Have you ever made a pact with yourself, only to find that a few weeks later you have broken it already? How about that New Year’s diet resolution? Or, remember that exercise faze you started before Spring Break, and then fell out of last summer? Exercise is one habit, however, that I have not broken in 18 years. I have kept a PACT with myself. It can be easily summed up with the acronym PACT: Patience, Awareness, Curiosity, and Tunnel Vision. I've observed that this PACT, too, relates very well to piano practice.
For me, getting and staying physically strong didn’t happen overnight. Eighteen years ago, I had a vertebral artery dissection (a stroke) that left us all wondering if I'd ever walk again. If I wanted to walk, I had to put on my 'big girl panties' and make it happen. It has taken me years to regain my strength; and, it gets harder to maintain each and every year!
Much the same, learning to play the piano can’t be done in a hurry. It takes time -- every day, every week, and years of diligent practice. As a parent, I encourage you to make sure your student sets aside a portion of each day for practicing. And, help him to faithfully keep that appointment. My exercise appointment is on my calendar. Nothing. Nothing gets in the way of this appointment.
Just as exercising with proper form is important in preventing injuries, carefully listening, during practice, is important in practicing music. If your student hasn’t yet developed 'an ear' for his music, please be his ears for him. If you hear something that doesn’t sound quite right, ask him to the play the piece/section again slowly, so that he can learn to really listen to it.
I always ask myself, “How do I feel?”after an exercise session. “Did I over-use my 'over-use' injuries?” I'm laughing at myself, too. However, when one's nerve endings don't really feel what they are supposed to be feeling, it's a real problem!
I encourage you to ask some questions while listening to your student practice: How did that sound? Was it better than the first time he played it? If so, how? If not, why not? Could it be slower; faster? When your child is young, you may be his ears. Your gentle guidance will help more than you know!
Yoga is my exercise of choice these days. When I come to my yoga mat each day, I set an intention for my practice. What do I want to accomplish? Is strength, compassion, or mental clarity a goal? Maybe I just want to sweat out the a weekend full of toxins...(READ: too much sugar!)
Today my intent was to be fully 'present' during my practice; to focus on my breath, my movements … not on my grocery list or the errands I needed to run after class.
Similar to the daily intention I set for my yoga practice, I like to help my students set practice goals each week; I help them formulate a 'plan of attack' for these goals. We tend to look at one problem at a time, small sections, one hand at a time, one aspect of the piece, speed, or myriad of other musical goals.
So it all comes back to making that PACT: to be consistent, to be present, to set goals. Learning the piano is a lot like life.
Reference: The Piano Student’s Guide to Effective Practicing by: Nancy O’Neill Breth