Home practice is hugely important for your child’s success in music lessons. However, it’s difficult to find a middle ground between technical and expressive playing during practice time. Practicing techniques helps your student grow as a musician, but practicing artistry helps them grow as a person.
Practicing 'techniques' is very important, but what’s the best way to get it done? Every time we perform an action, pathways in the brain are created or reinforced. This means that in order to practice effectively we should think deliberately about what we create as we practice and take the time to make sure that all repetitions are correct. To accomplish this, before playing you should remind your child of the goal for each practice spot and after they play, give them immediate feedback on how it went. Strengthening pathways takes time and focus. Consistent focused practice is effective over long spans of time, and sticking to plan of action requires patience. Immediate improvement should not be expected; these things take time to work.
The second but equally important aspect of practicing is artistry and self expression. The best way to help students find their personal voice is allowing them time for experimentation. This lets students subconsciously process new techniques and information. Janos Starker, a world renowned cello performer and pedagogue, recommended that practice time should be set aside for free exploration. This means that after warming up and accomplishing the tasks a teacher has assigned, we should freely play whatever comes to mind; test different bowstrokes, shifts, intervals, melodies, dynamics, chords, pizzicato, etc. In this way we can discover ideas that might not occur in strictly regimented practice. Because this is the language learning method, we want to make sure that children learn to express their own original thoughts and ideas.
When practicing or reinforcing any new idea it is important to remember that brain pathways aren’t set in stone and require maintenance. This pertains to both technical and creative endeavors. Just remember, change is best accomplished by slow and steady practice.