What is the goal of practice? As a teacher, I see the goal of practice being for the student to learn new material, correct mistakes found in pieces during a lesson, and polish music to an acceptable level. How do we accomplish this?
1. Learning correct notes. Many of my beginning students are currently using the Alfred Premier series. At the top of each song in the lesson book, the new material is addressed. This often includes a chart of where the hands need to be placed on the keyboard. Students will often say, “I don’t know where my hands go.” In a lesson, I don’t just tell the student where to put their hands but help them ask the correct questions so they can practice correctly at home.
a. What is the first letter name in the right hand? If I can’t remember this letter name find a note I do and count out the letters from there.
b. What finger number am I using for this letter in the right hand?
c. Repeat these same questions for the left hand.
Many times students will use the excuse of “I don’t know where my hands go” to not practice a song they fear might be challenging. Help them ask the correct questions and follow and guide at the top of the page. Sometimes just a reminder of how to ask the right questions is enough to get the student on the right track.
For older students, the challenge is to make sure they are playing the correct notes without a reference guide. The trick here is to play slowly and not to not allow mistakes. Play as slowly as needed to avoid playing a single wrong note. It only takes playing a note wrong 3 times before it is learned that way. Focus is key here. Practice new pieces in short segments of time.
It truely is up to the student to make sure they learn the notes correctly. By taking the time necessary to learn them correctly the first time, much frustration can be avoided later.