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Practice assignments - quality vs. quantity
#2578007 10/11/16 11:25 PM
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We all know that mindless practice isn't as good as focused practice, but that more practice is also better than less practice.

I started out by saying my students didn't have to practice for a certain length of time, because that can lead to mindless practice with lots of clock watching. Instead they are to follow my specific practice assignments each week. I've come to realize that this may be a deterrent to progress because sometimes it only takes 10-15 minutes to get through my assignments, even for my third year students.

So I've now added minimum practice times (around 30 minutes), saying the students must finish their assignment first, and then play what they would like until they reach the minimum time for the day. One of my parents responded this week saying their daughter doesn't know what to do for those extra 15 minutes - she's has extra music around, so she plays from the other books, but I can definitely understand that she doesn't know what to do anymore.

How do you address the quality vs. quantity dilemma?


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Re: Practice assignments - quality vs. quantity
Arghhh #2578009 10/11/16 11:51 PM
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We work on assignments first then sight-reading. Daughter's sight-reading Bach's Little Preludes and she considers that a very special treat.

ETA: As for quality control, we get a long list of what to fix before the next lesson.

Re: Practice assignments - quality vs. quantity
Arghhh #2578029 10/12/16 01:18 AM
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Arghh, could you give an example or two of an assignment to maybe get a better look at what might be going on? The whole effective practice idea is tricky business. I can spend 20 minutes on 4 measures or less, if there are different things to do with them and look at, because I know how to look at it and what to get out of it. But a student might dash through the same material in as many seconds and think they are done.

Re: Practice assignments - quality vs. quantity
Arghhh #2578041 10/12/16 02:25 AM
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In my experience, the more I have to "structure" the practice for the student, the worse off the student becomes.

In the past two years, I actually have students who practice a lot, but it's all wasted motion--because they practiced wrong!! Every lesson is dedicated to fixing what went wrong the last seven days at home.

I can make suggestions on how to practice, in what order, and so on--but, ultimately, it is the student who has to figure out how to practice for him/herself.

And some parents believe that if kiddo plays the piece 10 times a day, that's "practice." I can't un-brainwash these clueless parents.


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Re: Practice assignments - quality vs. quantity
Arghhh #2578108 10/12/16 08:33 AM
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My students' assignment sheets say at the bottom "Playing other pieces for fun and making up music count as practice time. Just make sure your assignments are done." Sometimes I have to coach the parents on this because they were brought up to believe that if you're doing something fun you are "playing," not "practicing." But I've noticed that the ones who "play" the most progress the fastest.

For the assignments I have to get very specific about goals. "Work on fingering" doesn't work. "Play measure 2 five times with finger 3 on C" is more likely to work. That's if they actually look at the assignment list before practicing. I used to think I could get the students to start setting their own goals for a practice session around age 8, but now I think it's probably somewhere in the teens.


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Re: Practice assignments - quality vs. quantity
Arghhh #2578139 10/12/16 10:19 AM
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From a piano parent perspective....

My 9 year old son always interprets comments about practicing wrong as he should practice less because then there is less work to undo if he practiced wrong. I always try to explain to him that he's missing the message...but it can be hard to reason with him at times.

Last edited by pianoMom2006; 10/12/16 10:21 AM.

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Re: Practice assignments - quality vs. quantity
Arghhh #2578140 10/12/16 10:23 AM
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My assignments vary somewhat by level. The beginners are assigned to play their new pieces for the week 5times, and the review pieces 2 times. If the come back the second week with something incorrectly learned we'll practice it during the lesson. I might assign a specific practice technique (for example, unit practicing) if necessary. They are also given technique exercises with specific instructions to watch out for the bad habit of the week.

Later students I'll break up the pieces into musical phrases or lines and the student practices a few times all the different lines, skipping the same lines, and then play through the whole piece one or two times, focusing on dynamics and phrasing. I'll also add in other practice techniques in addition to unit practicing, like 3 times in a row correctly on smaller bits or on lines. The student running out of things to do had 4 pieces from a level 2 method book plus a technical exercise. I don't assign more because I can't cover more than that in a lesson. I'd rather cover new material in the lesson than just assign it and have to spend a lot of time fixing the mistakes at the next lesson.

