How to Be a Music Practice Monster

from the Private Teacher Index

Becoming a great musician doesn't happen by accident and it doesn't happen all at once. Every great musician will tell you that it all began with the discipline to sit in your practice chair every day and improve something.

Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit."

If you want to help your kids form a good practice habit and make the most of their musical journey, keep reading. I'll share tips that will help you make the most of their practice time.

Practice Monsters Establish a Routine

Practice monsters practice every day. It's the first step your kids need to take to become great musicians. Their commitment to this routine will help them remember what their lesson goals are and help them achieve consistent growth.

Practicing 20 minutes a day is a good place to start. They'll see tremendous progress and never feel overwhelmed.

Practice Monsters Have Daily Goals

Your kids should try to get better at something every day. It doesn't have to be something big; it just needs to be something that will make a difference. Next, encourage them to accomplish their goals before they get up from their practice chair.

Here are a few examples of daily practice goals:

a) Learn to play the C Major scale.

b) Practice a selected phrase very slowly until it can be played with a steady beat.

c) Enhance the piece of music that they've already learned by adding dynamic contrast. Follow the markings or be creative.

If you're not sure what goals to set for your kids, ask your music teacher to make a list.

Practice Monsters Problem-Solve

To learn anything as complex as music, your kids will need to problem-solve.

Wondering how to make difficult tasks easy by problem-solving?

One of the best strategies is to work backward.

In the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey says that effective people "start with the end in mind."

The end goal with music is always playing a piece well. To achieve this goal your kids will work backward to find the best first step.


a) Decide if the first two measures can be played correctly on the first try. If not, keeping working backward.
b) Decide if the treble clef part can be played correctly on the first try. If not, keeping working backward.
c) Decide if the treble clef part of the first measure can be played correctly on the first try. If yes, give it a try.
d) Practice it slowly.

If your kids are successful with Step D, they should start working forward. Eventually they will return to Step A and be ready to problem-solve another phrase.

Wondering why they need to get it right the first time?

1) Music students only get better when they play the music correctly.
2) Playing music wrong ten times is a super big waste of time.

Practice Monsters Practice Very Slowly

Playing everything right on the first try is a pretty tall order. In fact, it's impossible - but that doesn't mean you stop trying. When your kids have the goal of perfection, they'll achieve perfection far more often.

If you want your kids to be practice monsters, they'll need to practice very, very slowly. Doing so will help them achieve their goals with ease. They will also find that practicing very, very slowly helps them play things that they never thought they could.

Practice Monsters Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Playing difficult phrases once usually isn't enough to make it stick. It will require several days or weeks of practice.

Effective practice means practicing a phrase until it's performed correctly, and then practicing it four more times. By the end of the fifth correct performance your kids will be playing the phrase far more consistently, and with ease.

Practice Monsters Count Out Loud

Most students don't want to count out loud. However, students that do count out loud almost always play the rhythms correctly.

It's been 13 years since I developed a counting system for elementary age kids, and it's been so helpful that it's now part of every Academy lesson until students reach Level 3. At that point they switch to the traditional counting system.

Quarter Notes - Say the alphabet letter name of the note.
Half Note - Count "Half Note" (Two Beats/Two Syllables)
Dotted Half Note - Count "Dot-ted Half" (Three Beats/Three Syllables)
Whole Note - Count "Hold That Whole Note" (Four Beats/Four Syllables)

Practice Monsters Use a Metronome

Metronomes can make you crazy. They can also make you an exceptional musician. When kids are just getting started it's enough to let them be guided by their own sense of time. When kids are older they should be encouraged to practice with a metronome.

Wondering why practicing with a metronome is so important?

Younger kids have a reasonably good sense of time, but often don't value playing with a steady beat. To illustrate this, imagine they are driving a car down the road. Younger students can keep the car on the road, but often don't mind if they drive it into the curb on either side. During the first few years of music lessons they just need to be encouraged to keep the car driving down the middle of the road.

Intermediate music students value playing with a steady beat, and can keep the car on the road most of the time. Their focus should be on keeping the car from weaving. Practicing with a metronome will keep the car on as direct a path as possible.

Practicing with a metronome will gradually grow their sense of time and develop your young musicians into the best players they can be.

Ready to be a practice monster yourself? Start with one of the ideas above and gradually add more of them to your practice routine. It won't be too long before you're a great musician too!

Andy Fling Founder and Teacher

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