I looked at my calendar the other day and discovered that NFMC festival is only about 15 weeks away and NCMTA is only 18 weeks away. Now that sounds like a long time. Let’s break that down in the eyes of my middle school and high school students:
Oct. 29-31- Ohh! Halloween. Must attend parties. No practice this weekend.
Nov. 1-23- Gee, I have plenty of time. Besides the Christmas recital is before festival season.
Nov. 24-28- Yippee! Thanksgiving break. I’m taking the week off to go to grandmother’s house.
Nov. 28-Dec. 12- Aghhh!!! That Christmas recital snuck up on me. I must practice frantically.
Dec. 13- Jan. 3- There is plenty of time to learn my NFMC music. Christmas break from practice starts now.
Jan. 4- Feb. 12- What do you mean it’s only 5 lessons until festival. PANIC!
Feb. 13- Wait, I thought NCMTA was in April. I don’t get a break from practice? What do you mean I have to have all 3 pieces memorized!
March 5- NCMTA. I promise next year I won’t procrastinate.
Now not all of my students are like this, but the vast majority just don’t have the hang of long term planning yet. So how do we keep the kids on track for a successful festival season?
I hand out NFMC and NCMTA music between May and August for the coming year. This gives the student plenty of time to familiarize themselves with the scores and to make sure the score editions that I like are available. There isn’t any intense work happening here, but some accidental learning might occur.
From August to the first of November, we work on these pieces diligently but are also learning Halloween and Christmas recital pieces. At this point the students usually have 2-3 pieces learned and are ready to start the memorization process.
Around the first of November, we take part of a lesson and strategize. Looking at the calendar we work backwards from the festival date to see what needs to be accomplished in 1-2 week intervals. I really like my students to have about 2-4 weeks for their pieces to settle in, go throught that inevitable slump and come back up to performance ready. My students who are playing NFMC scholarship and concerto festival have been advised that concertos need to be memorized the week we come back from winter break and scholarship pieces should be memorized no later than the third week of January.
From there we break the pieces down into lines or sections and determine what is the minimum that must be learned each week per piece to stay on track. For one piece that might be one line and for another that might be an entire page. I’ve found that this helps the students feel very much in control of their practice time. It is up to the student to break those weekly goals into daily goals.
When I was in college, I kept a little notebook with my goals in it with my music bag. After my lesson each week, I would take what I my teacher had said needed to be done and break it down in to daily goals. Then I when I was done practicing each day I would adjust the next days goals. This really kept me on track and I avoided the frantic end of the semester rush on the practice rooms.
So often students sit at the piano and practice without a definate idea of what they need to be doing. Sometimes the best laid plans fall by the wayside due to life just happening but a good plan can prevent things from going completely off the rails.