Over the years I’ve tried a few different methods for writing practice notes for students: notebooks, writing in pencil on their sheet music, assignment sheets, post-it notes, stickers… and I feel like I’ve finally found a sweet spot!
Here are my tips for writing practice notes that students actually want to read.
Notes for Particular Songs
Having notebooks or assignment sheets can work so well – as long as students remember to check their notes when it’s time for practice! For this reason I prefer to write reminders and practice instructions directly onto their sheet music, so if their practice notebook never gets opened at least students will know exactly what to work on when they see their music.
Although I still sometimes write in pencil directly on the sheet music, my favourite tool is sticky notes. What’s so good about them?
- It’s easy to remove notes that are no longer needed
- They can be used to block off sections (I love this idea from Diane Hidy)
- They look way more interesting!
Washi Tape & Stickers
Washi tape is a favourite with my students (especially when they get to put it on the sheet music themselves!) and we use it to identify repeating patterns, or particular sections that need attention. I also like using small stickers as reminders for tempo, notes, speed and fingering. And once students have mastered a piece we put a fun reward sticker in the top corner. Diane Hidy has some great tips for teaching with stickers.
Although sticky notes are perfect for reminders about how to play a piece, they aren’t so good for helping students know what to play during their practice time. We’ve started using notebooks as a catch-all for writing down weekly practice goals, practice strategies, and keeping track of how much practice is actually happening!
At the end of each lesson I set a handful of practice goals with students. On a new page in the Practice Notebook I’ll write down a short list of goals (older students write the goals themselves) plus a checkbox that students tick when they’ve completed that specific goal.
- Play C Major scale one octave left hand only 5x
- Complete two pages of theory (I use these theory workbooks in my studio)
- Play just the right hand for line 3 of Ode to Joy 10x
- Complete the The Lap challenge with one of your current songs
As you can see these goals are very specific and it’s easy to see when they have been completed. Having these goals to work on makes practice time much more effective, and of course the feeling of ticking them off is very satisfying!
Practice is hard work, but I definitely like to include some fun wherever possible. That’s where Practice Challenges come in. Whenever I come across a good practice strategy or challenge I print out a small label with instructions that students can stick into their Practice Notebooks.
Tracking Practice Time
Although I prefer to focus on practice quality over practice quantity, keeping track of the amount of time that students practice can be illuminating! It can also be a good way to encourage the habit of regular practice. At different points throughout the year we’ll have a practice incentive programme (like this one) happening, and at other times students write down the number of minutes they practice each day.