I run into the issue too of not being able to get to all the pieces my intermediate students are working on each week, and then don't have a specific assignment for them to work on.


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Re: Practice assignments - quality vs. quantity
Arghhh #2578145 10/12/16 10:33 AM
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From a parent perspective, I agree with AZN that giving too much structure would be unhelpful. If my son's teacher told him to practice each piece 10 times, he'd do exactly that...and that might not be the most productive way for him to spend him time (he may "get" one piece more quickly and need more work on another during the week).


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Re: Practice assignments - quality vs. quantity
Arghhh #2578151 10/12/16 11:08 AM
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Aargh
In terms of your intermediate students, can I suggest the formula my teacher and I use? We start with any questions I have from this last week's practice, move onto problem sections from last week.... this discussion spans across several pieces of repertoire. Very rarely do we go through one complete piece, but I leave the lesson with a plan for working on the problems that need attention.

If your students do not acknowledge problems or have questions, you could vary this plan by having them play the sections that you anticipate should be problems smile

Last edited by dogperson; 10/12/16 11:10 AM.
Re: Practice assignments - quality vs. quantity
pianoMom2006 #2578206 10/12/16 01:59 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoMom2006
From a parent perspective, I agree with AZN that giving too much structure would be unhelpful. If my son's teacher told him to practice each piece 10 times, he'd do exactly that...and that might not be the most productive way for him to spend him time (he may "get" one piece more quickly and need more work on another during the week).


I agree that there is still a lot of possibility for mindless repetition, which is why I will never ask for more than 5 repetitions of something. But, from day one in my piano lessons, I'm always asking my students to listen for something when they play. After they finish playing they answer questions about - did they hear a steady beat, did they hear dynamics, did they have "perfect piano hands", etc.

I have students who still don't look at their practice sheet and do what they want during the week. They are the ones who come back with nothing improved since the last week.


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Re: Practice assignments - quality vs. quantity
Arghhh #2578213 10/12/16 02:27 PM
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My personal thoughts are that assignments involving repetitions are re likely to create a tendency to rush through things. Another thing I'm noticing in your last post is that part of the instruction in involves "after the fact":
Quote
After they finish playing they answer questions about ...
The best time to notice things is while playing. And even there, you don't try to notice it a second after you play, but aim for it seconds before you play - pausing, if need be, before you play. I'm mentioning this because the minute you switch to aiming for something before you play, and then observing that you are doing it while you play, it forces you to slow down. These are good habits to acquire early in any case. You do have
Quote
I'm always asking my students to listen for something when they play.
. That is good. What if you added things to aim for, in addition to listen for. Play while aiming for an even tone, play while aiming for relaxed hands, play while listening for dunno what. Those are three repetitions right there.
Are you familiar with Practiceopedia? He goes in that direction. I read the online excerpts when it came out. For example, students make paper hats with names written on them like "rhythm", "correct notes" or whatever, and then wear a hat which will tell them what they are focusing on this time. I had a mind to make some such hats myself, but wondered how they keep the hats from falling off?
http://insidemusicteaching.com/practiceopedia/

(Just in case any of these ideas go in the right direction.)

Last edited by keystring; 10/12/16 02:30 PM.
Re: Practice assignments - quality vs. quantity
pianoMom2006 #2578220 10/12/16 03:03 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoMom2006
If my son's teacher told him to practice each piece 10 times, he'd do exactly that...

I reserve that tactic for kids who absolutely abhor piano but their enterprising parents force them to take lessons anyway. It's the only way to get anything done between lessons.

For the record, some of my non-practicing students do better than the kids who are forced to practice 10 times per day. And the kids who are forced to practice piano aren't stupid; they just refuse to use their brains while practicing. It's all about mindless movements of fingers, correct or not.

This experience convinced me that sometimes "no practice" is better than "wrong practice."


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Re: Practice assignments - quality vs. quantity
AZNpiano #2578248 10/12/16 05:19 PM
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano


This experience convinced me that sometimes "no practice" is better than "wrong practice."

No practice is always better than wrong practice. Wong practice involves learning wrong things, which is worse than starting out from zero.

Last edited by Gary D.; 10/13/16 12:50 AM.

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