A Note from Quaver: On Practice (Part I)

by Abby @ Quaver on September 19, 2011

in Quaver's Notes

 Quaver is back with this week’s note on practice!

Practice, Practice, Practice!

I was sitting on an airplane just last week, listening to a great piece of music by Rachmaninov, his 2nd piano concerto. It was played by a guy called Sviatoslav Richter, one of the greatest ever piano players to come out of Russia. He was amazing!

Legend has it that he was obsessed with practice! I know it sounds unusual! He would practice for 8 to 10 hours a day, and was sometimes found under the piano in a state of nervous exhaustion. Most of us will never quite have that experience, in fact quite the opposite! Motivating little Mildred to practice can be as difficult as a trip to the dentist!

So how do we do it? How do we motivate kids to practice instruments?

  1. We need to communicate that Super Mario World although difficult (I struggled greatly with World No. 8 with that enormous Bowser castle and the turn upside down button!) can be mastered by a kid in a month. A musical instrument is NOT a computer game. It WILL take years, unless one has a Mozartian genius one ones hands, in which case ignore this blog and set off round Europe.
  2. The rewards of playing a musical instrument are enormous – on my death bed it is unlikely I will raise my head off my pillow look weakly at my children and say: “World No.8 of Super Mario brothers is complete!” – but I may have my favorite piece of piano music playing.
  3. Practice little and often – 10 minutes per day is better than 1 hour once a week. Think of eating: 3 meals a day is better than eating through a shelf at Wal Mart once a month.
  4. Encourage your child even if they play the bagpipes, instruments will rarely sound great first off. Learn to find something great about what they do when they practice. Such as, “The sound of your violin reminds me of my dear old cat that I loved SO much!”
  5. Get them playing in front of everyone – Grandma Frangipan’s bridge group, Uncle Derek’s Model Airplane club. Performing and sharing music is a great motivator.
  6. Get them playing in bands (not just marching band) rock bands, worship bands, rubber bands (couldn’t resist!). Create a band in your garage. Have them make fliers and do a show for charity.
  7. Hold an America’s Got Talent show in your neighborhood, shave your head and be the ‘Howie Mandel judge’ of your area! Have fun with your kids’ practice and they will have fun, too!

. . . now back to Bowser’s castle!!

Do you have any tips on motivating students’ to practice?
Share them below!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jason Bernstein September 21, 2011 at 4:13 am

Indeed this is one of the biggest challenges that many teachers of young students face. What’s mind boggling is how fast the young student changes! What works today, may not work a couple months from now, musical tastes change, attention spans change, temperaments can change, the movies they like, their favorite activities and most of all, their interest in practicing the piano!

Through careful lesson planning, close communication with parents, and strong focus during lessons, you can make big strides in keeping your students engaged. But it needs to be seen as a long term project.


2 Abby @ Quaver September 21, 2011 at 11:48 am

Definitely agree, Jason! Some great ideas for motivating them in your post. Thanks for sharing!


3 Jason Bernstein December 5, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Hey there, me again ;)
Ended up back here because I’m always thinking about motivation. I teach piano and guitar in private lessons to kids and adults and also do beginner adult guitar classes in Montreal.
I have some students that are so motivated to play. Each week they come back with all their “homework” done and their pieces practiced. I have one student in particular,a 9 year old girl, that refuses to let a piece go until it’s perfect. She is very positive in lessons and is not what I would consider a “nerdy perfectionist type” either. Fact is, that she’s getting really good and gets satisfaction out of the skills that she’s developing. I wish I could see inside her head to figure out what lead to this level of commitment and focus. Was is something I did (sadly, I don’t think I can take credit for this), something about how her parents introduced her to music, or the musical environment they provide. Is it innate? In this particular case, I can see how it would be a combination of factors resulting in this cycle of progress; She practices, she gets better, she gets praise from her teacher and parents, she get’s to play the pieces she wants, so she practices more and gets better and gets more praise.
How do you start this cycle for students that are not playing the pieces they want, getting the praise for their hard work, practicing? I don’t think this can really be answered in a simple way. The only guarantee is that as a teacher we must keep coming back to it and test new ideas. If we do this, we’re guaranteed to improve and benefit our students!

Thanks again for the post and sorry for rambling ;)


4 Abby @ Quaver December 5, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Thanks for coming back to this topic Jason! It’s so important.

I’m going to get Quaver over here to give his take on your questions!


5 Abby @ Quaver December 6, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Thanks Jim,

Motivation is a really weird one, I agree it would be great to dive into someone’s head and find out. I think motivation can be different between boys and girls, I think boys like to show off more than girls; I often wonder whether that is why there are more male Jazz players as there is a little element of ‘sport’ in jazz whereby when it’s our turn to do the solo we can try and outdo what we have just heard!! (I may be wrong, but there has to be some reason.)

I also think of what motivated me. I really wanted to be the best at something – yes I did want to show off! In fact me and a friend who was also a great piano player when we were teenagers would watch for people coming down our street and then open the window of my parents music room and play our best piano pieces really loud and see if we could turn their heads!! (Sounds crazy now!!)

I think great teachers are always flexible. Each child is unique and it is almost the teachers role to find the right buttons to press: Is performing a motivator for that child? Is praise a motivator? Is challenge/difficult repertoire a motivator? Is playing really difficult pieces to them a motivator? What is it for THAT CHILD that really motivates them?

Jim this sounds like the subject for a new blog……what motivates you to play music?

Thanks for the comments look forward to talking again.

Quaver Out!


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