Last week, I shared the first of three strategies to kick off our “Practicing Away From the Piano” Blogging Series. If you missed that first post (and the free printable too!) check it out here.
Today, in Part 2 of the series, it’s all about Mental Practice…
Mental Practice… Kid Style
You’ve likely heard of the benefits of “mental practice”; not only is it an effective practice strategy, but (as you can read about in Dr. Noa Kageyama’s interview with TPT) it’s also a very effective way of preparing your students for successful performances.
If you haven’t heard of “mental practice”, it’s a simple concept: you “play” through your piece in your mind, hearing it as you would if you were actually playing it.
But for an 8 year old child, mental practice likely goes a little something like this…
“lah lah lah… why is that chair red? Lah lah… I’m hungry… lah lah lah…Suzy said I could borrow her skipping rope… lah lah lah… uh oh…I’m lost.”
Kids are naturally active and their brains work a mile a minute. Asking them to focus on a fairly involved mental task (that is difficult to “check in on” as a teacher) can mean that it’s hard to know if it’s being done effectively. Children need to be taught how to hear something accurately in their mind, and they need to practice staying present and focused for extended periods of time.
3 Games To Teach Good “Mental Practice” Habits
Teaching mental practice is best started with the music in front of your students. Eventually you’ll be able to wean them off of having the book there, but for now it helps young children to stay focused if their eyes are somehow engaged.
Ease into Mental Practice with these three games.
Game #1 “Pencil Drag”
Give your student a pencil and point the “eraser end” at her book. Ask her to drag the pencil along the music as you “hum” the melody. Next, get her drag the pencil as she “hears” the right hand melody line in her head (no singing).
If you are also mentally practicing her piece as you watch, you can tell if the speed of her pencil is accurate. If her speed is not accurate, and it appears as though she is just going through the motions, then go back to “drag and sing”. Next, break the piece apart into smaller sections of “hear in your head” practice until you see the “aha!” lightbulb turn on.
Game #2 – Lah Lah Shhhh!
My 8 year old little munchkin came up with the name of this game and I love it! To begin, alternate measures of “lah lah-ing” the melody vs. hearing the melody in your heads. This means every other measure is sung while the remaining measures are “heard” silently.
Work your way through her piece in this way, and then do it again, changing it so that one measure is “lah lah-ed” and the following 2 measures are mentally practiced… then one measure is “lah lah-ed” and the following 3 measures mentally practiced… and so on. Eventually the mental practice will happen for the majority of the piece with just a few “lah lah’s” in there to keep her on track.
Game #3 – Stop Me!
1) Ask your student to begin mentally rehearsing her piece.
2) At random intervals say “Stop!”, and ask your student to point to the measure at which she was stopped.
3) Have her put her hands on the piano, play two measures and and then drop her hands and continue on with mental practice until the next “stop!” occurs.
Try to give at least 4-6 measures of mental practice in between stops to avoid frustrating your student.
Most Importantly… Just Try It!
Another part of mental practice is simply trying it! Encourage your students to spend as much time mentally practicing as the piano as they do physically practicing the piano. Give them mental practice goals just as you would normal practice goals. Help them to find times in their day (in the car, before they go to sleep, as they brush their teeth, while they’re on the bus) where they can try it out, with a kind reminder that it does take practice and it’s okay if it’s difficult in the beginning.
Eventually you want students to be able to mentally hear both treble and bass clef (together) from beginning to end with all of the articulation, phrasing, dynamics etc. that are on the page. Including this skill as a regular part of your students’ practice (especially from a young age) is a great way to start!