improving as a teacher, Practicing

On Establishing A Daily Habit (Practicing the Piano or Otherwise)

Establishing A Daily HabitFor a long time, I have identified myself as someone who is terrible at remembering to take my daily multivitamin pill.

I wanted to do better. I believe in the benefits of taking multivitamins, and I wanted to take them daily.

I was motivated, but I just couldn’t seem to do it each morning.

So, I started experimenting with putting my multivitamin bottle in a certain place in the house that might help me create a daily habit of taking my multivitamin each morning.

First, I put the bottle in the kitchen on the countertop, in plain sight. I hoped that seeing the multivitamins when I came into the kitchen for breakfast would serve as a good reminder every day. This worked for a little while, but I didn’t like having the bottle sitting out. I like having clear countertops. And I didn’t want my multivitamins sitting out when having visitors, so I tended to tuck the bottle out-of-sight on those occasions…which caused me to forget the next day.

Next, I tried putting the multivitamin bottle in the bathroom, near my toothbrush and other getting-ready-for-the-day items. This didn’t work, either. The problem was that it wasn’t convenient to get a drink of water for swallowing the multivitamin. I had to find my water bottle (which tends to travel all over the house with me) or go to the kitchen for a glass. Because it wasn’t convenient enough, I ended up skipping my multivitamin most days.

Then, I tried putting the multivitamin bottle in the kitchen pantry, on the shelf just below the cereal boxes. I tend to eat a bowl of cereal every morning, so I thought this would be a good place. And I liked that the bottle was out-of-sight instead of out on the countertop. As it turned out, however, my eyes did not always see the multivitamin bottle there in the pantry. There were too many other cans and bottles in the pantry.

So, what finally worked? How did I successfully create a habit of taking my multivitamin pill every morning?

I put the bottle in the cupboard, next to the cereal bowls. Why did this work? This works because I always take out a cereal bowl every morning, so I can’t miss seeing the bottle. Being in the cupboard means that the bottle is never in plain sight or in-the-way on the countertop. Getting a glass of water is easy, because the glasses are within arm reach and so is the sink. I am reminded to do it each day, and it is convenient. 

This experience made me wonder: What other behavior changes can I make in my piano teaching or in other areas of my life? How can I apply what I learned about my new multivitamin habit to other habits?

How about this one: How can I help my students become consistent practicers?

We piano teachers tend to cite a lack of motivation when it comes to students failing to practice regularly. But what about when the problem isn’t a lack of motivation? Many of our students want to practice, but there are barriers preventing it from occurring daily.

Remember, in my case with the multivitamins, I wanted to take them but it wasn’t convenient enough and I didn’t have a sure way to remind myself to do it in the first place.

Instead of focusing on motivating our students to practice, what if we helped our students brainstorm and implement practical ways to eliminate the barriers that make practice difficult or inconvenient? What if we helped them come up with effective reminder systems for daily practice? How can we help students create their own opportunities to achieve “small wins” on their way to establishing new habits?

Please share your input in the comment section below.

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13 thoughts on “On Establishing A Daily Habit (Practicing the Piano or Otherwise)”

  1. This is a really interesting way to think about this issue and something I feel I should explore more with my students. I find however that a few of my students are way too busy for one reason or another, they’re over-involved in dozens of other activities and use that as their excuse for not practicing. Though a valid excuse, I of course explain that they can’t get better without practicing, it’s the most important part of learning the piano, etc. At what point do I explain that they are wasting their time and money with lessons if they’re not going to make time to practice? Or do I just continue teaching them with the knowledge that they’re not going to progress very well? I have a few students where they are fine with just having a lesson and not playing the rest of the week, but one student in particular is more serious about learning, is taking ABRSM exams, and yet doesn’t practice. I fear that her exam is not going to go well at all, which perhaps I might have to let happen in order for her to fully understand that she has to practice to do well? I fear she’ll blame me as she did her previous teacher. It seems harsh, but we can only do so much in a 30 minute/45 minute lesson and can only harp on them so many times about the importance of making time for practicing even in a very busy schedule 🙁 It’s a very tricky situation but this post perhaps illuminates for me that maybe I could do more with finding ways to help them practice.

