Recognizing that my students are busy with academics, sports, dance, other instruments and obligations, I recently asked everyone to complete an activity/home schedule encompassing a typical week in their lives. The idea behind this request was to determine what part of their day was available for daily practice time at the piano and to give this time a priority as though it were an outside activity to attend.

It was interesting to see that the majority of students chose to practice after dinner when homework and other responsibilities had been completed. It’s a wonderful way to wind down for the evening, hopefully hearing beautiful music, but for those students with longer practice sessions of 40 minutes and up, this can lead to a very late evening. A better idea may be to split this time, 20 minutes after school and 20+ minutes after dinner, so that the attention is more focused on the music. Once students log 10 weeks of steady consistent practicing they can color in one square on the Skills and Drills chart:

Regarding practice strategies, one of the greatest resources that I have come across is Nancy O’Neill Breth’s guides for students and parents, “The Piano Students Guide to Effective Practicing” and “The Parents Guide to Effective Practicing.” At a recent presentation for the New England Piano Teachers Association (NEPTA), Nancy spoke about many of the creative practice tips published in the Student Guide which were compiled over the years by fellow teachers, colleagues and her own students. These illuminating ideas are alphabetically organized with catchy titles such as Baby Steps, Copycat, Final Four, Ghosts, Mixed Media, Popcorn and Speed Trials and further categorized by area of concentration such as accuracy, articulation, balance, expression, fingering and memory (just to name a few). Nancy doesn’t just talk about these ideas in theory, she uses them in practice and has a very successful studio in the Washington DC area.
Another wonderful recent discovery are the Piano Safari Practice Strategies by Dr. Julie Knerr and Katherine Fisher. This set of forty 5 x 4 cards contain a color picture on the front of each card with the description of the activity on the back. Many are effective contemporary solutions targeting problem areas that are applicable to students at all ages and levels. For example, I particular love the idea of “Refrigerator Practice” which encourages the student to go play their recital piece in performance mode every time they get a snack from the kitchen.
Or, the “Speed Bump” which asks the student to slow down as they gradually near a difficult passage as though they were approaching a speed bump. Once the hurdle is cleared, the piece resumes normal tempo. Students enjoy having creative ideas at their disposal making the learning process more fun and ultimately successful.