From athletes to public speakers, magicians to actors, musicians to restaurant chefs, optimal performance requires focus. When performance time comes, adrenaline naturally kicks in, giving us an extra boost of excitement and focus.
But what about focus during practice, when the adrenaline isn’t pumping? How do we achieve “the zone” when the pressure’s off? I’m here today with strategies to help you or your child find focus during piano practice on a regular basis.
Warm up Your WHOLE Body!
Warming up the body before practicing is just as important to musicians as it is to any
athlete. Here are some suggestions for the pianist:
- Shoulder Rolls forward and backward ( 5 – 10 times each direction)
- Reach to the sky
- Touch Your Toes
- Gentle Wrist Rolls
- Gently Stretch Hands Open and then Form a Fist (2 – 3 times)
- Old Fashioned Jumping Jacks ( This always seems to wake me up…)
Drink More Water
60% of the human body and 70% of the brain is composed of water. Drinking more
water for focus may not be news to you, but a reminder is helpful. There is a tremendous
difference in my focus with an increase in water intake alone.
Training Your Family
Sometimes putting your piano in a place where no distractions can happen is just not
possible. If you can do that, by all means, create a quiet space for yourself! For those
who can’t, you must let your family know that piano practicing is a priority for you, and
that you need help to decrease distractions. Results will vary from family to family.
The Power of the Pencil
Use your pencil as your piano practice focusing light saber! Write in finger numbers that
work (Thumb – 1, to Pinky – 5). Write in reminders in places where mistakes have been
happening. Write in adjectives describing what you want to sound like, such as “fluid” or “playful.”
Depending on the student’s age, either ask your teacher to write a lesson journal in your notebook every week, or, when you come home from lessons, write down what you remember from the lesson. These penciled notes will provide content focus.
Focus on Your self-image
Do YOU think you can focus whenever it’s needed? Often how we see ourselves creates
limits for what we can do. Visualize yourself how you’d like to be practicing. Visualize
the kind of focus that you want for yourself.
If you communicate to yourself that you’re the kind of person who can come to focus, you will do what you need to do to accomplish this. How we feel about ourselves affects our habits!
by Cassandra Clouser
Do you find your child waiting to practice the piano until 20 minutes before you have to leave for lessons? Or, maybe, she’s not even practicing at all? They may be even exhibiting some pre-lesson stress and anxiety because of the lack of practice?
Let me tell you this: the happiest and most successful students I have are not necessarily the most intelligent or talented; they are the ones with a healthy level of parental support in practicing. Let go of the fear that your child will become dependent on you to practice.
They need you to show them how to achieve sustainable habits of practice and productivity. It’s my goal here today to give you four keys that will significantly decrease piano practice stress and make everyone happier over the long haul.
Key # 1: Don’t leave practicing to chance
Practicing any craft is a habit that we create. In the words of Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Create with them a practicing schedule that is the same every week. I suggest practicing ideally every day. If this isn’t possible, then 5 – 6 days should be sufficient. At first there may be resistance, but once the habit is created, it will be worth it! Hang in there!
Key # 2: Experiment with time of day
There will be times of the day that your child is more mentally alert. I realize that we have homework to work around also, but why not make piano practice a part of their home study agenda? Each child is different, but here are two times I find children to be most productive:
- Right after school following a light snack. (Fuel is key!)
- Weekend mornings
Key # 3: Create Practice and Performance Goals
This one is SO important. We humans work so well when we are passionate about a goal. Working toward the goal gives us drive and direction. Make sure that your child is getting enough performance opportunity. This could be in the form of recitals, performance classes, performing for family and friends, or performing in nursing homes, etc.
Key # 4: Design an Incentive with Your Child
A well-prepared musical performance is an incentive in itself. Playing the piano is a social skill that adds to not only our own happiness, but to the happiness of others. But, you can go the extra mile and create periodic incentives to keep them going along the way. Create a monthly practice poster that gets filled with stickers. Maybe after a week or two of successful practicing, they receive a privilege, or get to go out and do something special with mom, dad, and/or the whole family.
Make music a family affair! Your child, and you child’s piano teacher, will thank
you for it. :O)
3 Productivity Tools for the Young Piano Student
by Cassie Clouser
Even though sitting down at the piano bench is half the battle for your son or daughter (or maybe YOU are the pianist here), it doesn’t guarantee that much is going to get done! I’m here to make sure you get the most out of your practice time, and to start, here are three tools to increase productivity at the piano bench.
1) Egg Timer
When it comes time to practice, the clock on the wall can be a major distraction. I can just picture it:
“OK. 30 minutes. Let’s practice. (looks up at the clock) 29 minutes left, alright, a little more practice. What time is it? (looks up at the clock again) What? Still 29 minutes left??”
One solution to this distraction is an egg timer, and if you can find a silent one, even better. Removing clocks in the pianist’s practice area will help allow them to get in the zone.
2) Practice Journal
Journaling how long, how often, and what pieces played are all important, but I’ve found the most productive material for a young pianist to write in their journal about is success. Have them write about practice techniques that really worked for them. For example, Jason may write,
“I practiced a segment at a time instead of running through the whole piece over and over today. That made such a big difference! Instead of practicing the same mistakes over and over, I focused on my challenge areas, corrected them, and practiced the right notes!”
Journaling successful practice techniques promotes self-awareness, and affirms the success their memory. Their journal becomes a practice tool box of its own.
3) Recording Device
Yes, a young pianist can hear what they’re playing, but with a recorder, they can pay full attention to just listening to the music they’ve made. For example, Ali may be pausing awkwardly every 5 seconds, but doesn’t hear it because her focus is on note reading. Have her listen to a recording of her playing, and she may be surprised!
A recorder for practicing does not have to be fancy. You can find recorders at your local office supply store, or you can use your smart phone or tablet if you have one.
Remember to record only for personal listening. When posting on the internet or playing a recording publicly, make sure you have the appropriate copyright license.