To practise

Wiktionary defines practise thus: “To repeat as a way of improving one’s skill in that activity.”  The following example is given –

You should practise playing piano every day.


One of the problems with Generation Y is that they seem to have grown up getting used to instant gratification.  Everything is readily available and Gen Y seem to leave university expecting a top-level job, without ever having to stuff envelopes, photocopy, or make coffee as the rest of us did when we worked our way up.

This seems to extend to the younger kids, who want to play the piano as well as I do, but without putting in the twenty years of practice which I did.

Unfortunately anything worthwhile tends to take effort.  In fact, I believe that we don’t necessarily value things which come too easily for us.

It doesn’t help that fame achieved through reality television shows seems to be the modern alternative to good old-fashioned hard work!  It baffles me why people desperate to become chefs with restaurants/B&Bs/cafes see that a TV show is the only way to achieve this, rather than doing a course or apprenticeship and then working until they achieve their goal.

How can we teach this generation that effort pays off and that things which take application can be a lot more meaningful than those things which come easily?  They happily spend hours playing computer games and learning to excel in this area, but do not consider that is actually ‘practice’.  Unfortunately music practice does not have the built in rewards, hooks and other motivators contained in computer games.

And so, to practise.

I once endured an excruciating evening at a friend’s house, listening as their daughter “practised” the piano.  She lurched through each scale and piece once, often incorrectly, then deemed her practice done.

As specified in the above definition, practice involves repetition.  I have suggested to all of my students that they play each song at least 5 times in their practice session.  If it is a longer piece, then maybe play one hand 5 times, and the other hand 5 times the next day.  Or break it into sections or pages and practise a section 5 times.  It would be great if they played it 5 times correctly, rather than hurtling through and ignoring mistakes.

In the same way, I don’t think it is too much to play each scale through 5 times.  If boredom is an issue, then the student could play the scale in different rhythms, or a different dynamic (loud or soft) or with different articulation (staccato or legato).  These ideas can be extended to many pieces in the repertoire.

Maybe the practice session could be broken up by the student ticking or marking on a chart each correct time they play through the item, or perhaps they could receive a star or a sticker for each good practice.

The reward of achieving a good performance in their next lesson, and accomplishing a personal goal in being able to master one piece at a time will hopefully continue to bring satisfaction and pride.


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