“Imagine a hockey game with no goals. Players swoop around the ice, knocking the puck back and forth, but is it really any fun if there’s no objective? In any sport, it’s the goal that keeps the players striving their hardest and the audience on the edge of their seats. Make a basket, win the race, hit the ball, land the jump– whatever the goal, that’s what makes the game engaging and fun.
Unfortunately, we too often fail to set children up with clear goals when they sit down to practice. Sometimes parents will say, “Go practice the piano for thirty minutes.” Well, what’s the goal? There won’t be any fun or engagement if a child is just watching the clock and waiting for 30 minutes to pass by as they sit on the bench. On the other hand, with some clear and specific goals, piano practice can change from a chore to a fun and enticing challenge.
Having clear and specific goals is an important part of achieving flow, a state of enjoyable concentration. This is the third post in a four-part series in which I’m exploring each of these key components of flow:
Children often need help from a parent to set clear goals in their daily music practice. Together, parent and child can decide what is reasonable to accomplish that day. Instead of just practicing a song, make it a goal to get one small section learned perfectly. If a child struggles with piano posture, invent a practice game that specifically addresses that. See if the child can play with fingers curved, or stay sitting up straight for the whole song. Break it down and focus on one small aspect at a time. If a goal turns out to be too hard, then adjust it. Watch for signs of frustration, and be ready to break a larger goal into smaller steps.
Be sure each goal is something challenging but attainable, right at your child’s skill level. If left to make their own goals, children often choose something too challenging, then become frustrated and want to give up. As a teacher or parent you have to encourage them to slow down. When learning a new song, instead of trying to play the whole thing at once, have them work on no more than two measures at a time. I like to call this level one. When they can play two measures without any mistakes, move on to level two, and practice larger sections at a time. Finally, on level three, see if they can play the whole song perfectly, three times in a row. Using these three levels to learn a song gives piano students a sense of progression and helps them break a complex task down into manageable pieces.
Practicing piano with purpose, with a clear and simple objective in mind, will give your child motivation and provide them a sense of progress and accomplishment as each small goal is attained.