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Practice Charts

Do you provide practice charts to your students? Do you have them make their own charts? Or do you have them mark their practicing into a lesson book?

Sometimes I use charts, and would like to use them more often. They’re very helpful for many students. We all know that practice results in progress, but having a written record of practicing rewards us with concrete evidence of having put in the time.

My motto about practicing is, “The more you play, the better you get; and the more you play correctly, the faster you get better.”

Not everyone would agree with me. Some feel that if you play a lot with bad habits, you’ll get worse. But I think that if someone plays a lot, it’s because they enjoy it, and habits are fixable, especially if someone has the motivation that comes from enjoyment of the instrument. On the other hand, some people who are dedicated to perfect habits can also be so afraid of making mistakes that they don’t practice enough to make progress and enjoy themselves.

What should a practice chart display? The number of minutes spent practicing per day? I think only a few students respond well to demands that they practice a certain number of minutes per day. Sometimes this demand just chills the motivation of students. It happened to my daughter, anyway.  She used to practice piano often during each day–a little at a time as she passed by the piano. Then her teacher required one hour per day, and she stopped playing. She said she felt any playing she did was a drop in the bucket towards that day’s required hour, not to mention the hour she missed the day before.

Of course, some students love the challenge of organizing themselves to meet the required time allotment per day, and for some, having a time slot is the only way to practice regularly.

But I prefer to focus on frequency rather than quantity of time. If someone practices frequently, they become conversant with their music, and with the challenges they are tackling. They usually can’t help becoming more intrigued with their own progress, the more frequently they play.

I ask students who make charts to mark off not how many minutes they played, but simply whether they played that day. They use check marks for exercises that just need to be done, and then for musical pieces they are working on, I like them to use symbols, smiley/frowny faces, stickers, or numbers, to grade themselves.

Having them grade themselves allows them to play a piece however they play it, even badly, but still to mark down that they played it that day.  This gives them permission to play even if they didn’t do so well–and they get to make clear that they recognized they didn’t play so well that day.  It also provides an interesting history of how they feel they did on that piece, sometimes going from bad marks to better, sometimes going from okay to worse to better.

Having said all that, I wish I could say I use charts for everyone but I don’t.  I do think charts can make practicing more fun, and concretely rewarding. After all, a student’s playing may improve incrementally, but they may not really feel that way for a while, so having a chart to show for their work is a nice touch.

Maybe you have a tip on how to make or use charts. Do you use them? Do you use rewards for practicing? It would be great to hear from you–just click on “Add Comment” below.

About the Author

Ed Pearlman
Ed Pearlman has focused on performing, teaching, and judging fiddle music for over 30 years, offering performances and workshops throughout the USA and in Canada and Scotland. His original training was with members of the Chicago and Boston Symphonies, and he played with orchestras and chamber groups at Yale and in Boston. He currently teaches privately in Maine and at workshops around the countr... [Read more]

7 Comments

  1. Stephanie Holler

    Yes!!! I love practice charts for most students. I have a points system that rewards them for their efforts. They have to check off each day that they practiced and they get points for that. They also get points just for having a good attitude, and points for their performance on songs in lessons (pretty low pressure for the young ones though). Then they get a lot of points for having a song memorized because it usually means they really practiced it. Once they get to a set amount they get a prize. Then I have various “clubs” they can join as they move up the points ladder. It really has worked for me!

  2. Patricia

    I was reading your Piano Teachers Blog and found it quite interesting. I have a 12 year old daughter who is interested in taking piano lessons, but has been told it will take her at least 5 years or more to develop her skills. What type of program would you give to a 12 year old. She loves music, but only wants it as an activity. The teacher we have been talking to has told her piano is not an activity, its a lifetime comittment. When I was young I studied the John Thompson method, but I can’t remember what I studied with it. Also, could you please tell me when is the appropriate time to study scales. I am thinking of maybe teaching my daughter the basic theory and easy beginner piano for the first year, if the teacher is going to be a problem. I would really appreciate your advice on this matter.
    Thank you,
    Patricia

  3. Julie Chapman

    Patricia – I hope that you have spoken with other teachers since you made your comment! Learning piano is all about the students’ enjoyment and nothing else. And a student can have fun from the very beginning – they just need a teacher to make the learning interesting and rewarding. How sad that there are teachers in the world who demand total commitment and perfection. Personal enjoyment and fulfillment should be the goal of lessons.
    Best of luck to you and your daughter.
    Julie Chapman
    JohnsCreekPianoLessons.com

  4. Ed Pearlman

    @Julie and Patricia– I agree with Julie that shunning enjoyment in the name of perfection is a sad sacrifice. There is a hitch, however, and this is what confuses the matter: enjoyment and fun are not always easy to define, especially by parent and teacher. Sometimes kids who work hardest and are held to high standards that they are able to reach are the ones who feel they’ve had the most fun, the most rewarding experience, the most pride in what they’ve done, regardless of whether there are games and smiles going on all the time. The problem is that some teachers go too far in either direction–some are all shallow fun and no expectations, and some are all expectations and no fun or compassion. Each student needs the right mix and the right timing and presentation.

  5. Julie

    Well said, Ed. The trick is to find out what motivates each student to do their personal best. Some respond well to lots of “push” and others need the plenty of “play” thrown in so that they do not get totally stressed and frustrated.

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  7. Teach yourself piano

    I prefer charts or metrics that measure the piano student’s enjoyment or feeling of personal accomplishment during a particular practice sessions. IMHO they are a subjective measure of success for the individual’s sense of progress. Charts measuring improvement in specific piano technique should be only secondary and consulted in pointing out areas of improvement on those days when a student feels that their practice was lacking for a particular day.