  2. I have used a “practice scheduler” sheet with my students in the past. It encourages students to look at each day of their week, and find a time that works for practice, linking it with something that occurs each day, such as ” right after dinner” or “after I get home from school” or ” right before breakfast (early birds)”. It could change on days that are different, but it encourages them to plan around naturally occuring events in their day. I ask them to put it on the refrigerator and try to stick to it until it becomes a habit to practice at that time. It seems to help some students, although not all of them will actually follow through.

  3. Very true. For as long as I’ve taught, I’ve focused on these sorts of practicalities rather than giving students pep talks in lessons. This is because of one simple truth: when a student isn’t practicing, they never magically develop the will to start practicing. For the non-practicing student, only through action and accomplishment does long-term motivation to work begin to form. Unfortunately, the only way to motivate work is to force the work for a while, which is why I’ve always focused on developing “systems” at home to help students practice, whether it be a mere schedule written down, or more (parental involvement – rewards and/or consequences). I often tell students that my job as their teacher is to help them overcome whatever obstacles are getting in the way of musical progress, and sometimes those obstacles have nothing to do with music.

  4. My 14 yr old son keeps his guitar at the bottom of the stairs for that reason. He scoops it up after changing when he gets back from school and practises on and off all evening because it is lying on the sofa next to him. My daughter used to keep her flute on the music stand on the piano, along with her phone! (She’s moved out and it now lives in the pencil jar on her desk at uni.)

  5. I had to laugh at the multi-vitamin example because this is so ME! So now I shall try the cupboard. Ha! Ha! I did enjoy the analogy- and you are right, this can definitely play a role… 😉 Great post!

  6. I have the same problem with taking my calcium vitamin! I like this analogy. I tell my students to practice right after something they do consistently, like right after school, right after dinner, as soon as they wake up in the morning. I have found over the last 35 years of teaching, that parents have alot to do with whether the student practices or not and how they practice. Surprisingly, many parents don’t understand what practice actually means and how much time should be spent each day on practice. If they hear their child play something on the piano, they think they have practiced for the day. I ask the parents to be involved with the practice and explain in writing how they are to practice. For example, play each song 5 times all the way through. Pick two measures that you are struggling with and practice them separately for 5 more times each. Let the parents know that playing the song 1 time is not enough practice. This has been very effective for beginning students. Many times it is not that they don’t care about practice its just that they don’t understand how to practice. Also, we need to remember that because music lessons are ongoing throughout the childs growing up years, there are ups and downs and stresses in their lives that we teachers never know about that can make practicing more difficult than we realize. We just have to reward and praise for all of the songs that were actually played well, and be patient through the struggles.

  7. I just read Andrew Ingkavet’s book The Game of Practice. It has great ideas for parents and Teachers alike.

  8. Andrea and Trevor Dow have a free printable called “book bands” that I’m going to try in September when all of my students return to classes. They look like those paper wrist bands that they put on your wrist at amusement park, and are designed to remind the students to take their books out of the car when they get home from lessons !I don’t see any reason why you can’t put one on your student at the end of class and say, ” Take it off when you practice after your lesson”! It’s worth a try!

  9. Hi Joy! Loved your vitamin analogy! This is sooooo me, but my vitamins are still on the counter. I think the cereal bowl idea is great! This is one of the reasons I LOVE PRACTICIA! Somehow, when the students record their practice and upload it to me, it makes it stay in the forefront of their minds better. One of the excuses many of my younger students cite is that during the week, they just “forgot that they played the piano.” Because I attach YouTube videos, and updates when I can, (audios, pictures, videos, etc), they are more likely to check in, just to see if I have added something interesting to their assignment! I’m riding the wave into the future…who wants to join me?
    Lou Ann

  10. I like the idea of a schedule page. I’m planning to try that approach with my students. With my own two children, having practice written on the calendar works beautifully. We each have our own agenda books. I write in all their daily assignments and chores each week (You can probably guess–we homeschool.), AND I input their practice alongside assignments and chores. While I help them find time from day to day (i.e. Tuesday, I teach all afternoon, so practice is done early in the day and school work is done after lunch.), it’s just part of their day to mark off all their daily to-do’s. I find it helps us all!

  11. What worked with me is, setting the timer on my phone for a set time to practice everyday and when the timer went off I would sit at the piano. Now offend I didn’t want to practice, I would force my self to stay at the piano and I would start by saying to myself “I’ll just practice this song today”. The next thing I knew I would be having full brown practice secession. Most my days now are good practice days, I still have days where I don’t want to practice but this method has created a very good habit in me.

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