In the 1980’s Van Halen was one of the biggest rock bands on the planet. Their hair was big, their stage show was bigger, and their ego was biggest of all. Or was it?
Some people will tell you that Van Halen was a group of egomaniacs… that their concert demands were outrageous to the point where they even required all brown Smarties to be removed from the Smarties bowl in their dressing room.
But here’s the thing… while their egos may indeed have been inflated, the Smarties demand was, ironically, reasonable. Why? Because it was a trick… of sorts.
You see, Van Halen had an outrageously huge stage show with insane rigging and massive equipment. The entire setup was outlined in a huge instruction manual for the arena crew at each venue (a crew that belonged to each arena, not the band). One missed instruction and the stage could become a deathtrap for concertgoers, the band, and the crew.
To ensure the arena crew paid attention to even the smallest of details they inserted a few insane demands (the Smarties) into the instruction manual. If the band arrived in the dressing room and found brown Smarties sitting in the bowl, this was an indication that the arena crew lacked attention to detail and thus the stage setup must be inspected personally.
It’s brilliant really… and a strategy piano teachers should consider. (This anecdote first came to my attention while reading the book How To Think Like A Freak)
The Van Halen Practice Strategy Minus The Candy
Consistent piano practice may be the single most important factor in determining a student’s success. But how do you know if piano practice is happening?
You may think you know if practice happened or did not happen (this can be glaringly obvious) but you can never be one hundred percent certain. Some kids may have practiced their hearts out but struggled so much that it seems like nothing went on at all, where other kids could not have even cracked their book but somehow manage to get away with faking it.
So when it comes to something as important as piano practice it is important that you know (to the best of your ability) what did or did not go on during home practice.
Strategies For Finding Proof of Practice (or Non-Practice)
The following indicators of piano practice are not meant to trick your students. By all means, le them know that they are indeed indicators. Often having a very specific practice-related task to accomplish is much more motivational to kids than simply being asked to remember to practice.
Now, before we get to these practice indicators, do know that particular stubborn or creative students can find ways around these strategies. Most however, will look forward to an opportunity to show you that a particular task was accomplished. If they choose to work that hard to avoid piano practice that may be all you need to know anyway.
1. The Piano Parent Critique
I love to include parents in piano practice whenever possible. If you feel the same, ask your parents to listen to their child play and then write two things they really liked about their child’s performance and one thing they think their child can work on. Ask them to write their responses directly on the performed piece.
2. Circle The Struggles
Before your student leaves the lesson, lightly circle (in pencil) 3 bars of music that are causing some troubles. Instruct her to erase the circles when she masters the music in those bars. And if they are still causing troubles, ask her to draw a little unhappy face above the complicated bar.
3. Trick the Teacher
Instruct your student to change 3 things about his piano piece while at home this week. Depending on your student this could involve adding dynamics to certain measures, changing the ending, leaving out the left hand for a couple of bars etc. At the next lesson have your student play his piece while you try to guess the changes that were made.
4. Awesome Autographs
Tell your student to perform her piano piece for at least 5 people over the week. Instruct her to collect an autograph (directly on the piano piece) from every person who attends a private recital.
5. Over The Rainbow
When your student practices this week ask him to draw a red arch over the first bar of music in his piece. The next time he practices ask him to draw an orange arch. Challenge him to complete the rainbow before his next lesson.
6. Rename The Music
Tell your student that her piano piece has been named incorrectly and that when she returns to lessons next week the piece should have a new name written at the top. Before she leaves discuss how the sound of the music should influence the name of the piece.
In Case You Need More Tools To Inspire Practice…
These strategies are just the tip of the iceberg. There are a thousand different practice indicators that can be used to inspire kids to crack about those music books. If piano practice (or lack thereof) keeps you up at night, you may want to read a couple of posts we have written in the past: