As a piano teacher of many years, I can say confidently that the key to progress is regular, diligent practice. There are many things parents and teachers can do to facilitate sound practice habits. Here are a few ideas that have worked for my students.
1. It is important that students eventually learn to practice on their own. However, younger students may need structure and encouragement from parents in the initial stages. It may be comforting for a parent to either sit next to the student or at least be in the same vicinity. A quiet environment is helpful and allows the student to focus. In the past, many families have established a rule that during practice time, there cannot be outside distractions (e.g. television, loud conversation).
2. Regularity and quality of practice are more important than the number of minutes spent at the piano. That being said, a general guide for daily practice is 10 - 20 minutes for younger students, 20 - 45 minutes for late elementary - early intermediate levels and 40 - 60 minutes for advanced students. This, of course, varies according to schedules and the demands of after-school activities. It is helpful to have a box in the student’s assignment book to record each day of practice. Even if there is another activity on a particular day, I recommend that the student spend at least a few minutes at the piano. This helps to develop a habit of playing the piano each day (just like brushing teeth).
3. Finding a regular time for practice creates structure for students. Some kids practice better right before dinner, others like to practice in the morning before school or directly after school. It is important that students are able to concentrate (and are not too tired) when they practice. The practice session can also be divided into two parts if this works better with the schedule.
4. The piano should be in an accessible area. The student is reminded to practice every time he/she walks by.
5. A helpful tip is for students to play through each piece immediately following the lesson. This allows students to remember and cement the concepts addressed.
6. Teachers need to be explicit about what pieces are to be practiced and how to do this. An assignment book is imperative for students to use as a practice guide. I always let students choose a sticker at the lesson to reward them for their week of practice.
7. In addition to exercises, scales, pieces and written work, students also should feel free to improvise and have fun exploring the piano during their practice time.
8. Sight reading should also be a component of practicing. This will lead to fluency in playing an array of music quickly and efficiently. It is a wonderful skill that also enables pianists to serve as accompanists and play in ensembles.
9. Student should play older pieces from time to time. This allows them to build up a performing repertoire.
10. The importance of positive feedback from parents and teachers cannot be emphasized enough. This is true for all ages and performance levels. When kids become teenagers, other forces and activities can distract them from their regular practice schedule. A kind word validating their progress in piano can make all the difference in keeping them on track.
The joy of playing piano comes with accomplishment. As students develop as pianists, the music becomes more and more exciting. Learning pieces in a timely manner creates a feeling of success.