Don’t Eat Cookies While You Practice

After years of teaching, it dawned on me that there must be a more effective, more pleasurable way to teach students how to practice than the highly repetitive and often ignored sermonettes I found myself delivering week after week.

I asked my students, What tips would you give to friends who want to improve their practicing? Some offered wry suggestions like “Don’t eat cookies when you practice or your Mom will yell at you,” but others came up with shrewd advice like “Pay as much attention to rests as you do to notes.”

Over time, I compiled dozens of simple, effective practice tips—some from my students, some passed down by my teachers (and their teachers), some shared by colleagues. I added these to my own inventions and published them as practice guides for students, parents and for anyone looking for comprehensive practice tips.

The student practice guide serves as a student toolbox. I give every student a guide and over time I show how each practice tip is a tool that can fix a particular problem. I say, #21 will take the bumps out of bar 43, or try #7 to get better balance in the B theme. Then, at home, the student can look up #21 and #7 in his practice guide and follow through.

Eventually students learn to make their own practice prescriptions, matching one or several practice tips to their specific needs. So not only does the practice guide save my breath and our lesson time, it teaches smart practice habits, analysis and problem solving. I see these young people moving toward a level of musical independence that will make their lessons with me merely the first stage in a lifetime of engagement with the piano.

Learn More about the Practice Guides

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