I once had a professor in university who seemed to mark papers with some sort of “throw a dart at a letter grade and that’s what you get” type system. He had no criteria or written expectations – he’d simply dole out the assignment and then (so it seemed) randomly assign grades based on his mood.
As someone who (admittedly) was a bit of a teacher’s pet in high school, this was extremely disconcerting. If I didn’t know what was expected of me, how could I deliver what he was looking for?
It was interesting to watch my classmates’ motivation dissipate rapidly in this class. If there were no criteria, then why even try for a good grade… it wouldn’t matter anyway. But I’ve never had a “roll over and die” attitude, so I spent the first bit of the year trying everything I could think of to produce what he was looking for… and still I’d receive random letter grades over and over.
Criteria for Piano Practice… Do You Spell It Out?
It was this professor’s lack of communication and consistency that frustrated a lot of my fellow classmates (and ate up a huge chunk of my university study time). And it was this experience that led me to ensure that I always have criteria for my piano kids. And today I’m sharing my “Zero In” sheet; a tool my students keep in their binders to refer to during their home practice time.
Having practice criteria means your students:
1) Know what they need to accomplish before they “complete” a piece
2) Know what level of “polish” I expect for each piece they are working on (sometimes I don’t require a piece to be absolutely perfect before moving on if the learning goals have been achieved)
3) Know what is expected of their performance pieces (s these criteria are sometimes different than “learning pieces”)
And the biggie…
4) Know exactly how to structure their practice time to accomplish the above.
Practice Shouldn’t Look The Same Every Week
Once I started setting out this criteria for my students then their practice habits changed. Because they knew what I expected of them, they were able to more efficiently hone in on that which needed the most time. This also meant that their practice each week looked different (if they were nearing the completion of a piece then they worked mostly on “polish”, if we were a few weeks from a performance they were working on memorization etc.). Having a practice routine that is varied and goal-oriented makes for more efficient use of time.
How To Use The “Zero In” Printable
The first thing to remember is that the “Zero In” sheet is NOT an assessment sheet. It does not indicate a student’s mastery of a specific skill. The “Zero In” sheet is a practice guide. It’s purpose is to provide students with a visual representation of where they should be spending their time with in a particular piece.
You can check out (and use!) my “Zero In” sheet here. Using the bar graph above each criteria, take a highlighter and color in the “level” of effort and focus that you expect for each practice aspect. For example, if you want your student to focus on the tempo of their piece (once their note reading and rhythms are correct) , then more bars would be colored on the tempo graph and just a few on the note-reading graph. Your student can then easily see (and “zero in on”) where the most amount of time needs to be spent on each piece during that particular week. As your student progresses on a piece you can add colored bars as necessary. As he fully completes practice aspects, simply place a check-mark over the corresponding graph.
What seems like second nature to seasoned piano players when it come sot practice is not always so clear to young children. So, add some clear criteria to your piano students’ home practice and they’ll immediately become more efficient practicers!