Back to Piano Lessons Kick Off Ideas

piano lessons

Here we are, still in the middle of summer, a time for piano teachers to rest, and to celebrate the hard work of the previous semester.

Maybe you’re like many piano teachers, choosing to take off during the summer due to your travel schedule, or the fact that your students travel during the summer.

Perhaps you adopt an every other week sort of approach or teach throughout the entire summer.

Whatever model you adopt, the fact remains that a new teaching season is just around the corner!

It’s important to kick off new teaching seasons on an exciting, joyful note, that inspires students and helps them stay engaged throughout the semester.

The following ideas are for you to consider before diving into the new fall semester that is so quickly approaching!

Organize a challenge event.

I used to work at a local arts center (by local, I mean Atlanta-based).

And every year they put together a “Scale-a-thon.”

This was primarily a challenge that inspired students to learn their scales, chords, and arpeggios over the course of a semester.

Midway to three-fourths of the way through the semester, students had a chance to participate in a big festival, demonstrating what they had learned, playing games, and possibly receive rewards for their efforts and accomplishments.

It was so well attended and became a tradition for this particular arts center.

We all have students who have “checked out” due to travel schedules, right?

Parents are not as engaged with piano lessons during the summer as they are during the school semester.

And maybe this is okay; they’ve worked hard with their students on homework throughout the semester.

Summer is a time to recuperate.

But students spend far too much time in front of the television, they play (as they should), and travel. They’re not practicing that much.

Hosting an event, like a fall kick off challenge that inspires students to practice over the course of a semester is a great way to set a positive tone for the new teaching season.

Host small group gatherings.

If you don’t like the idea of throwing a big group gathering like a scale-a-thon, maybe you host something on a smaller scale, such as a small group gathering.

Do you have a group of beginning students who have taken with you for a year or so? (Of course, you can throw this event for older, more advanced students as well.)

Consider hosting a small group gathering based on age groups or piano level at the beginning of the semester.

Ask parents to get involved and help organize the event.

Pro Tip: Students excel when their parents get involved.

Begin the event by allowing students to play a familiar piece.

Perhaps you can ask a parent to narrate a fun story as you accompany them on the piano. This is an excellent way to teach students about music’s emotive power.

Consider preparing a fun snack with a cute music related theme.

The possibilities are endless! Just get creative.

Make the first piano lesson super special!

If you don’t like the idea of any sort of group gathering, consider making the first piano lesson of the new season super special by presenting your student with a brand new piece of music.

Of course, you can find music in the PracticeHabits online store.

There are free pieces of music and exercises scattered throughout the site as well.

One lady within the PracticeHabits Membership Community uses Halloween music and organizes Halloween themed recitals to inspire her students.

I think this is such a cool idea!

Fun and well-crafted sheet music inspire student practice.


Hopefully, you’ve connected with one of these ideas.

Try something new this season! Get creative!! Have fun!!!

Are you looking for a community of like-minded piano teachers to connect with and learn from?

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Looking for fun and creative technical exercises that inspire student practice?

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Why Practicing Students Are Good For Teachers

practicing

As music teachers, we encounter many different personalities and levels of interest with our students.

Unfortunately, some students are not as naturally enthusiastic about practicing as others, and one of the difficulties of teaching music is in getting a student such as this to practice consistently and more efficiently.

If this isn’t happening, parents can get frustrated with their child’s lack of progress and take them out of lessons altogether.

What can we do as teachers to avoid this and help all of our students feel fulfilled in their daily practice?


When students don’t practice regularly or efficiently, it causes many problems between them and their teachers and parents.

Parents sometimes feel helpless when they cannot get their child to practice, which ultimately leads them to take them out of music lessons.

If they do practice, but not effectively, the progress is plodding and can become a source of frustration for everyone involved!

The best way to make sure students are on the right track to practicing consistently and efficiently is for parents and teachers to help them set up a practice schedule that is a part of their daily life.

This helps set them up for success!

Within that schedule, the teacher must make certain that the student is practicing effectively (not just running through the motions) and this can take a considerable amount of time and effort during the lesson time to demonstrate and reinforce.

They must learn to be efficient and fruitful in their practicing. And the teacher has to be the one to ensure that they attain these most valuable skills.

One good way to introduce better practice skills with a student is to use a fun piece as the example for how they can become more efficient.

This does not usually work if teachers impose a piece that does not interest the student, so leave the choice up to them.

Once they have decided, use that piece to explore all the different ways they can develop their practice skills at home and spend time in the lessons demonstrating and analyzing the results.

This is an excellent way for a student to become more in-tune with her learning methods while still having fun in the process.

Working on developing better practice skills can be a very long process. But the benefits greatly outweigh any difficulties we experience.

How do students benefit from practicing?

When students practice consistently and efficiently, they become more engaged, enthusiastic, inspired and inquisitive.

We want all of these things for our students!

