Practice is a crucial component of developing skills in any discipline. The repetition helps us to solidify and internalise what we do, with each sequential level of competence becoming a subconscious recalling of muscle memory.
Learning a musical instrument is no exception. Helping your child to develop a home practice routine will not only help them become a better musician, but will also give them an excellent head start in the skills of habit building and discipline which will help them in later life.
Establishing The Practice Habit
One common misconception about piano practice at primary school level is that it has to be laborious and boring. This is not true. The piano courses we use at LIPA Primary are designed to be fun, interactive and playful. We know children enjoy coming to their lessons at school, and it’s not too difficult to replicate this at home.
‘Daily practice’ might sound unachievable in practice, and sometimes that can be true. But the intention of daily practice means that even if, in reality, your child only practices five out of seven days, what they achieve is pretty close.
Does ‘daily practice’ sound a lot like hard work? Something that will need a lot of discipline from you and your child?
It’s another misconception. The key with practice is to establish habit. Common daily habits might be brushing your teeth when you wake up, making a coffee before going out to work, or heading out on your morning commute. These are all things that take some time getting used to, but once the habit is established, are things you do without consciously thinking about them.
Try to establish a daily routine in practicing piano with your child. This could be first thing in the morning or before they go to bed in the evening. Or the first thing they do once they’ve got their PJs on. It will take a couple of weeks for your child to become accustomed to this change, but once it is established it will become much easier to maintain.
Creating A Space To Work
Try to have a dedicated workspace for your piano or keyboard. A place with a degree of tidiness and order, where a child comes to sit up correctly on their piano stool and practice their pieces and rhythm exercises.
Five-to-ten minutes per day is ideal for children up to the age of 8, increasing to ten-to-fifteen minutes per day from 8 - 11 years old.
Simply facilitating this space for your child to independently work for this amount of daily practice will yield fantastic results.
Getting Involved - How Can You Help?
Parents often feel unconfident in assisting their children in playing piano. This may be because they are unsure of basic musical concepts and terminology, or because they are confused about the specific nature of the Dogs & Birds course.
I thoroughly recommend spending some time getting familiar with the Dogs & Birds course by reading through the books (available as a free loan from school). There are a number of free resources (including videos) on the Dogs & Birds website which can be found at https://www.dogsandbirds.co.uk/
Even better would be to purchase the whole beginners Dogs & Birds set which includes both editions of Book 1 and Book 2, a set of animal tiles, the ‘music map’ (or staves), and a set of teacher/parent notes.
Another useful trick is to ask your child what they have learned in their lesson that week. By showing you, they reinforce their own knowledge and help you to understand at the same time.
Positive Reinforcement And Reward
To keep children engaged, sometimes they need a little encouragement. At school, we believe in a positive reward system where children are constantly encouraged and are rewarded for excellent effort or performance. We implement this normally using stickers/stamps and a ‘piano player of the week’ award for each year group, in addition to the soft reward system that the books utilise.
We recommend using similar systems (if a child needs it) to help engage them in daily practice. Star charts work great (one star for every day practiced in a week) or some other reward if a child manages to do all seven days in one particular week etc.
Celebrate success with your child e.g. video a performance when your child has perfected a piece (or written their own piece) and share it with family & friends. Success breeds success.
You could also employ long-term achievement rewards such as “a trip to Alton Towers when you've completed Book 2”!
By focussing on the day-to-day practice and progress, the children pick up information and develop quickly. This leads to the ‘accidental competence’ whereby once children are conscious of their own progress, they’re already a well developed musician which in turn breeds confidence in themselves. This is one of the magical things about starting to learn music at such a young age.
Continued success on the piano is an ongoing process which needs the engagement of child, teacher and parent all working together in harmony.
If you have any further queries about practice, or if you’d like to come in to see one of your child’s lessons in school, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.