Last week as I was doing my Bible study one morning, I was especially struck by some verses in Isaiah 26: 9b-10:
“For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. If favor is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness he deals corruptly and does not see the majesty of the Lord.”
These verses made me start thinking about the principle of cause and effect and the importance of experiencing consequences for bad choices. This, in turn, made me think of the students in my studio who often fail to practice consistently (yes, I have some of those, too!). If a student doesn’t practice diligently in a given week, what is the most effective way for me to respond? If I’m just as pleasant as usual and let them “get away” with a typical lesson or some other fun activity, what does that teach them? That there are no felt consequences for not practicing. Of course, we know that the most serious consequence of not practicing is that the student will not progress as quickly or to as high a level as a student who does practice consistently. But this is hard for students to grasp because they can’t know the extent of the potential they are failing to develop through their lack of practice.
So, I’ve been pondering these thoughts and wondering if my responsibility as a teacher should include some sort of felt consequence for students who don’t practice. And in my ponderings, I began wondering what the #1 factor is that keeps students from practicing consistently. I came up with a variety of possibilities, but finally decided that my best bet was to get input directly from the students. With that in mind, I devised a Practice Survey that I’ve been having each of my students complete – both the practicers and the non-practicers. I thought as long as I was getting feedback, I should find out from the good practicers what it is that motivates them to practice!
The Practice Survey includes two questions:
- What is the #1 reason you don’t practice consistently (5-6 days per week)?
- What is the #1 reason you practice consistently (5-6 days per week)?
Each of the questions is followed by a list of multiple choice answers, including an option for the student to list some other reason. I just instructed students to think of weeks when they do or don’t practice consistently and then answer the question as honestly as possible. It’s been interesting to see the results thus far, and I’m looking forward to compiling all of them and sharing the feedback with the parents to see what insights and/or ideas they might have for all of us working together to help the students develop more consistent practice habits!
Another random, non-musical question. These are fun just to get to know the students a little better! After this my creativity ran out, so this was the last of the survey questions for this year. If anyone has ideas for other survey questions, I would love to know what they are! A lot of my students really got into these and kept asking me about the survey question even after I stopped writing new ones. Several students started contributing their own questions that I can use in the future!
What person from history would you most like to meet if you had the chance?
* Jesus, Adoniram Judson, George Mueller, Lincoln.
* Ronald Regan.
* Amelia Earhart.
* John Adams.
* Abraham Lincoln.
* The apostle Peter.
* Babe Ruth.
* My Dad’s Grandpa.
I decided to do a random non-musical question for number seven – partly just for something different and partly because I was running out of good ideas for lesson-related questions.
If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?
* 1. Ireland. 2. Prince Edward Island.
* 1. Chicago. 2. New York. 3. Canada.
* Probably to Africa to see my cousins.
* Too many to list.
* I would go to Europe.
* China because I want to see the Great Wall and learn about their culture.
* Italy and Paris.
* Everywhere! Of course!
* Out of the USA.
You can see that I have quite a few less responses to this question than some of the others. I just left it up to the students each week to decide if they wanted to answer the question or not.
What performance tips have been the most helpful to you?
* Just focus on your piece and take a lot of deep breaths.
* Just keep going if you mess up.
* Take time before you play.
* Practice, Practice, Practice!
* Good job.
* Stand up straight and smile.
* Practice it a lot before.
* Be prepared! Have your piece learned well enough to play in your sleep. (When you get nervous your brain won’t work – your fingers have to know what to do!!)
* To smile when walking up.
* Pretend the audience is not there.
* Focus on what you’re playing.
* Sit straight.
Here is the fifth survey question I asked my students, followed by their answers:
What advice would you give to a new piano student about practicing?
* Never give up.
* Never stop trying.
* Get your rhythm correct.
* Do it every day.
* First play it slow, then play it backwards.
* Play slowly when starting a new piece.
* To practice every day a week.
* Practice often.
* Try as hard as you can and if you can’t, take a break then try it later.
* Try to practice every day.
* Practice makes perfecto.
* Keep trying.
* Listen to your teacher.
* To learn all the notes and what they mean.
* Play slow.
* I tell them to practice each of their songs several times daily, and increase the amount of time they spend at the piano slowly.
* Practice all 7 days.
* The more you practice the easier the songs will become.
Oops! I kind of dropped the ball on posting my survey questions after the first, second and third questions. Here is the fourth survey question I asked, followed by my students’ responses:
If you could change one thing about your piano lessons, what would it be?
* The only thing I would change is having a longer lesson.
* Practicing more things.
* More games.
* The time.
* It would be longer.
* More fast songs and more scales and more theory books.
* I love them the way they are!!!
* To have a longer lesson.
* Make the lessons longer.
* Being able to play Entertainer.
* When I first come in I would get a piece of gum.
* Maybe a few more activities.
* I wouldn’t do theory.
* I don’t want to do theory book.
* I would have piano lessons more often and get rid of scales!
* Having to practice.
* Improve on Jolly Old St. Nicholas.
Following is the third installment of the Survey Question idea I’m using in my studio this Spring.
If you could automatically improve one area of your piano skills, what would it be?
* Increasing my piano level.
* Learning hard pieces.
* Lesson work.
* Romantic sounding pieces.
* Sight-reading (understanding chord structures, etc.).
* Curving fingers.
* Staying on beat.
* Improving my piano skills faster.
* Playing really hard notes.
* Keeping fingers curved.
* Play all the songs in the world.
* Everything! (Learn more difficult pieces faster)
* Listening and playing big compositions by ear.
* Not having pauses.
My students seem to really be enjoying the survey questions! Here’s the second question I asked, followed by all the responses I received:
What’s the most helpful technique you’ve learned in piano lessons?
* Playing one hand at a time.
* Putting your weight into the keys instead of playing all with your fingers.
* Keeping my hands up, not flat.
* Learning chord progressions.
* Piano games.
* Emphasizing notes.
* Using the metronome!
* To have a good thumb.
* Curved fingers.
* Fingers curved.
* Playing slow.
* To relax my arms!
Several weeks ago I started posting a weekly survey question on a white board outside my studio. At the end of each week I draw a paper from the jar with all the entries and the winner receives a prize. So far I’ve been letting the winner choose a piece of sheet music from my overflowing collection that’s accumulated as a result of receiving New Release packages from various publishers. The students have really enjoyed it and their answers to the questions have been rather enlightening! I’ll try to keep up with posting our studio questions and answers here each week. Here’s the question from the first week, “What is your favorite thing about piano lessons?“
Here’s my student Addi filling out her answer…
Here she is dropping it into the entry jar…
Here’s a list of the answers I received. (BTW, I’m tracking all these in a spreadsheet for easy reference in the future.)
* Playing at recitals. I also like how Natalie treats and helps me through difficulties and other things just the same as others even though I have a handicap.
* A nice teacher to teach me.
* Playing the games.
* Time with Natalie and making up songs.
* New songs.
* You don’t let me get lazy! I love the accountability.
* Piano games.
* Miss Natalie.
* Adding up points at the end.
* I like everything.
* Playing songs.
* The interesting songs I get to learn.
* Reading music.
* I like learning new techniques to make the motion of a piece better (like wrist motion, etc.).
* The end. Practicing the songs.
* The help I get.
* Getting points.
* Learning to play fun and difficult pieces.