As students progress more quickly, they soon get to learn more exciting music, which helps keep them inspired.

Students can more easily see where their music studies are leading as they progress.

And then teachers have the opportunity to compare diligent students to other more advanced students to show how their hard work will eventually pay off.

How do teachers benefit from practicing?

With positive results from proper practice techniques, we are more inspired to push students further.

This also helps us feed off the students’ progress and to be more creative!

It opens an opportunity to use positive reinforcement instead of negative punishment, and successful students become good examples for the rest of the studio.

When students are efficient and diligent in practicing, we teachers feel like we have more time and space to add other aspects to teaching that they otherwise couldn’t, such as the exploration of other musical styles, theory, improvisation, composition, arranging and more advanced technique.

With successful students, we get a greater sense of accomplishment, which increases morale.

Not every student will be naturally enthusiastic, so we need to cultivate this kind of attitude to keep us motivated as teachers.

How does this affect parents?

When parents can see progress, they are more likely to keep their children enrolled in lessons and involved in recitals and competitions.

That’s a big one, right? I mean, we all like our paychecks!

Parents are a big factor in their children’s success in music, and they are instrumental in establishing a regular schedule, attainable goals, and positive reinforcement.

Clear progress helps parents stay motivated and excited about helping their children succeed in music.

When goals are set and met, parents can easily see where the path is leading in their children’s musical development.

Student success can ultimately encourage them to enroll other siblings, family members or friends for lessons.

This is a super positive side effect of students practicing!

Remember: happy parents are the best advertising we teachers can get!


Sharing the gift of music with our students is the most important thing we do.

Engaged students and parents equal success in music lessons.

The PracticeHabits Membership Community is a fantastic community for piano teachers dedicated to inspiring student practice and parent engagement.

Piano teachers are already benefitting from the wonderful community and resources!

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Parent Engagement Equals Success in Music Lessons

parent engagement

One, of the most common questions that parents have for music teachers, is how they can be more involved in their child’s music education.

Sometimes it can feel like there is a divide between what happens in the lesson room and what happens on a daily basis at home.

Parent engagement equals success in music lessons.

There are many ways to approach parent engagement.

Here are a few effective ways to encourage your student’s parents to get involved more meaningfully in their child’s musical development:

EXPERIENCE MUSIC TOGETHER

Often, children feel they have very different musical tastes than their parents, and this can certainly be true.

Parents can go to live performances together to establish a musical connection with their children.

This can be any kind of music, whether it’s more to the child’s liking, more suited to the parent’s sensibilities, or somewhere in-between.

The important thing is to experience music together and to talk about it afterward.

Discuss what your impressions were: what you liked and didn’t like, what surprised you, and what inspired you.

Take advantage of the connections you make in these interactions, and you will see your musical relationship grow very naturally.

On a more daily basis, listen to music while at home or in the car. This is the easiest way to connect with your child about music.

Go so far as to invite music to be a part of your family, whether it’s while you’re doing chores at home, driving to school, or just relaxing on the weekend.

When possible, take the time to have sessions of “active listening” – not just passively hearing background sounds, but focusing on the music and talking about it afterward.

Enjoying and discussing music through these kinds of experiences will help you get to know each other’s musical sides much better, which will open the door to getting more personally involved in your child’s education.

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TAKE A MORE ACTIVE ROLE

Once you’ve established a relationship with your child regarding music, it becomes much easier to take an active role in their music education.

The best way to begin this is to ask them specific questions concerning what they are working on and how their lessons are going.

Too often, parents ask the obligatory “Did you practice?” and “For how long?” without following up with more in-depth questions.

Find out what exactly what they are working on, how it is different from the other pieces or technical exercises, what do they find easy or difficult, what they like or dislike about it, and what they aspire to be able to play.

It’s essential to ask your child how they think they are doing in their practice and lessons.

If the child is struggling to stay disciplined in practice, you can help them set up a practice schedule that is easy to maintain.

Overall, encourage self-appraisal and always be supportive, since self-criticizing isn’t easy for any of us to do!

SET GOALS INDEPENDENTLY OF THEIR TEACHER’S GOALS

The next step in taking an active role in your child’s musical development is to set goals independently of their teacher’s goals.

The teacher will always have the dominant role as an educator, and this can make the parent-child dynamic seem less important.

The best way to remedy this is to come up with activities that don’t directly involve the timelines of what they are doing in lessons, for instance, set up family concerts at home or have recording projects that you do together and share with family and friends.

Reinforce the idea that music is not just about preparing for lessons and competitions but is something that enriches the lives of all of your loved ones.

If your child responds well to this approach, make it into a family ritual, and your musical relationship will strengthen further.

Along with these ideas, it is helpful and fun to play duets with your child if you have basic skills on any instrument, particularly piano.

Playing together is truly the most direct way to establish an active role in your child’s musical life, so if needed, you can take lessons as an adult to share the experience.

