Practice Space

Finding time for music practice is tough. Finding space is equally tough but often overlooked. The oft-quoted real estate phrase of “location, location, location” has merit in selecting a space for music practice, too. My friends, I have heard far too many well-meaning-but-cringe-worthy stories about where my students practice. Some real-life examples:

“We put the keyboard in the basement so it wouldn’t make so much noise.”

Oh, no! Unless that basement looks a whole bunch better than mine (and many basements I have seen), being sent to the basement to practice might feel more like a banishment than a privilege. What concerns me even more, however, is the idea that the music is “noise.” I listen to music students all day long, and I admit some songs are more pleasant than others. But do we want our young musicians to feel that we think what they are doing is just making noise? Or think that what they are creating is so unpleasant we must send them away?

I promise you the music students in your family are keenly aware of your reactions to their efforts.

“We put the piano/keyboard/organ in her bedroom.”

Okay, this may be better than being sent to the basement, but did you ever hear “go to your room!” as a child? I did, and the tone of voice that went with it told me this was not a good thing. ‘Nuff said.

“We put the piano/keyboard in the living room so we could keep an eye on him while he practices. He uses headphones, so we don’t bother him.”

Hmmm. We are moving in the right direction but not quite there yet. It’s great to have the instrument where the family is, but it shouldn’t have to compete with TV or similar activities. (Turning the TV off solves that problem.) But let’s be honest here. Are headphones being used so the student will not be bothered OR so the other family members won’t be bothered by the piano? When used appropriately, headphones are a fantastic and helpful tool, but it is the rare student who truly practices the entire time headphones are used.

I sometimes have students use headphones here in the studio. The look on their faces when I see them playing something other than their assignments is priceless. Their typical reaction is, “Can you really tell?!?!” Yes, dear student, I really can. Can you tell if the actual assignment is being practiced when headphones are in use? I hate to break it to you, but a lot of students are hoping that you can’t.

So where should the piano/keyboard/organ be?

Choose a place that is inviting. Choose a place where family and friends can gather to listen and cheer impromptu performances. Choose a place with good lighting. Choose a place where you can hear the practice even when you are not seated next to the piano, so words of encouragement can be spontaneously spoken, even from the next room. Choose a place that makes your young musician smile. Most of all, spend some time with your young musician in that space.

One Comment

  1. Michael Gemmell says:

    When I was in third grade at St. Joseph’s Academy, the Sisters’ order sent them a music nun, who would offer piano lessons at very low cost. When I was in fifth grade, after 2 years of practicing on one of the school’s pianos during recess (that was fine with me!), Sister Mary Theophane spoke to my Dad at Sears, suggesting I was serious, and they should consider buying a piano. I wish they had bought a used upright and had it moved into the nice basement playroom, but instead they chose a meh spinet that matched my mother’s favorite maple furniture–and placed it in the living room. No, of course I couldn’t practice after dinner, but even right after school, that was difficult because my brothers (I’m the middle of 3, does that explain everything?) also wanted to watch the television. When I was a freshman in high school, I was no longer taking piano lessons, so they sold the piano–“You never practice anyhow,” ignoring the impossibility of the placement of the piano.

    Of course, I took the E flat contra-alto clarinet into the basement playroom to practice, but even there, Mother would complain about my practicing when she was watching the television ustairs. Yes, this contributed to my poor practicing habit, but I was still responsible for that. Only as an adult did I learn to accept how important practicing is. Once I truly knew my part as Antonio, The Count’s Gardener, in “The Marriage of Figaro,” it was all fun, because finally, I was prepared.

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