Practice Doesn't Always Make Perfect, and That's Okay

Sometimes I struggle with keeping Wednesday “wordless.” Over the past 4 months I’ve collected quite a number of pictures from my students’ assignment sheets, and I’ve been meaning to make this collage for a while. So rather than posting just an image today, I’d like to share a little reflection about practice habits.

Here’s a little taste of some of the artwork I’ve seen since January. I’m always impressed with the colorful practice charts that come back week after week. Some students are more interested in coloring than others, and some just like to check off the pictures or shade them in with a regular pencil. And of course, my older students use different assignment sheets.

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It’s no secret: consistent student practice almost always make a piano (or voice) lesson much more productive. It gives us something to build on and generally keeps us moving in a forward-facing motion. And it certainly beats having to re-hash the same pieces and information every week! Nobody enjoys getting stuck in that kind of a rut.

Of course, the old adage “Practice Makes Perfect” isn’t always true. If we practice ineffectively or if we practice bad habits, sometimes practice can actually make things worse. Practicing the wrong rhythm for an entire week can make it really difficult to re-learn the correct rhythm, just as only playing through from beginning to end rarely makes for a truly polished piece.

But even ineffective or incorrect practice can teach us something. For students, it can remind them to be cautious about going on “auto-pilot” mode and to consistently self-reflect on their own work.  Ineffective practice reminds us as teachers to be as clear as possible with our instructions: it reminds us not only to teach students how to play a piece, but perhaps more importantly how to practice that piece.

How do you remind your students to practice effectively? Share some of your practice strategies in the comments below!

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4 Comments

  • by Diane Quick Posted March 23, 2016 1:16 pm

    I help them find note groups/measures that occur again in the music, then practice those little groups over and over, be for the new and next section.

    • by Sara @ Sara’s Music Studio Posted March 24, 2016 9:54 am

      Excellent point, Diane! I like to circle patterns (or have the student do it.) As teachers, we find patterns very easily because we know to look for them… it takes practice for students to catch on to this skill.

  • by malloryjbyers Posted March 23, 2016 2:33 pm

    I practice a lot with my students. I use the modified cliche “perfect practice makes perfect.” We practice practicing in slow motion so that they don’t miss anything. We will also practice zooming in close on trouble spots. Tim Topham had a nice article about this. My students also know “Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.”

    • by Sara @ Sara’s Music Studio Posted March 24, 2016 9:55 am

      I’m a subscriber to both of those phrases! I’m also a huge fan of the “3 second pause” or “shake it off” between repetitions. It helps us to avoid repetition burn out. I’ll have to look up Tim’s article, thanks for the tip!

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