Every student is different. Experiment with the following practice tips to find the best results for your students.
When a timer doesn’t work - Some students can’t focus unless they have a numbered goal to reach. While I don’t encourage telling your students to play their songs a certain number of times, you can get around this by having them drill harder sections a certain number of times before they can play the whole song. But, if they repeat a mistake more than twice than they need to go back to drilling the smaller section.
One section at a time – Just as a kindergarten teacher doesn’t teach the entire alphabet on the first day of school, your student should not try to learn a piece all at once. It is better if they take it in sections and practice a section until they can do it without mistakes three times through. Then move on to the next section.
One song at a time – This goes along with the above tip. Our minds retain information a little better if something is repeated soon. It is better to work on one song at a time rather than cycling through all the songs over a practice session.
Use a recorder - Encourage your students to record themselves at the beginning of the week, mid week, and at the end of the week. Not only does this help them hear the progress they’ve made, which encourages them, but it helps them hear where they are pausing or making mistakes. This is also a great motivator to practice because they’ll want their recordings to sound better. You can have them bring in their recordings every once in awhile, or email them to you if they are using an electric device to record themselves.
Sing - Have your students hum or sing the melody of their songs. This helps with musicality and also helps them learn a piece a little easier because it is more ingrained in their minds and not just a response to notes on a page.
Go Slow – Young children, especially boys it seems, love to play their songs up to speed the moment they start practicing. Have your student start at a slow tempo and then increase the tempo only when they have played through the section or piece three times in a row correctly. A metronome is a great tool for this.
Mark it – Sometimes our minds needs another visual cue to help us remember things. Give your student a pencil during their lessons and encourage them to mark their music. Have the circle a missed dynamic marking, accidentals, accents, or write in a note they struggle with. If they repeat the same mistakes, have them circle that section to drill at home.
Practice Notebook- With each song you assign you may want to give your student specific instructions – hold your wrist higher here, play louder here, etc. Have your students check off each practice note as they work on it. There are some good practice records and assignment sheets here that you can use for this. This is also a great way for students to jot down questions they have during the week.
No TV - Ask your students to make sure their practice environment is free from distractions and noise. Turn off the TV, radio, etc. and create a quiet environment in which they can work.
Practice every day - Unlike studying for tests or exams, piano practice cannot be crammed in at the last minute or day before the lesson. Encourage them to find time to practice every day.
Practice performing - When they feel their songs are ready, have your students practice performing. Meaning, they need to continue playing after a mistake, without pausing, pulling faces, grunting or making any other sounds. This will help your students develop their performing abilities in a more relaxed environment. We all make mistakes, but it is important that your students learn how to handle their mistakes while performing. Nerves make us do crazy things during performances and it is nice to know how to handle it.
Mini Recitals – Another motivator is to ask your student’s parents to choose one day every week that the whole family will sit down and listen to the songs their child is working on that week. This will motivate the child to prepare for this mini recital and give them encouragement from their family.
Have fun - Learning a new piece of music is hard work. Your student should reward themselves after a good practice session by playing familiar and favorite song just for the fun of it. Think of this as the dessert after meal.