Sarah Lee

Sarah Lee

“If you don’t practice this week and come back ready to play your piece, you’ll have to do ten push-ups.”  That’s how a piano teacher friend of mine gets at least one of her students to engage at their lesson.

I’ve got one of those myself.  He’s about 8 years old and we’re working in Alfred’s Kids Guitar Method Book.  He’s developed this super annoying habit – He strums his strings really really loud and really really fast every single time I try to correct his playing.  He does it again…and again…and again.  I mean…every…single…time.  It’s like fingernails-on-the-chalkboard annoying.

One day, I reached my limit. I had a James Thurber-esque daydream where I clobbered him over the head with his little 3/4 size guitar.  There he was with his head popping out of the sound hole and his nylon strings flopping all over…. birds and stars spinning around his head.  But something brought me back to reality.  Ahhh… the delightful sound of him banging on those strings again.  In a moment of desperation, I said, “Knock it off!  This is a guitar lesson!  I want you to count out loud and play this piece correctly…or….or….you’ll have to do ten push ups!”  His eyes popped open wide and he was totally silent.  He sat up straight and played his little piece about as good as I’ve ever heard him play.  I nearly fell out of my chair.

The next week he was back at it again.  I asked him, “Do you know what a habit is?”

“When you do something over and over?”

“Yup.  How’d you like to do ten push-ups over and over?” I’m amazed at how fast the posture improves and as well as the playing.

Unfortunately, the following week…same old same old.  “Listen Kiddo, we’re going to have to figure this out.  This guitar studio isn’t big enough for the both of us!  Here’s the deal… You and I are going to make a SUPER PROMISE!  Do you know what that is?”

“No, sir.”

“I didn’t think so.  It means you have to promise you won’t do that annoying thing on your guitar anymore when I’m trying to talk to you.  When two people make a SUPER PROMISE, you have to shake hands…and then you can NEVER break that promise.  Ever.  If you do… it’s NO BUENO!  Do you know what that is?”

(Gulp!) “Nope.”

“Not good!  It’s always best to never break a SUPER PROMISE.  So here’s what you and me are going to promise to eachother…   YOU promise to practice your assignments and be ready to play, sit up straight, and count out loud…AND…YOU promise never to bang on your guitar anymore.  For me, I PROMISE not to make you do 100 push ups.  Deal?”

(Gulp.) “Deal.”

We shook hands, he packed up his guitar, and we walked out of the studio.  His grandma handed me a a check and asked me how things went.  I said, “Just great!”, with a big smile and a wink. “Be sure to ask him about the SUPER PROMISE we made today.”

The following week all I had to do was mention the SUPER PROMISE and we had the best lesson ever!

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The six practice strategies listed below come directly from the cognitive psychological scientists at LearningScientists.org. Megan Smith and Yana Weinstein hold doctorate degrees and have systematically applied current research on the brain and how it learns to the classroom setting.

I’ve taken their learning strategies one step further and applied them specifically to practicing an instrument. A good portion of the following paragraphs closely resemble their findings and I greatly appreciate their inspiration for this post!

The main point of their research is how the brain remembers best. It’s not through repetition nearly as much as through retrieval of information.

“Every time you leave a little space, you forget a bit of the information, and then you kind of relearn it. That forgetting actually helps you to strengthen the memory. It’s kind of counterintuitive, but you need to forget a little bit in order to then help yourself learn it by remembering again.”

-Weinstein from TheCultofPedagogy.com

You may find the list below validating like it was for me. I’ve encouraged most of these tactics for years and am thrilled that they are now scientifically proven to work thanks to Dr. Smith and Dr. Weinstein! Perhaps you’ll feel the same? Each strategy is first defined in the clinical terms found at TheLearningScientists.org. Next, you’ll read how I relate them to practice. I’ve also connected visuals to each strategy to help practicers understand and recall each one. [···]

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