Practice Pouch: Turn Practice into Progress

If you’ve taken a look at my blog, you know I enjoy technology, the latest apps, manipulatives, anything that enhances my students’ experience at lessons. Daily lab assignments accompany every piano lesson. One might think I favor the “bells and whistles” more than the purpose of weekly lessons: to learn how to play the piano. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s my mission statement:

Students at any age will be encouraged to develop

independence at the piano so that music can be enjoyed

on the bench for a lifetime

So, although I integrate technology and other savvy gadgets, students’ progress at the keys is what counts. Growing “lifetime” pianists calls for meticulous planning, appealing music with a dose of  quality teaching and most importantly, an installation of strong technical skills and diligent practice habits. While reading the TeachPianoToday blog…. I was inspired by a post about a special welcome bag given to each new student. I thought this would be a great way to kick off fall lessons in my studio but instead give every student a “welcome-back bag”.  The idea of these bags becoming “practice pouches” made sense as practice is a habit that can always use a boost, especially after a summer break. Here’s the scoop:

During lab time (click here if you want to learn more about lab time) of the first lesson of the fall session, students chose a bag, decorated it with fabric pens and passed through the buffet line choosing one of each of the following:

Clothes pin: My students seem to suffer from “knuckle buckle” syndrome. Some cure themselves with my non-stop nagging and their persistent awareness to mend the condition, but the clothes pin offers a great way for some to build up knuckle strength with “finger push-ups”. Students squeeze the clothes pin between the thumb and finger 2, then finger 3 and 4. Finger 5 or pinky can be omitted as it is “made of steel” and will usually be more straight than curved. Understand, this serves more as a reminder about how knuckles should look on the keys more than an actual remedy for fixing knuckle buckle. Remember Schumann?

Notebook: As much as I would love students to journal about their thoughts and feelings of their practice, I don’t expect many to do so with enthusiasm. However, the note books have been used to record new musical terms, repertoire, metronome markings and tallies for 20x perfect. (When a piece is close to performance ready, students are assigned to keep track of every time a piece is played perfectly. By “twenty times perfect”, it can be expected that this piece will be performed with confidence (and very few errors!)

Mechanical Pencil: For writing in the notebook of course but also, I instruct my students to “practice with a pencil”! Meaning, write in counting or fingering where necessary, circle that one note that always comes out sour…

Eraser: Wrist rolls and a lift at the ends of slurs allow for a natural tapering of sound/volume and immediately provides a more musical technique. The eraser balanced on top of the pianist’s hand is dumped off as the wrist rolls upward toward the fall board. This “dump truck” motion is not very natural for most and the tactile and visual role of the eraser helps to solidify this unique motion. Using the eraser on top of the hand to master the rotation motion (turning the door knob) and keeping fingers in line while playing a scale is helpful as well.

Stickers: A small row of stickers are provided for students to place on a page they are particularly proud of. They must tell me why they awarded themselves the sticker which gives them the sense of ownership of their accomplishments.

Yellow Highlighter: Although I use various colors of highlighters each week to circle important items, yellow has been designated for dynamics only. So once a piece has been learned, students are required to highlight all dynamics and add and listen for each one in their practicing.

Rubber Snake: Wrists tend to get lazy and hang down below the key bed which hampers speed and agility. To keep wrists parallel to the floor, a small snake is placed on the keyboard ledge and students are advised to stay out of the snake pit!

Dice: Ok, it really should be called  “die” as each student receives only one, but I say “dice” and students know what I mean. At the lesson we practice using the dice so practicers know exactly what to do at home. We divide a piece up into 6 sections. The dice is rolled, if the number is 4, the student finds section 4. The student rolls again and that new number is how many times that section will be played. The LAST time the section is played, ZERO errors is the goal.

FYI:

The bags were found at the Dollar Store and are really cosmetic bags (shhhhh!). I could not find pencil pouches big enough for some of the items you will hear about in a future blog featuring my “Traveling Practice Basket”.

Many of the other items were found at the Dollar Store, Target and Staples. My goal was to find things on sale, clearance, etc, and in packs of 3 or more/$1 to lessen the expense and of course, I came armed with coupons. Many stores have deep discounts on supplies like this right now so you may be able to shop and save.

As mentioned above, this is part of the Practice Pouch idea–stay tuned to learn how I use this pouch to keep on giving new strategies to turn practice into progress.

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Leila Viss

Creative Pianist, Piano Teacher, Organist, Blogger and Author of The iPad Piano Studio

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