I had a sneaking suspicion that one of my transfer students was a “start to end’er”. One of those piano students who considers practicing to mean “Play my piece from start to finish as many times as Mom tells me to.”
His piece came back with the same mistakes each week (actually, those mistakes were now solidified and un-breakable habits). The start of his piece was waaaaay better than the ending (the result of drifting focus as his repetitions went on) and if any little stumble happened mid-way, he’d have go back to the beginning again to re-start.
My sneaking suspicion was actually blatant, “wack-you-in-the-face” knowledge. And so I needed to do something to change this student’s deeply ingrained practice habits.
Eat Popsicles… Make Piano Practice Progress
To start, I needed 12 popsicle sticks… and fast. I don’t eat processed sugar and neither does Trevor, so my Goldendoodle happily polished off a box of creamsicles for me. I’m kidding… I went to the dollar store.
Armed with my dozen popsicle sticks and a small glass jar, I presented my student with his “Popsicle Practice Sticks” at his next lesson. We followed the directions below and I waited two weeks to measure his progress. It worked like a dream…sicle (couldn’t resist that one!).
Creating Popsicle Practice Sticks
You’ll need 12 popsicle sticks, a small jar or container and a fine-tipped sharpie marker. Your student’s task is to come up with 12 different, pro-active practice strategies and write each one task on a popsicle stick. The popsicle sticks get put in a jar and head home with your student.
When he sits down to play his piece at home, he pulls out six of the sticks at random, completes the tasks listed and THEN he is “finished practicing” that piece. None of the tasks can be “Practice from the start to the end”.
Sample Piano Practice Tasks
Start your student off with a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing (ie. “Roll two dice, add up the number shown and begin playing from that measure.” or “Play every other measure only.” or “Skip every F in the piece.”) and then let the brainstorming begin. He chooses his favourite 12 and writes them onto the popsicle sticks to take home.
The most important part of this activity is having your piano student come up with his own pro-active practice tasks. Simply feeding him tasks to complete at home will not result in as big of a difference as will allowing him to self-reflect and direct his own learning.
My student came up with some really inventive pro-active practice tasks that I would never have dreamed up, so hand over the reins and let your students take charge.
For some really inventive piano practice strategies check out our resource, Shhhh… Your Piano Teacher Thinks This Is Practice. This fantastic book provides 88 home practice activities that are absolutely, positively, most definitely, NOT BORING!
Mindful Practice Means Major Progress
Most accomplished musicians know practicing from start-to-finish is the least productive way of learning and perfecting a piece (in our past podcast with Dr. Christine Carter she explains exactly why this is so, calling on brain research to prove her point) but your young piano students and their parents may fall into the trap. So, send home this little practice aid as a fun way to introduce your students to a new way of practicing and watch their progress soar!