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Practice Pointers

Lessons Learned from a Dirty House

Sample Practice Chart

How to Learn Your Piece Perfectly the First Time

Paint Practice: What I learned from my husband Don




Lessons Learned from a Dirty House

Housecleaning and practice? Don’t you just love them?

Here are some strategies I use to get my house clean and my music learned:

Concentrate on cleaning just a few rooms and don’t let your company into the rest of the house! If you have a concert or a lesson coming up and are rushed for time, work on one section or one piece, get it good, and don’t let anyone see the rest.

Look at the clock and clean like crazy for ten minutes then stop. You’ll be amazed at what you can get done if you really concentrate. Ten minutes of “microwave” practice can conquer that awful run too.

Don’t clean the whole kitchen. Put 10 or 20 things away. Then stop. Don’t have time to learn the whole page? Choose four measures, get them good, and then walk away.

Hire a housecleaner. Woops! That doesn’t work for practice!


A Sample Practice Chart

I rarely ask students to keep a practice chart; I want them to understand it is quality, not just quantity.

But sometimes, especially for beginners, it helps them track their time spent and become aware of their progress over the week.

Click here for a sample Flute Practice Chart you can download and print. This alternate layout includes a space for students to record their questions or feelings about each practice session.


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How To Learn Your Piece Perfectly The First Time

This method for teaching beginners is so simple and works with any instrument. The secret is to get students to take baby steps and to do the steps in a specific order.

The Step method gives them a plan of attack instead of just playing through the piece over and over and over (usually wrong.)

These steps really work for my students; you may devise other steps particular to your own instrument.

The first time your beginner student is faced with a piece, go through each step, repeating each until it is not only perfect, but easy. After the student sees how easy it is, then (with the steps listed in front of them) have them show you how they will practice the next piece.


Practice Steps:

1. Check out the key signature and time signature. Decide what kind of note gets the beat.

2. Tap and clap the beat and say the rhythm out loud using words such as pie, pizza.

3. Say the names of the notes in rhythm (while clapping and tapping the beat).

4. Repeat #3 while fingering the notes.

5. Play as written.

6. Play five times in a row PERFECTLY.

7. Repeat these steps on the next phrase.

8. Play both phrases perfectly... and go on from there.


  2. At the end of the lesson, leave them with this:

  3. “I guarantee your pieces will be sloppy if you just play straight through them every day, and I guarantee your pieces will be fabulous if you tackle them with the Eight Practice steps — and in less time, too!“


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    Paint Practice

    I’ll never forget the first time my husband Don and I painted a room together. Don had been a contractor and painted many times. I knew he was an expert, so I was thoroughly pleased with myself that I finished my half of the room first.

    “Why is he taking so long?” I thought.

    Surveying my own work, I had my answer. While Don was slowly and carefully painting, I had to go back and repaint the spots I had missed and paint out the drips.

    Now, as Don quickly cleaned his brushes, I had to mop up the puddles of paint that had fallen on the drop cloth and those that slid under the masking tape.

    While Don sat in his easy chair with a relaxing drink, I scrubbed the brush that had paint covering its handle and washed and rewashed the roller soaked in paint.

    Don enjoyed a favorite TV show as I headed upstairs to shower my spotted body and throw all my clothes into the wash.

    He could have painted in a suit and gone to a business meeting after!

    Hmm. Maybe he’s on to something here.

    We should all practice like Don paints. First, he surveys the situation and spends as much time prepping the walls by washing and patching as he does painting.

    If we’re smart, we take time before we begin to practice to look over the piece and carefully note not only the basics of the time and key signature but also the spots that might need patched before we begin.

    Is there a weird rhythm, a measure with hard to read ledger line notes, a long run, accidentals, or other tricky parts?

    Once those have been conquered, now it’s time to start painting.


    As I learned the hard way, it's much faster to be careful and not make the mistake the first time than it is to clean up all those mistakes.

    Thanks, Don.


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What is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music?

A NCTM is a member of the Music Teachers National Association. The following is from the MTNA Web site:

The mission of Music Teachers National Association is to advance the value of music study and music making to society and to support the professionalism of music teachers. The Professional Certification Program exists to improve the level of professionalism within the field of applied music teaching and helps the public readily identify competent music teachers in their communities. It signifies commitment to continued excellence in professional practice. In addition, it increases visibility, builds credibility, provides a goal for personal professional achievement and validates expertise for the individual and to those outside the field.

The program is based upon a set of five standards defining what a competent music teacher should know and be able to do:

Standard I:
Professional Preparation

Standard II:
Professional Teaching Practices

Standard III:
Professional Business Management

Standard IV:
Professionalism and Partnerships

Standard V: Professional and Personal Renewal

To me, being a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music means that I have a commitment to teaching and learning and strive to help other music teachers attain high standards for themselves and their students and the respect our profession deserves.