Sitting on the Bench: A Better Way to Practice
Sitting on the bench is not an ideal position if you’re playing basketball or soccer, but it is best for piano. Most parents come to me with the same question: How do you keep a child sitting at the bench for practice?
Is it better to time them?
Or Count how many times a song should be repeated?
Do you use a buzzer?
My parents made me sit for 60 minutes. It was the longest 60 minutes of my life, every day. 60 minutes 7 days a week.
One day my dad put 10 pennies on the side of my piano. He told me to play my song once, then move a penny to the other side of the piano. I found that FAR preferable to waiting for the minutes to tick by on my clock. Another time, I tried doing a song 20 times. It too helped that slow clock to move a little faster. Looking back on the 7 hours a week I used to practice, very little of it was helpful. I even lied to my parents for the first time over how much I had practiced piano when they were not in the house. It felt justified because that hour was torture for me.
So let me ask you this. If you had to go to work and the ability to be self-motivated day in and out with no compensation, would you? Probably not, so why do we think kids will find practice invigorating? They won’t unless we help them. Their improvements and abilities to play the piano are their compensation, but they may not feel that way for years down the road. What if we gave them small tasks to accomplish?
“Learn these top two lines with hands alone, then two hands together.”
Most of the time that will be sufficient practice for the day. And it beats just waiting for the clock to tick on.
Even a piece that is learned can be taken to the next level with dynamics and polish. Recording a child’s playing (once they think they are done) then encouraging them to play with a technique that makes it better for a week and recording it again to listen is VALUABLE practice. It shows purpose and makes everyone recognize what small daily steps can do for us!
What about choosing a focus each day and being finished with practice when that’s done? Wouldn’t you rather check something off your to-do list than just look at all of it?
Practicing is work, but it can be improved, no matter how you practice now. I find smartphones to be the biggest competition for my student’s attention even in class. I know it’s that way for practicing at home when I’m not standing right there. If the phone won’t be put down, put it to good use recording practice from the first 2 minutes to the finished product in the last 2 minutes.
One of the best ways to keep your students on the bench is to stand and really listen to their practice from time to time. Give encouragement. Acknowledge what you observe he/she is working on. Most parents say things like “fix this or that.” Telling them what sounds good is motivational. Always start with that.
Watch what can change when you keep your student at the bench with a focused interest, not tortured timing.