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Our guest blogger is Maria Rainier, a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education and performs research surrounding online degrees. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop. Enjoy!

If you’re a piano teacher (or even a piano student), you know that you can’t start a lesson without warming up. The same goes for practice sessions, but how often do students warm up properly for practice? The only information you have on this subject is from your students’ parents and from their practice logs, but it’s a very important part of successful piano instruction. Without a good warm-up session, your students aren’t preparing themselves for productive practice sessions. And when practice sessions appear to be unproductive, students begin to assume that practicing doesn’t produce results. That’s a dangerous line of thinking that ends in ambivalence, frustration, and even the desire to stop taking lessons. To end that process before it starts, try focusing on helping your students develop solid warm-up habits that establish consistency between home and studio.

Share Decision-Making

Many students feel that their actions in life are determined by everyone but themselves: parents, teachers, and even friends. Let your students have a role in their own instruction by allowing them to “choose” their own warm-ups. For example, you might have a set of index cards with different warm-ups and specific rep instructions written on them – you can even keep several different sets that are color coded so you can make sure your student gets a well-rounded warm-up session. You could have a set of purple cards for velocity warm-ups, a yellow set for improvisational exercises, other sets for specific technical skills you’re teaching, and more. Replacing some or all of these cards from time to time keeps this activity interesting and lets your students enjoy the element of surprise. You can also copy the cards from your studio and send some home with your students for their daily practice warm-ups, encouraging systematic and consistent warm-up habits.

Use Observation Techniques

Once you’ve established a warm-up activity like the one described above, have your student warm up without your instruction at the next lesson. If your student seems nervous about this, pretend that you have some paperwork to do and instruct the student to warm up just like he or she does at home. Carefully observe your student’s developing warm-up habits, but don’t say anything until the warm-up session is completed. This is an effective way to gather information about how your student is warming up at home: frequency, duration, technical and skill levels, and more. Since you’re already “doing paperwork,” you can even write down notes for later reference as you decide how to progress with warm-up instruction.

Encourage Re-Teaching

After you’ve gotten your student to warm up independently in your studio, ask him or her to teach you how to warm up exactly the same way. To do this, you’ll need to pretend that you’re a blank slate, allowing your student to learn by teaching. Ask a lot of questions, but try to make sure that your student doesn’t get too frustrated. The object of this exercise is to help your student think about the concepts behind warming up, allowing him or her to internalize the real purpose of warm-ups. The following are some basic questions you can ask your students as you “learn” their warm-ups:

•How fast or slow should I go? Do you use the same tempo for each repetition?

•How many times should I do this? Does it depend on how much time I have, how well I’ve completed the warm-up, or something else?

•What should I be focusing on as I perform this warm-up exercise?

•How do I know if I’m doing it correctly?

•What am I doing wrong?

You can be creative with your questions and re-teaching methods, as this will help keep the lesson interesting and engaging. Focusing on warm-up habits does require a substantial time commitment from you and your student, but it’s well worth the effort for a lifetime of successful practice and performance.

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