Tips for summer practicing

With the summer sun and fun upon us, it’s an extra challenge to stay motivated and keep on a practice routine. Even teachers need to mix things up a little to stay inspired! As I’ve thought about each of my students’ goals for the summer, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Set time limits on practicing. Normally I don’t recommend timing your practicing, but when you have trouble motivating, it’s often helpful to force yourself to accomplish something meaningful in a limited amount of time. For my beginning toddler students, I would set a 10-minute time limit, and for my older students, I would set a 20- or 30-minute time limit. This means the child must try to accomplish the chosen goals (see below) in the set amount of time.
  2. Write down specific, achievable goals to work toward within the time limits. I have written down 3-4 goals for each of my students that I would like to see them accomplish during the summer. My challenge as a teacher will be to see that my students (and their parents) understand the steps toward these goals, and give them the tools to train themselves toward the goals. I will encourage each student to measure their practicing by whether they have moved the needle toward the goals. If you don’t understand what the goals are, you need to ask your teacher!
  3. Schedule some summer fun right after (and only after) your practice time. This gives you something to look forward to, and also reinforces your time limit. Make sure to align your incentives by doing the fun thing only if the practicing has been effective. If you’re playing without thinking or listening, stop! Those minutes don’t move the needle toward the goal and shouldn’t be wasted.
  4. Vary the repertoire in each practice session. Generally, my students’ work can be divided into new repertoire, exercises for new technique, and review repertoire. When building technique, there is hidden value in the review repertoire! By applying new technique to review repertoire, we are forced to see it through new eyes (and hear with new ears). Other ways to vary the repertoire: play at a very slow tempo, or start in the middle of the piece, or play only one line of music at a time, mix up the order of the lines, then put it back together again.
  5. Go to a summer music camp. These intense week-long experiences are always motivating musically, and also fun social events. The kids (and parents) remember that we are creating music in order to share it with others, and that our music connects us to people around the world. 
  6. Don’t beat yourself up over missing a day of practice. Sometimes the things we appreciate most are the ones we miss after being away from them. This is up to your own judgment and of course depends on the individual child, but allowing a period of “coasting” and later revisiting the process can sometimes be restorative and motivating.
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