Each Hoffman Academy unit comes with both a Listening Album and a Practice Album. So why do we need two different sets of recordings for each unit? The Listening Album, which I talked about in a previous post, is a set of recordings for your child to listen to in preparation for learning a song. The Practice Album is designed to be used after your child has learned a song to help motivate continued practice and to develop important musical skills like rhythm and ensemble performance. There are so many benefits to having your child play along with the Practice Album as part of their daily practice routine. Instead of the sound of only one instrument, the Practice Album lets students experience a rich, whole musical texture. It’s exciting and motivating to play when you feel like you’re contributing to something bigger than what you could do by yourself. The Practice Album also includes a wide range of musical styles that we’d like students to explore and enjoy, such as jazz, rock, folk, and classical. Most of all, it makes practicing more fun!
Practice Begins When It’s Perfect
In traditional piano teaching, the goal often seems to be for a child to spend a week or two learning a song until they can play it mostly right, then move on to the next one. Old songs are seldom, if ever, played again. It’s a huge loss if students aren’t encouraged to review and perfect their pieces over time. Review is so important because it develops musical memory and helps students to achieve deep mastery through many repetitions. Confident playing of a familiar piece also builds coordination, strength, and agility in the fingers. I would say the main purpose of our practice album is to give students a fun and easy way to make sure they review all the songs they’ve learned, every day.
Keeping the Beat
Beginning musicians often have a hard time keeping a steady beat when they play by themselves. You could turn on a metronome for your child to help them keep a steady beat, but it’s not nearly as engaging or effective as playing along with the Practice Album. Having an accompaniment to play with is can be a huge help to students in keeping the beat and playing the rhythms correctly.
Most instrumentalists learn to play in a school orchestra or a band, so from the beginning they play music in a group. Pianists often miss out on that. I’ve heard pianists who are quite advanced but who struggle to play with other people. Playing along with the Practice Album prepares kids to someday play in an ensemble, accompany a choir, a vocalist, or an instrumentalist, or play in a band.
Improvisation – Where Music Is Born
Another enormous benefit provided by the the practice album is the opportunity students have to improvise. Many of the tracks allow time for the student to improvise after playing through the melody. We want students to have regular experience with creativity and improvisation, and this is an easy way to work it into their practice every day. For more tips on how to help your child learn to improvise, read this post.
Tips for Using the Practice Album
Every practice session should include a review of all songs from your last unit and the songs your child has mastered in your current unit. Cue up all the Listening Album tracks for the songs your child has mastered, and start the music. Your child will probably be happy to stay at the piano and keep playing along for much longer than they would if you asked them to play all of those songs on their own. It is important for your child to have a song mastered before attempting to play along with the practice track. The Practice Album is not designed to be used in the learning phase. Once a piece is mastered to a comfortable point, and your child can play it with no missed notes or rhythms, then use the Practice Album track for that song. It can be helpful to have your child to listen to a track once without trying to play, either by silently listening or quietly humming along. If your child can’t keep up with the accompaniment on the first attempt, have them practice once more on their own, then listen again, then try again to play along. Each track has three or four clicks to signal when to start playing, depending on the meter of the song. Songs in 4/4 will have a full measure of four clicks, songs in 3/4 will have a full measure of three clicks. Look at the chart included with the complete materials to see how many clicks to expect for each track. More specific instructions for using the Practice Album can be found on page 3 of each unit’s lesson materials.
I hope that the Practice Album will be a valuable and enjoyable part of your child’s practice time every day. Enjoy!