I’m always on the hunt for ways to increase the effectiveness of practice. For my youngest students specifically, I want to send them home with the tools they need to minimize confusion and maximize success. The home practice tool I’m sharing in today’s post achieves both of these goals.
Think back…. think waaaay back to when you were a young child. Now, remember the delight in tracing your own hand on to a piece of paper. Do you remember how it sort of tickled as the pencil followed the outline of your fingers… and how surprising it was to see how big your hand looked on the page (or how small!)… and… how fun it was to then turn that outline into a drawing of a turkey? Oh the simple joys of childhood 🙂
I relived this memory just the other day as I was tracing my 4 year old’s hand. She insisted upon cutting it out and carrying it around with her for the day. She’s inherited our quirky sense of humor; she named it “Handy”.
Lightbulbs went off for a piano teaching idea when she started teaching “Handy” to play the piano.
And so… compliments of our budding piano teacher… the resulting teaching ideas may be exactly what your young students need when learning a brand new piece.
A Handy Tool To Eliminate No-Practice Weeks
While I’ve used “hand tracing” for years to help with learning finger numbers, I never thought to use it for anything else! Today I’m sharing my new adventures with “Handy”.
To follow along with your own “Handy” tool, trace both of your students’ hands (preferably on something stiff like construction paper) and then cut out the tracings and paste just the palms (not the fingers) to a sheet of paper.
Now, try these strategies with your young students to set them up for home practice success:
- Which Fingers Start My Piece? – For some students, starting position is a stumbling block. They get home, somehow “forget where their hands go”, and then spend a week not practicing at all (or practicing incorrectly). To eliminate this headache, ask your student to fold down the fingers of the Handy Tool that begin their piece (one each hand). Once the fingers are folded, write the note name on them as well. Place the page inside your student’s book beside their assigned piece. Now he has a very effective visual and tactile reminder that can sit beside him on his home piano.
- Which Finger Plays the Accidental? – If you’re sending home a piano piece with an accidental that occurs frequently, ask your student to fold down the finger he will be using to play the sharp or flat. In 5-finger positions the specific finger used rarely changes, and so a very clear reminder can be helpful in preventing mistakes from being reinforced over and over. I’ve also used this strategy when introducing pentascales (“Which fingers are on black keys in the scale of E major?”).
But Wait… It’s Not Just a Practice Helper!
While this Handy Tool will do wonders for home practice, it can be used for many in-lesson activities as well (that then also result in more effective practice). Give these a try:
- Find the Intervals – The Handy Tool is the perfect visual for explaining intervals found within a given piece. Ask your student to fold down the fingers he would use to play a 4th on C, to fold down the fingers he would use to skip from E to G etc. This makes the connection of “4 notes apart on the piano is 4 fingers apart on your hand” very clear.
- Learn The Key – First, state the key (For example “D Major”) and then name notes one at a time. Have your student “flick” or bend the corresponding finger as you name the notes. For example, if you said “G, F#, D” your student would manipulate the 4, 3 and 1 fingers.
- Step, Skip, Repeat – Reinforce early reading skills by finding sets of notes that step, skip or repeat within a current piece. Ask your student to show you the step, skip or repeat by bending down the fingers (or finger) that is used.
Trevor and I are always looking for ways to help piano students maximize home practice. Because students spend so little time in our studios, success on the piano truly depends on what happens at home. If you want another awesome resource for maximizing home practice check out our book, Shhhh… Your Piano Teacher Thinks This Is Practice. It contains 88 piano practice activities that are absolutely, positively, most definitely, NOT BORING!