Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Practice Habits: Parents Need Them Too

Welcome to Green semester of Let's Play Music!  Your child is excited to start using the piano and class time is super fun. 

In the first two weeks, your kid is a superstar.... and THEN....  

You might be tempted to let your child slip into lazy practice habits. It goes like this:

"My son is doing fine. He can DO everything the teacher wants him to play, so I think it's fine that he actually only practices once each week. We just get all of the practicing done in one sitting, because it's so easy for him."

"My daughter doesn't spend time at the piano every day, but I saw her in class on lesson 5 and I think she's the best one in class. For her, practicing as-needed is good enough. She feels confident."

The first parent mentioned that her son had met all of the teacher's expectations.  Yes, he can hold his bubble hand.  Yes, he's quick with keyboard geography and his kit-kat keyboard.  Is that the end of the assignment? No!

The Goal of Daily Practice is Daily Practice

In the first several weeks of Green semester, one of our biggest goals is also to establish a daily practice habit.  

As we get into more complicated Green lessons and some challenging Yellow lessons, the students who started out with once-weekly practice really struggle!

My son used to be doing fine in class, but now he's frustrated. He's upset if he can't play everything perfectly on the first day. Get in the habit of practicing daily, so he learns to reach goals over time, not all at once. Once weekly habits set unreal expectations for instant perfection. Establish the daily habit BEFORE the challenging material comes.

My daughter is suddenly frustrated with playing songs that use all 3 chords. She used to be confident in class. Students who get used to 'cramming' for lessons will be frustrated in a few weeks. Playing piano requires building up muscle memory, which requires repeated specific motions. Ear training also takes repeated exposure. You can't CRAM to become a musician! Changing quickly between chords can't be crammed.

Parents: We Need Habits, Too

Establishing a practice habit can be a tricky thing, but this year is the best time to build a solid foundation for both of you.

Obviously the students are working toward building a habit of practice, but I find that, as a parent, I needed to build a habit of supporting practice.  How can we remind ourselves to do our daily supporting role in these early weeks?

Here are four basic strategies, suggested by Gretchen Rubin in her book, Better Than Before, that help solidify a new habit: First Steps, Monitoring, Scheduling, and Accountability.

First Steps/ Getting Started

The strategy of taking the first step essentially means eliminating excuses that hold us back from getting the thing started.

Some personalities enjoy when first steps are big and dramatic: I'm going to go on Biggest Loser and lose 300 pounds! Because it's dramatic, it's fun and exciting to throw yourself into big projects, but ...

Piano will fit easier into real life if we start small, and LPM is designed to help you start small: I'm going to help my child get to the piano every day this week. I know we only need 5 minutes... I can find 5 minutes to spend with him. That's do-able.

Here are few more ways that just getting started can save your habit:

My child doesn't practice because he likes to cram. The goal of daily practice IS daily practice. Help him make a plan to get to the piano bench every day. Once he's on the bench, chances are he will enjoy playing through his pieces. Ever find that it's hard to get your shoes on and get out the door, but once you're jogging, you realize you're having fun?   

My child is so far behind, he doesn't want to practice. Bite of small chunks to make practice happen.  Suggest practicing just part of the list, or just one tricky song or one tricky bit of one song, instead of the whole list. Keep practice to the recommended short time- don't let it become unbearably long. Give lots of positive praise: You said you would practice with a smile for 10 minutes and you did! You stayed really focused the whole time and now you're a little better than you were at the beginning! Great job today. 


The strategy of monitoring/ tracking doesn't require change, but it often leads to change.  Self-measurement brings self-awareness, and self-awareness strengthens self-control!

In order for this strategy to help, REFRAIN from waiting until class day to mark the practice log. We tend to give ourselves more credit for good behavior than we deserve. I'm pretty sure you practiced this five times, I'll just sign your book. 

Not surprisingly, monitoring alone can really help in other dieting. Without committing to a specific change, you'll probably make better choices just by knowing you have to consciously acknowledge and track what you eat! If you want to give it a try, check out My Fitness Pal.

If monitoring suits your personality, make a chart for home and mark off days when practicing (and other chores) are done. 

You thought I was talking about a chore chart for my kids, didn't you? I wasn't! I make a chart for myself and give myself credit for cheerfully reminding/ supporting/ encouraging the kids to do their practice and chores! 

Calendars can be especially fun because you'll create a STREAK for yourself. I've been a cheerful piano supporter for 22 days straight...I can't break my streak now! 

In my classroom, students create a streak for themselves by feeding their practice snakes. Each week, if they practiced and did homework, the snake grows by one body part. Everyone is excited to see their snake grow all the way across the wall and down to the floor.  You could create a practice snake at home and let him grow every day if you like.


Scheduling is a tried-and-true strategy.  You'll get important tasks done because you scheduled time for them.  Scheduling works well for your child, too, so they have predictability and routine in these early weeks when practicing is a new skill.

If you haven't already, have a conversation with your child to create a PLAY PLAN to decide when practicing will happen. Don't forget to plan a back-up time, because we all know that conflicts happen. Practicing might also fit into your family's definition of order. We don't eat dessert until after we have dinner, and we don't do playdates until after homework and practice is done.  It might look like this:


For many of us, we are more likely to follow through when we know someone else is aware of our efforts, cheering us on, and keeping tabs on us.

Love it or hate it, your Let's Play Music teacher is aware of how much practicing your child is getting done.  If you've been wanting to develop a good practice habit, joining class is a wonderful gift.  You've got a loving, knowledgeable coach on your team. She's checking in on you weekly and willing to help. 

If accountability helps you achieve your goals, tell yourself, I'm going to make a goal to support my son in practicing every day, because I know Ms. Teacher is going to be checking up on me!

Who Practices, Anyway?

Yes, this post is focused on helping YOU, parent, develop a new habit (supporter, reminder, cheerleader) in preparation for helping your child develop his own new habit.

Are the assignments at the beginning of Green semester super easy? Yes! That is intentional to help both you and your child get over the barriers to getting started.

Over the course of the year, your child can take more responsibility for completing and tracking his own practice, but it happens gradually and he'll need you there supporting, reminding, and cheerleading whenever he struggles with his routine.  When he does eventually take over, it will be a sweet reward.

- Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music Teacher


  1. Thank you! I love this post and your reference to the book by Gretchen. Totally helps when you nail how a kid and how a parent are motivated.

  2. Thank you for the tips. I am struggling with getting my talented child to practice. I will try these ideas.