Many people may find this to be a very contradictory statement but here it is. If all you ever hear coming out of your child’s practice room is beautiful music than chances are good that your child is not necessarily practicing effectively. There is a world of difference between playing music and practicing.
Briefly, there are several different kinds of practicing. I want to be clear about the kind of practice that I am talking about. In this situation I am talking about the kind of practicing that is geared toward learning something that you do not already know; the new piece of music, the new scale, perfecting the troublesome areas of a piece, etc. I am addressing the “in the trenches” work of taking things apart and repeating sections over and over again in an effort to get it all working properly, to get the bugs out.
While it is fine and even recommended for your child to play through some of the music that they already know doing that exclusively, without “struggling” a bit with their newer assignments will result in very little long term growth and progress. We all recognize that playing what we know is enjoyable and while it is a good momentum builder, it is another kind of practice, one that is geared to long term focus and building musical performance skills (something I will talk about in another post).
Focused, effective practice is not all that appealing to listen to. Drilling scales, exercises and repetitive measures and passages over and over again are necessary to skill development but are not a source of entertainment meant for an audience. When those sounds are coming out of your child’s practice room take a moment to breath, smile and assure yourself that they are doing exactly what they should be doing. They are working on music that they do not know yet and stretching themselves to learn something new. As a bonus, they are also developing the kind of discipline, independent focus and stick-to-itiveness that is needed in many other aspects of life including problem solving situations that arise in school.
Ideally we want to help our students to strike a balance in their practice habits. It is not only easier for children to play what they already know but absolutely more enjoyable for us to listen to them playing what you already know. Sometimes we might inadvertently reinforce that kind of practice by praising them only for the beautiful music we just heard while saying nothing about something that they are struggling with. In our well meaning efforts to be kind we might actually discourage the very activity that is at the heart of learning.
In the scheme of things playing anything is better than playing nothing, so all practice is good. Encouraging those who enjoy playing what they know but are reluctant to engage in focused practice is important. Reminders might be necessary but so is praise. When you do hear the sounds of an effective practice session rather than ignoring it, it can be very motivating to acknowledge the fact that you are aware of the necessary hard work being done and the progress it will lead to.
Another form of reinforcement will come from the teacher at the next lesson. After a week of focused practice there is no doubt that the teacher will notice!