Over the course of the years I have watched students come into their lesson and play for me what they practiced during the week. Sometimes we have great lessons in which they apply the technique learned from the previous class. Other times, the student displays difficulties on issues that were not present the week before. My job is not only to show progress in the student’s music skills but teach the student how to practice so they can move forward lesson after lesson.
It can be hard for students to practice on their own, especially when they are just starting out with their music lesson. As teachers, our job is to motivate the student to want to practice and enjoy their time with the music. This can be a hard job as, you can image, practicing isn’t always fun. There are scales to play and technique to learn, it’s not all pretty songs and melodies.
I have found that introducing a practice journal for some of my older, intermediate students has helped to shape their practice into productivity and advancement in their studies.
A practice journal involves the student mapping out what they will work on prior to playing and practicing for the session. The student picks a few spots that they will work on and write out specific goals for themselves. It is important to be as specific as possible so when I, as the teacher, read over their notes in their session, I can be as helpful as I can be. An example of this would be, “I want to work on the rhythm of the right hand on measures 6-7”. I then encourage the student to write down some notes after they have worked on this. I like doing this because I can understand how the student is feeling during their practice and we can address this in the lesson if we need to.
For students that find it hard enough to set time aside for practicing, I find the practice journal method to be a great accountability tool. Each lesson I check to see if they have anything written down and if they don’t, it is an evident proof that practicing did not occur during the week.
Aside from accountability, this method is a great organizer for the student. Having to take your thoughts and create concrete and logical sentences helps our brain understand these thoughts in a different way.
For any student, it is important to listen and be aware of their needs. Not every student is the same. Not every student needs a practice journal. I find that this method works for the mature student who is willing and able to take their studies to a further level. And while asking them to do a practice journal does take more time and effort than just practicing what was asked, I have found lesson after lesson, that the improvement is there.