In piano practice, as well as anything you want to accomplish in life, consistency is absolutely essential for success. I’ve found that consistency is the make-or-break issue that determines whether or not a student is going to succeed in piano. It isn’t how good they are when they start, it isn’t about talent. It boils down to how consistent they can be in their practicing.
We all start any new endeavor, like piano lessons, with really great intentions. We want to create good habits and be consistent. But then life happens. Unexpected distractions, events, and other things throw us off track. We are all busy people, and even with our good intentions, consistency can be hard to accomplish.
In this post, I’m going to share five principles to maximize consistency. I’ll be focusing on how these principles relate to learning the piano, but you can also apply these principles to absolutely anything in your life.
1. Recognize the Importance of Consistency
The first thing is to recognize how important consistency is for success. I’ve had many parents begin their child’s piano experience by saying, “I don’t want to push them and make them practice every day. I want to see if they will fall in love with the piano on their own.” These parents have good intentions. They don’t want to be seen as a whip-cracker. They want the child to be able to choose whether to learn the piano or not.
The problem is this. If a child expresses interest in learning the piano, but then is left to choose between piano practice and playing with toys, friends, or video games, what will the child choose? If parents say, let’s just see what happens, then what happens is that kids won’t choose to practice and therefore won’t make any progress. Pretty soon, with no progress, kids start to think they aren’t any good at piano. It isn’t because they couldn’t get good at it, they just didn’t have the consistency required to develop the skill.
Part of our job as adults is to keep the big picture in mind for our kids. Kids don’t think, “If I practice every day then in 10 years I can have this great skill that will be a wonderful part of my life.” They are more concerned with what interests them right now.
As adults who love these kids, we need to be the consistent ones. We have to be consistent so we can find out together if they will fall in love with something. When kids are consistent they’ll see the progress, and it is progress that creates enjoyment, satisfaction, and a feeling of being good at something. Establish consistency for the enjoyment it will bring.
2. Make a Plan and Stick to It
How do we make consistency happen? Even with the best of intentions, life happens and we fall off the rails. If you want to set up for success, don’t just leave it to chance. Set a time!
People are the most successful in doing something every day when there is an established, predictable time. It’s like teaching kids to brush their teeth. If you always require them to do it before bed and never budge, kids eventually stop fighting against it. After a year or two they just do it. It becomes a routine. That’s what we want with piano practice. It becomes so predictable and unchangeable that it stops becoming a battle.
Having a consistent time to practice really helps that habit to form. I have two boys, ten and eleven years old. In our family, we found that before school is the best time for practice. Before school there are no friends coming over, no homework, no other distractions. Other people might find a different time to be the best. Right after school, right after soccer practice, whenever works best for your family.
The more consistent you are with a set daily time, the better it will work. Some days you might have to move the time to work around other activities. That’s okay. Simply try to make it as regular as possible.
There’s always one moment of truth that comes along. You’ll have a time when you have to decide, are we going to do it today or are we going to fudge? When that decision point comes, be strong. Once kids get the sense that there’s wiggle room, they’ll be wanting to skip practice all the time. Every time you do it, the habit gets stronger. Every time you don’t do it, next time will be so much harder.
3. Require Piano Practice
I encourage you to just bite the bullet and make piano practice a flat out requirement. If you have requirements before screen time, before play time, before a child can do a favorite activity, put piano on that list. It is a requirement. Not a “please will you do this.” It is an expectation, like homework, chores, and brushing your teeth. Piano, however, should be more fun than doing chores. More on that in the next section.
4. Keep it Positive
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of making piano practice a positive experience. When kids are having a positive experience they are much more likely to want to practice again the next day. Even though piano practice is required, it shouldn’t feel like a chore. It should be a joy to practice!
How do we make it fun if we’re requiring piano practice? First of all, keep it short and sweet. For beginning piano players, fifteen or twenty minutes a day is plenty. On a rough day, five or ten is okay. Five minutes of piano practice is better than skipping it. Practice needs to be a daily habit. it should feel wrong to not sit at the piano for practice time.
Another great way to make piano practice positive is to play a practice game. You can find a small toy that you can set on the piano keys, and every time your child plays a song the toy moves forward toward some goal, like a treasure, or the escape from a dungeon. You can find some stuffed animals and set them on the floor and pretend they need to be saved from a volcanic lava flow, and every time your child plays a piano song they can rescue one animal and put it safely on top of the piano. Be creative and turn practicing into a game.
Yes, we are requiring consistency, but the more enjoyable it is, the more likely your child will form the habit. You’ll get more cooperation if your child thinks of piano practice as a good experience. The last thing you want is a power struggle with your child. If you can sit down with them and structure practice time as a game, it will be a much more positive experience. Remember, to maximize consistency for piano practice, keep it positive and fun.
5. If You Slip, Don’t Give Up! Try Again
Remember that you’re going to slip up eventually. The time will come when a whole week goes by and you realize your child only practiced once. The temptation at that point might be to just give up. You might think, “We’re too disorganized, this is just not working, piano isn’t for us.” No! This happens to everyone. Just recommit.
It is okay to have those bad weeks. All you have to do is recommit. As a family we have experienced this many times. We find our piano habits slipping, but we don’t give up. We sit down with our kids and say, “We kind of let it slide this week since we were so busy with other things, but tomorrow at seven a.m. we are back on the routine.” The habits you have established are still there. Jump back in. Let those bad weeks slide by and recommit to consistent practice.
How Hoffman Academy Can Help With Consistency
Earlier this year, we launched our new website with a program called Hoffman Academy Premium. What we’ve tried to do with premium is provide you with tools to make piano lessons and piano practice a fun, positive, and richer experience. Our video lessons are still free for anyone to watch, any time, but now with premium membership you can have instant access to lesson materials, guided practice sessions, and games.
What’s so great about our games? As a music teacher, I’ve found that certain skills need to be practiced over and over before they can be mastered. Learning the multiplication tables is a good example. Traditionally, flash cards and repetitive drills are used to memorize things like multiplication tables and note positions on the staff. Now technology can turn drilling into something fun by making it a game.
We have the Alphabet Towers game to help kids learn the musical alphabet, Mystery Melodies to hear musical patterns and recognize them, and Staff Crawler to read notes. Our newest game, Rhythm Train, will develop rhythm skills by playing a rhythm and having kids drag and drop different rhythmic patterns to re-create what they heard. These games are a great way to make building music skills fun.
Sometimes it is hard to know what to do during piano practice. That’s why I’ve created practice sessions for each video lesson. The practice sessions give step-by-step instructions of what to practice. They guide students through learning new songs, reviewing old songs, and using all the learning tools available to them like the sheet music and audio tracks.
With Hoffman Academy Premium, we’re trying to make a system that families of all types and in all situations can afford. We know it can be hard to find private music lessons if you live in a rural area or if your family moves frequently for military assignments or work. Also, if you have multiple kids it can get really expensive. When you sign up for premium, besides giving you an amazing piano learning experince, it helps us continue to provide this experience for anyone who wants it.
The First Step
It’s been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Taking that first step is very important, and it usually gets all the attention. But after that first step, there are still 99,999 more steps to go, and that’s where consistency comes in. You can set yourself up to go the full distance by recognizing how important it is to be consistent, making a plan, requiring practice, keeping it positive, and getting right back on track when you notice your consistency start to waver.
With consistency, it won’t be long before the momentum of the progress you’re making starts to carry you forward, and you’ll begin to enjoy the deep rewards of effort applied consistently over time.