When practicing piano, don’t let your “minimum” become your “maximum!”

When practicing piano, don’t let your “minimum” become your “maximum.”

I saw a fascinating example of this while teaching a piano lesson this morning, but first let me give you a little background:

About a month ago, I got an email from a mother who asked if I could teach her two daughters, ages 10 and 14. They had taken lessons for a few years from several different teachers but couldn’t find anyone who could teach both classical and popular styles. So a mutual friend had recommended me.

The girls hadn’t had a lesson in about 6 months and were a little shy about starting again, fearing it would be a “chore.” Since the mother’s main goal was for the girls to enjoy and continue with lessons for the foreseeable future, we agreed to start slowly; the first step would be to make piano a part of their daily lifestyle.

To accomplish this, I only assigned them a short, easy written piece at the first few lessons, along with a simple but fun improvisation assignment. The girls, in turn, would be required to get to the piano every day, but only for 5 minutes. As long as they practiced for 5 minutes, it didn’t matter how much they “accomplished.” Indeed, the “accomplishment” we agreed to aim for was to establish a daily routine. Our plan was to establish this daily habit and then gradually increase the musical assignments over time.

Well, it worked like a charm! Both girls began enjoying piano like never before, and they did indeed practice almost every day. They learned the written music I assigned and are loving their newfound improvisational abilities!

So here’s what I discovered today:

Hidden behind my suggestion to practice “only” 5 minutes per day was the hope that they would become so involved in playing that the 5 minutes would turn into 7, 8, 10 or even 15 minutes on occasion. Indeed, I even explained this to them at our first lesson.

But each week when I asked them if they every played for more than 5 minutes, they answered ‘no.’ Fair enough, since they had fulfilled the requirement, but I couldn’t help wondering why this was so. Every previous student who I had tried this with had occasionally practiced for far longer than only the 5 minute minimum.

The mystery was solved this morning when I asked the younger daughter about her practice time. While verbally answering me, her hand made a vague motion toward the piano’s music stand. Not seeing any music there, I asked her if she put a watch there when practicing to keep track of the time. She told me that she actually used the timer on her cell phone to alert her when the 5 minutes was over. Then she would promptly stand up and end her practice session. Her older sister did the same.

No wonder they never practiced for longer amount of time! My 5 minute “minimum” had become their “maximum!!!”

No worries, though. We all had a good laugh and I suggested that they simply use their cell phone as a clock and not to look at it while practicing. When they think their session should be over, they’ll look at the clock and see if 5 minutes has elapsed. If it has, then they’re free to get up. If not, they’ll continue practicing for another few minutes.

I predict that this “new” method will get them to occasionally practice for more than the minimum 5 minutes. In any event, as the saying goes, “we’ll see!!!”

The same applies to us all. When setting practice goals, don’t let your “minimum” become your “maximum!”

Have you tried improvising yet? Here are some free lessons to get you started. Enjoy!

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