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Strategies for Consistent Practicing

Notes from Nancy Daley's presentation to Suzuki faculty on consistent practicing.


1. Get daily practice and listening topic out in the open! First lesson of Fall, I tell them what I expect

2. Don't ask amount of time because I just want to encourage regular practice. I really stress that even if they only have a bit of time, they can do do something productive. I talk about how I will set my timer and pick out something that I can accomplish in that amount of time. Nancy Pederson used to have them make a list of things they can practice well in 10 min. Every time they go by the piano, play something from list.

3. Follow through with what I have assigned. (Can't assign so much that the student knows that I will never get to everything ....like review!) Must check or partially check: Scale, reading, current 1-2 review, so they take all parts of my assignment seriously.

4. Very specific review assignments with book 2 and above. I pick 1-2 or I ask them to pick. If I don't get to it,I ask them what were they going to play and I say for the next week to pick a different one. Some students don't need an exact review assignment but the majority like it vs. an open ended review assignment. Also helps me to find out what pieces they are not practicing.

5. Very specific listening assignments vs listening to the entire CD.

Example: 20 times of listen or 30 min. to just one piece (this works better for older students vs "just listen to rep." assignment.)

6. At the end of the lesson, I now have been telling them exactly what I will hear at the next lesson. This seems so simple but it has really helped. Gabriel's last lesson... I forgot to write what I would hear next week and he asked "Is that it?" Implying that we were not done with lesson yet because I had not written what the goals were.

7. Encourage parents to try to practice as soon as possible after the lesson, so they retain what was taught. The longer the gap between lesson and practice, the more information forgotten. (I tell them about the scientific studies done on learning, homework and retention.)


1. If a piece doesn't seem to be improving, I assign to only practice spots and ask them not to play any of the rest of the piece. If they really have been doing this assignment, they should be able to play just those spots for me without me reminding them where the spots are or the student should not need to refer to their notes to find the spots. I'll do this for a few weeks if needed and refuse to listen to the entire piece until the spots are fixed.

2. Form or memorization: Make an assignment where they stop their playing at the end of each section without me reminding them where to stop. The student must memorize the ends of the section in order to be successful.

I'll play a silly game where I ask them an unrelated question at the end of each section to see if I can distract them so they can't find the next section or have them go out in the hall or look out the window and tell me one thing they see and then play next section.

  • We have also named the sections: colors friend's names or favorite animals. Also have made sticker charts for form.
  • Comparing similar sections: playing all the A sections in a row etc (Kuhlau mvt 2)
  • Mix up the sections. 

3. Trying to prevent mindless practicing:

Examples: make a list of things to listen for while playing a spot or a review piece. Each time they repeat the spot or review piece, listen for a different item on the list. Example the Mozart Sonatas: Accuracy of notes or rhythm, Clarity, evenness of 16th notes, Articulation, Balance, dynamics, pedal, steady beat etc

  • Cooper's idea: change octave on each phrase as you play entire piece or even just one phase change octave in RH/LH on each repetition

4. Older students with long pieces:

  • Start learning the last section first and learn the entire piece from the end to the beginning.
  • Map out the piece: Everyday learn four new measures. Write it in the music.
  • Set up time line for completing the books
  • Previewing difficult spots. Have them learn those first.
  • Playing staccato passages legato when first learning (fingering and also not losing place.)

5. Tape assignments with iPad....


  • How to practice the piece
  • just playing the piece hands alone
  • playing the piece in sections.

6. Give really exact assignments. (Exact number of times or spend 5 min. on this spot etc.) Also the order to practice the practice spots. Teaches how to plan out your practice rather than playing piece through and then going back and fixing spots.

7. Ask them about the assignment: "What were you trying to improve on?"

Parent can ask them during practice session if each repetition was correctly done. ( Steven last week: were your eyes on your hand and were your notes with my voice?)

Parents video taping parts of practice, show to student and asking the student: "Is this what your teacher wants?" " Are you flexing? Are your fingers tall? Are your shoulders down?" etc. 

8. Repeat Yourself... I repeat at almost every lesson how I want them to practice certain things over and over. Ex. Read: steps, skips, first note's name, play and count , say note names.

Or I ask student's to tell me how they will pract. (Read, scales, review)

9. I practice with them during the lesson in hopes they will learn how to practice.

Practice reading assignment: duets...we each take a hand and play the piece or I preview the reading pieces ...go over counting or hard parts

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