Piano Lessons by Nancy Frase
Discovering your unique path to musical achievement
There are two conditions that keep students encouraged and interested in continuing lessons: 1) steady progress, and 2) a sense of fun. So, there needs to be enough practice that progress is being made but not so much that it becomes drudgery.
A good guideline for total number of minutes of practice per week can be determined by this formula: [child's age] x [12 minutes]. For adults, four to six hours a week is a good guideline. It is best to divide the practice into shorter, more frequent sessions. After a student has practiced for this amount of time in a structured manner, it is absolutely fine if he or she continues "messing around" on the piano. Even if the "music" being created does not make sense to someone else listening to it, it still is a creative learning experience and should be encouraged (assuming the piano is not being abused in the process).
One concern is about strain-related injuries. Just like it is possible to injure your hands and arms by using the computer a great deal with poor posture, the same is true for playing the piano. So, first, make sure your posture at the piano is correct -- this is something we will address during the very first lesson. Then, keep in mind that It is okay for your hands and arms to feel tired -- but, if you feel pain, then stop playing at least for a day and maybe for multiple days. If you are feeling pain, something is wrong and we need to address it immediately.
Keep in mind that, like with doing homework, practicing requires concentration. Make sure the practice environment is conducive to practicing -- well-lighted, quiet, without interruptions, temperature controlled, etc. Ensure that all supplies and equipment are available and in good working order. Keep "stuff" from piling up on the piano and the table at which the written theory work is to be done. Make sure all books, staff paper, pencils, etc. are within easy reach. No student wants to fight to find and keep the space to practice.
For younger children (ages 6-8), I expect the parents to be heavily involved in the lesson and in the practice sessions. During the practice sessions, the parent sits at the keyboard with the student, helping them learn the material. For children who are a bit older (ages 9-11), I expect the parents to listen in on the practice sessions and offer guidance at times. For children age 12 and above, the parent and the student can jointly determine what level of parental involvement is best, if any.
Practicing is very vital to the process. If it becomes obvious to me that a student is making a habit of not practicing, it can become cause for my choosing to discontinue lessons with that student. It also will affect my willingness to move a student's lesson timeslot into a prime time period if and when a student (or parent) makes that request.
When learning a new piece, explore what system of learning works best for you. Some people do better if they first learn the right-hand notes, then the left-hand notes, then how to play them together. Some people do better if they learn both hands at the same time but learn smaller "chunks" first, then put the smaller pieces together into a full line of music.
I have one student who does best if she divides the steps into very, very small steps and can check off each step as she completes it. For her, I created this checklist that can be adjusted to fit a piece of any length:
Usually, it is better to play a piece slowly and accurately, and then pick up speed only as quickly as you can without allowing your playing to become sloppy. Accuracy and touch quality are way more important than speed.
One "how to practice" book that I recommend to my students is "The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Making Music from the Heart", written by Madeline Bruser. In the book, she details how to use your practice time wisely and how to counteract various common issues found in practicing. I have found her suggestions to be very valuable and applicable.
Here is a paragraph from her book: "The Art of Practicing is a discipline that cultivates this heightened awareness in every moment of our practicing. We practice noticing the details of our sensory experience, letting the sensations of sound, touch, and movement saturate the body and mind from moment to moment. By deliberately practicing such receptiveness, we gradually become familiar with the experience of brilliant awareness, and we begin to feel at home in the bright light on stage."