“Why do you practise?” I asked my student, Nima. Nima was an incredible shining star of a child. Not necessarily because he was super intelligent (although, I believed he was) but more because he approached learning with the wonder of a still-innocent mind. I delighted as he pondered the question for a moment, something I had grown accustomed to his thoughtful young mind doing before answering and then he replied, “To get better.”
Ah, the typical response that I’ve heard from every student to whom I’ve asked this question. Since this wasn’t my first time at the proverbial educational Rodeo, I had my next question already formulated,
“Then how do you know when you are done?” | queried with a raised eyebrow and inviting smile.
Nima raised the pointer finger of his right hand and place it on his eight-year-old chin, briefly nodding his head. “Hmm, I guess when I’m better at playing the piece. But I could always get even more better, so that’s an interesting question!”
He didn’t disappoint. His young mind was quick to consider the options of his responses before he said them and even quicker to know when I was trying to get him to think further past the normal “knee-jerk” reactions with which most people answer questions.
And what about your own motivation to practise?
So, I ask you the same question that I asked Nima, “Why do YOU practise?” I invite you to think a bit deeper than the typical knee-jerk answer you might nonchalantly toss out. I believe that thinking this through, past the easy answer will provide you with a greater insight into how to motivate your students, and how to start them on the path to becoming self-directed learners. Before continuing to read this article, take a moment to think, ponder and challenge your mind to come up with a more functional answer.
Wait! Are you still reading this, without taking a couple of minutes to consider other options? I implore you to pause, put a couple of measures of rest in the music of your life and listen to the sounds in your mind. Really take a minute… or two.
Okay, you can continue reading….
Going deeper: What is the point though?
Permit me to ask you another question: Why for that matter, do any of us do anything? Or why for that matter do, at times, we do nothing?
Part of the human condition, (a “condition” that our students participate in!) is the seeking out of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Part of the “condition” of a piano lesson, is teaching our students how to practice. And, as I’m sure you’ve experienced, if you’ve taught for more than a month, today’s students, could use a strong dose of effective practising skills and strategies!
Today’s youth are simply so stretched for time, that asking for an hour of daily practice is like asking for a unicorn to show up in your backyard! Heck, it’s a gift if students get in an hour of weekly practice! But that doesn’t mean they can’t achieve and they must learn how and when to stop practising.
That’s right, I said “stop” practising.
When is the best time to stop practising?
If a student practices until he simply cannot bear it any longer, (i.e. he is not experiencing periodic successes) he is conditioning himself to associate the piano with frustration. Usually, this occurs because students are trying to achieve too much in too little time, i.e. cramming. But, if instead, a student learns to practice until he feels…(here the BIG secret!) proud of his accomplishment, he is creating an association with the piano that will bring him a lifetime of joy and fulfilment.
Conclusion and how Nima and I answered the question
So the answer to the question I asked Nima is, (“How do you know when you are finished practising?” ) is “When you feel proud of your accomplishment.” And here is an extremely important point as it relates to today’s students… the accomplishments need to be achievable in ten minutes or less! That’s right, just ten minutes!
Now ten minutes may not seem like a lot of time, but let’s convert that into measures of music. If a student can learn just two measures of music in ten minutes and does two ten minute sessions a day, five days a week, he would learn twenty measures of music a week or (with four weeks of vacation calculated in) nine hundred and sixty measures of music a year! That’s quite an accomplishment of which to feel proud of!
If they do this, the next time you ask them why they practice, they will respond, “Because it feels good!”