The Practice Flowchart was borne out of, again, watching students struggle with making enough progress from week to week. I had many discussion with students, discovering not just how long they practice for, but how they practice, and whether they were working as effectively as they could be.
The flowchart was conceived when asked myself what I actually do when I’m practising. To be more precise, I asked myself specific questions, and made a chart out of my answers…
- How do I decide what to practice?
- I sometimes have some ideas already in mind when I first sit at the piano, but if I don’t then I play through the music whilst listening critically, and make decisions then.
- How do I decide how to split it into sections?
- I very quickly work out how much I can manage at one time that would give me a reasonable challenge without making it feel like an impossible mountain to climb. Sometimes that’s as little as a bar, or even half a bar. More often, it’ll be a phrase or group of phrases, or a single hand, or a single voice. Sometimes my sections can be thought of as horizontal sections rather than vertical (i.e. an entire left hand, rather than a single bar of something).
- Sections are often worked out on the hoof…. I’ll be playing through something, and when it gets to a point where I’m not achieving what I want to, I isolate the problem area and treat that as a section.
- How do I know when something is ‘good enough’ and when it needs more work?
- This is an interesting one because I wasn’t really sure of the answer until I sat down at the piano and practiced with this in mind. The results rather surprised me; I kept going at a section, not until I could play it particularly well or up to tempo, or anything like that, but until I felt like I knew what I was doing. Hesitations, to me, were a sign of ‘not knowing’, as were those tiny little muscle movements where a finger begins to aim for a wrong note before diverting to the right one.
- What do I do when things are not going well?
- Another interesting one. I’d be lying if I said that I always achieve what I set out to do; sometimes (often!) things just don’t work. Sometimes I get frustrated, sometimes I feel like I’m taking steps backwards, sometimes my playing just will not improve. So what do I do? I walk away. I try something else. I know I can come back to the task that I couldn’t yet manage, and when I do it’ll be with a fresher mind, and without frustration or annoyance. This part, I think, is so important it’s worth mentioning twice…
‘When I cannot do something after repeatedly trying it, I walk away’.
Once I had these answers worked out, designing the flowchart was easy; it really is just a graphic illustration of these questions and their answers.
The ‘confidence score’ section is vital for a student to understand; that they are scoring their playing not on how it sounded, but on how they felt when they played it. This is probably particularly important at the beginning of a piece, when the sounds we are making are so departed from the sound of a performance (because of slow tempo, or hands separate, or the tiny size of a section, or the isolation/separation of voices), that the student has to understand that they are rating how well they felt they knew what they were doing at the specific task they were working on. For instance, if a student is working on simply getting the notes correct, they may play with faltering rhythm, but this does not matter, as the goal is notes, and nothing else. You will also notice, that 8/10 is an excellent score; students should not feel they have to aim for a 10 (remember that Practice Makes Perfect is just a myth, and a destructive one at that.)
The walking away is a vital lesson for a student to learn. Frustration is a horrible feeling, and isn’t helpful for anybody. The flowchart has an escape loop slotted in – so if something isn’t working after 10 times of trying, a student should find something else to do…
You can always come back to something that didn’t progress, or that got better but was still not well enough ‘known’ to feel confident!
For more details about my teaching practice, including prices, vacancies, and information on distance theory marking, or learning piano as a beginner, intermediate, or a post-grade 8 student, please go to lynnephillipspiano.moonfuit.com