Is Daily Practice Really Possible?

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

So here we are, with most of us in the early throes of the new 100 Days of Practice Challenge that started in April.

If we're new to 100 DOPC or are making a return to this year's edition of 100 DOPC after taking a hiatus, we might be raring to go with fire in our belly and a new 100-day practice tracker in hand... only to slow to a grind 10 days later when neither parent nor child looks forward to colouring in yet another star on the chart. (We lasted only 5 days of star-colouring on this new 100-day run. TRUTH.)

This is when we realise that the 100-day practice challenge is not a sprint but a marathon. How are we going to keep on running for 100 days? Is 100 continuous days of practice really possible?

Yes, it is. The trick is to reframe daily practice as a task into music as a daily priority.

Making music a daily priority can take place in different forms.

  • On the most ideal of days, it may mean dedicating enough time to complete all the practice tasks assigned by the teacher for the week.

  • On some days, we may have less time than we desire or had envisioned to have to practise with our child. Or both parent and child are tired, and forcing a full practice would not benefit either of us. We know that we can't do everything. What then should we practise? For times like these, my options are to:

  • Prioritise the assigned practice point for the week: For example, getting our fourth finger notes "ringing" on the cello strings. Learning the notes of the piece is not the focus. The sound is.

  • Prioritise selected assignments to practise: Instead of playing Sonatina in G Major in its entirety, we may choose to skip the first Moderato movement and just do Romance today as it is newer and less familiar to us. The next time that we practise this piece, we will then prioritise the specific practice assignment for Moderato.

  • Ask my child to pick just one piece to play wholeheartedly: The funny thing is that while my children are happy to be bestowed this option, they can't truly stop after playing just one piece. Hearing "Wait, I'm not done. I think I want to play <song title> too." really makes my day more so than any grouchily or sloppily-done practice assignment.

  • As my children get older, their days in school get longer and their homework load, heavier. They used to practise in the afternoon upon returning from school. These days, they only get home close to 5pm and I sense that they really need some free time to physically rest, mentally decompress and re-energise before having to do their homework and practise their music. I ask them to decide how much time they need to rest and let me know what time they would be practising music. Most of the time, they will stick to the time they name. With that, both rest time and music time get prioritised. (The homework gets done too, simply because that's what schools demand from students.)

  • Like today, making music a priority could mean helping our child "see" or "get" a point in the piece, rather than get them to play it right. Eliciting that "aha!" moment could be more effective than drilling 10 repetitions to get a specific improvement. My 5 year-old had been "stomping" her left hand accompaniment "like an elephant", I told her. Though it was now a much-improved baby elephant, it was nonetheless an elephant. (She vehemently disagreed with me.) I grappled for an example of a gentle-footed creature and suggested a deer. On the spur of the moment, I reached for my laptop and showed her a short clip of the Disney animation, Bambi. Immediately, she turned to the piano and played with a lighter left-hand motion to produce a beautiful tone. It was as if her eyes, ears, brain, heart and body just connected over the image of deer moving gracefully through a forest. I would not have been able to achieve the same effect without first embedding that 'sticky' visual image in her mind - and definitely not through forcing 10 repetitions out of her.

  • Trusting your child to make music a daily priority is one way to go. There are days where I'm out attending my own evening lesson or the kids spend a full day at grandma's, and I can't practise with them. They are left to dictate their own practice, which I suspect they love doing and hence will not give up the chance to practise on their own, rather skip a day - and have me decide how they should make up for it.

  • Generally, the guiding principle for my children is that if they have access to their instrument, practice should take place at the instrument, no matter how short. On days that they don't, or get home too late, they can choose from the following:

  • Active, focused listening (this is different from putting on music in the background while you do other stuff)

  • Active, focused watching of a cellist or pianist playing their Suzuki pieces on YouTube

  • Practise note-reading with their music scores

  • Air playing

  • Complete at least 1 page of music theory

  • Play a music game

  • Learn about a composer, music history period or how an instrument works

  • Dance to music

  • Draw to music

They are only too pleased to do any of these as these are treated as rare exceptions to, and not frequent replacements to practising on the instrument.

Does quality of practice matter? Yes, it does! For what's worse than no practice is bad practice. How do we make a 'Lite' practice session be of good quality? By nonetheless incorporating the F.A.M.E qualities into even the shortest, simplest practice routine: Focus, Attitude, Mastery and Effectiveness.

The aim of the 100 DOPC is to have ourselves and our children learn how to make music a daily priority in their lives. If we are able to learn how to make this work for ourselves, we will be able to apply it in making all good things - music, physical activity, healthy eating choices, wellness, kind thoughts, creation, hygiene, etc. - daily lifelong priorities.

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