an inventor with a machine.
But expecting such diagnostic skills of a child is impossible.
What can you reasonably ask of a six year old?
1. Play the piece slowly once without rhythm, just the notes, but with the fingers your teacher assigned.
2. If there are no mistakes, play it with rhythm. If the rhythm is wrong, play it again to try to get the rhythm generally correct. Move on to the next no matter what.
3. Play the piece a little faster.
4. If there are no mistakes, play it faster. The piece may get silly, and the child may laugh. Try alternating, slow repetition, fast repetition.
5. If there are no mistakes, play it backwards, slowly. Not so easy, eh? But it makes you think.
You are allowed to change the list and explore as you wish. Try the music upside down.
Each of the above might take a minute, hence you have five minutes of practice.
If it takes less, start at the top of the list again.
Regardless of success or failure, the child is to be praised for trying.
The reason for this is that a child learns the piano not in any single lesson or practice, but in a string of lessons and practices that proceed without humiliating the child.
Repetition is necessary to teach kids the physical skills of the piano, but a clever teacher finds ways of disguising the repetition and interspersing them with piano games.
Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press
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