When you ask piano teachers and piano parents what their top struggles are, helping kids have consistent and effective piano practice is always at the top of the list. Sometimes we forget that learning how to practice piano is a process that requires guidance, just like learning to read music is.
Here are 9 effective strategies for getting kids to practice piano
1. Be Specific on the Assignment Page
I have found that kids practice more effectively when we give them clear instructions about what we would like them to accomplish at home.
For example, you could assign students to practice page 28 two times counting out loud, and one time saying the note names out loud. Or, if a student is having trouble remembering the dynamics on the third line, or the staccatos in measure 14, you could write on the assignment page “practice third line 3 times per day with dynamics”, or “play measure 14 five times each day, remembering the staccatos.” Write these instructions on their assignment page so that they will remember exactly how you would like them to practice at home.
2. Use Piano Practice Charts
I love practice charts because when students know they will have to report on their practice efforts, they are much more likely to practice consistently. Piano practice charts also help students feel accountable for their progress… I’d like them to feel accountable for practicing each item, and for practicing it the specified number of times every day. So next to each assigned piece, I asked them to write in the number of times they practiced it each day.
Have you ever met a piano student who had been taking piano for a couple of years without making much progress, but blamed it on the teacher even though they weren’t practicing very much? Or have you seen a parent who watches with wide eyes during a recital, and wonders why their child hasn’t been progressing as fast as the other piano students? Using a practice chart helps the student feel accountable for their practice efforts at home, and helps them clearly understand why they are or are not progressing.
Practice charts also give teachers the opportunity to praise students for their hard work. When a student comes in and has practiced all of their assigned material, teachers should be lavish in their praise. We often give students a sticker when they pass off a song, and it’s great that we praise them for this accomplishment. But we should also be praising them for all of the behaviors that we would like them to continue. A wise teacher will every week check practice charts, and praise students who complete their assignments. Your students will love that you recognize their efforts, and will practice better as a result.
3. Teach Piano Practice Tricks
When they sit down to practice, most students will just start at the beginning of their piece and play straight through to the end. And they’ll do the same thing every day.
This is not the most effective way to practice. But students will only learn more effective practice techniques if we take the time to teach them. It is worth the time investment to coach students on specific practice strategies. And we’ll be most effective if we teach, review, and emphasize practice strategies often.
4. Use Incentive Programs
Students get so much more excited when they are working towards a reward! I love the incentive programs designed by Jennifer Foxx. Last year I used her Magic of Music incentive program, and was impressed by the creative ways she found to inspire students to practice. I was most impressed with how the program rewarded students for making their pieces “five stars”. It set the bar high for passing off the pieces with “five star” quality, and I watched in amazement as my students rose to the occasion and learned their pieces more thoroughly. They were excited about earning points and advancing levels.
5. Spark a Love for the Piano by Teaching Piano Improv
Kids will be excited to learn the piano if they come to love the piano. Practicing the simple pieces in their method book can become tedious and boring to kids, especially if they feel like it will take them years and years before he can ever play something they enjoy.
Piano improv can get your students jamming at the keys, making piano playing fun and helping your students fall in love with learning the piano. I have video tutorials that demonstrate piano improv activities your students will love. Visit the piano improvsection of this website for ideas on how to teach piano improv to your students.
Students will be thrilled to impress their friends with the fun pieces they can jam out. And they will love that they can sit down at any piano anywhere and create music.
If you have any students who seem bored with lessons, it’s probably just that they haven’t yet come to love the piano. Show them how easy and fun it is to improvise impressive music and you’ll spark a whole new level of interest in their studies.
6. Provide Recitals and Frequent Performance Opportunities
Piano students will always practice harder when they know they will be performing for an audience. And parents will always be more involved when they know their child will be performing.
If possible, try to hold a recital more than once at the end of the school year. These could be special themed recitals, mini recitals, or informal recitals.
If you are not able to hold more frequent recitals, you can give your students other performance opportunities by assigning at-home performances. You might assign the student to play a piece at their family Christmas party, accompany a song in their Sunday school class, or perform for a group of friends.
Participating in festivals and competitions also gives students performance opportunities and will motivate them to work harder and excel.
7. Encourage Family Support
This one point may be the most important on this list. When the family is involved and shows interest in the student’s learning, the student makes the most progress.
So to answer the question, “How do families encourage kids to practice piano?”, the answer is to be encouraging! This family support should be positive. Parents can be excited about their child’s growing abilities and excited to listen to their child play. It would be a wonderful thing if every week the parent sat down and just listened to their child with their full attention. At the end of this mini family recital, parents should applaud enthusiastically and tell the child how impressed they are with the student’s hard work, and how much they enjoy hearing them play.
When a grandparent or aunt comes to visit, parents can tell the visitor about a new piece the child has been working on and encourage the student to perform the piece. At the end of the performance everyone can applaud wildly and praise the child.
The goal here is for students to have lots of positive piano experiences with the people who mean the most to them. When students receive lots of praise, they will start to think, “I feel good when I play the piano.” “Other people enjoy hearing me play the piano.” “I want to keep learning the piano.”
To some parents, this type of support comes naturally. Piano teachers can help all parents by teaching them these principles and encouraging parents to enjoy home performances and be generous in their praise.
8. Encourage Families to Have a Set Practice Time
Kids typically perform better within a set routine. Parents can schedule out a block of time during which the student is alert and does not have other activities competing for attention. Examples might include first thing in the morning, right after school, or after dinner, depending on the family’s schedule. When a child comes to expect that 8 am every morning is piano practice time, there will be less resistance, especially if parents hold their ground from the very beginning. For parents wondering how to get kids to practice piano, this step is one of the most effective things you can do, along with showing sincere interest and support, to help your child succeed.
9. Include Several Fun Assigned Pieces Each Year
Piano students will always spend more time practicing songs they like. That’s just the way it is. So wise teachers will be sure to include fun songs in the yearly repertoire. Songs from movies and the radio are always a big hit. So are holiday-themed pieces. Parents can help in this area by paying attention to the songs their kids enjoy, and then purchasing the sheet music and sending it with the student to the lesson. Or parents can gift a special song book to their child, and let their child know that this book is for pure fun, and anytime they’d like they can open it up and play their favorite pieces.
As you apply these practice tips, you’ll see students practicing more and making faster progress at the piano. I encourage you to start right away. Select at least one of these tips and begin incorporating it into your studio this week. You’ll be glad you did!