GET MORE PERSONAL

An important aspect of understanding your child’s musical education is to have honest conversations with them about their experiences.

You can talk to them about their musical aspirations, what makes them nervous or anxious when performing, or what kinds of music they are interested in.

As they reach adolescence, it becomes crucial to discuss with your child how they see their future regarding music, whether as a career path, as a serious hobby, or just an appreciation.

These kinds of discussions are much easier to have if you’ve already established a supportive relationship when it comes to music, and with the advice of their teacher, you will be able to help your child realize his or her musical aspirations as an adult.

Above all, remember that parent engagement = success in music lessons.


About the Author: This guest post about parent engagement in private music lessons is by Carter McMullen from the Baltimore School of Music. You can read more about Carter and his work below.

Carter McMullen is a piano teacher at the Baltimore School of Music. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgia State University and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia, both in Piano Performance. He continued his music studies at conservatories in Paris, France and London, England.

Carter maintains an active performing schedule including solo and chamber music, instrumental and vocal accompanying, and jazz. He toured South America three times with the Chase Educational Foundation, giving concerts and masterclasses in Argentina and Chile, and has performed in concerts in France, Italy, the UK, and the US. He regularly collaborates with performance students at the Peabody Institute.

In 2017, Carter founded the Union Square Chamber Music Society, and as Artistic Director, he organizes monthly salon concerts in which he regularly takes part as a performer.


Interested in connecting with and learning from other like-minded piano teachers? How about downloading and printing unlimited copies of sheet music, technical exercises, and much more?

Well, you should check out the PracticeHabits Membership Community!

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Five Practice Tips for Staying in Shape During the Summer Months

practice tips

It’s Summertime again and the school year is over, leaving our students and families to plan what to do with all of their free time – A trip to the beach, a family road trip, maybe even pick up a new hobby?

It seems like every year they brush music to the side so that they can enjoy whatever vacation time they do have, only to come back to lessons in the Fall with a lot of catching up to do.

Since most students take a break from lessons during the Summer months, how can we encourage them to stay in shape with their instrument while still helping them feel like they’re getting that much-needed break?

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Here are five brilliant practice tips to help your students stay in shape over the Summer.

Stay Inspired

If students stop thinking about music and close off their emotional relationship with it, then it’s much harder to find the willpower to practice when not having lessons over the Summer amidst so many other fun distractions.

Encourage your students (and their parents) to find the time to go to concerts (of any kind) and try to listen to the music they play and want to be able to play so that it remains strong in their consciousness.

It doesn’t take much, but it’s amazing what a difference this makes in their playing!

Stay Disciplined (When They’re in Town)

Many people take extended trips out of town during the Summer, so the time they do have to practice is significantly limited.

To remedy this, encourage your students to plan out their calendar as much as possible and be sure to make a practice schedule for the days they know they will be at home.

It’s important to stay continuous in practice whenever possible, as days off usually call for some time to get back into the swing of things.

Practice sessions can be shorter than during the school year, as long as students maintain a constant (or as constant as possible) connection to playing the piano.

This is the best way to avoid that “rusty” feeling in September.

Set Reasonable Goals

During the school year, students have regular lessons, recitals and competitions to challenge them, but during the Summer they seem to be on their own.

Having goals moves them forward, and the key for efficient Summer practice is setting modest goals.

Choose 1 or 2 pieces for your students to work on by themselves so that they can bring them to their first Fall lesson in good shape.

Encourage them to have a family recital at the end of Summer to challenge them, or to make a recording of their pieces at least once.

And encourage them with all of that extra time on their hands to think about what pieces and styles of music they want to tackle next.

All of this will help motivate them to be self-disciplined.

Work to Strengthen a Weak Skill

One great way to take advantage of the Summer break is to focus on strengthening a weak skill.

Establish what this is for each student and show them how to work on it effectively.

In addition to their regular practice, they should take the time to sort through whatever particular issues they may have deliberately.

Summer break gives them the space to address these kinds of deficiencies without the stress of the hectic school year schedule.

Overall – Have Fun!

That’s what Summer break is all about, right?

So encourage your students to improvise, compose, or make arrangements of their favorite songs.

It’s good for them to do things that make them happy to be a musician.

Remind them to enjoy themselves, be inspired, and stay as continuous as possible in their practice by setting modest goals.

These practice tips will help them come out of the Summer with an even deeper connection to music and the piano!

Teach Your Students How to Stay in Shape During the Summer with This Free Practice Guide!
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About the Author: This guest post about staying in shape during the Summer months is by Carter McMullen from the Baltimore School of Music. You can read more about Carter and his work below.

Carter McMullen is a piano teacher at the Baltimore School of Music. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgia State University and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia, both in Piano Performance. He continued his music studies at conservatories in Paris, France and London, England.

Carter maintains an active performing schedule including solo and chamber music, instrumental and vocal accompanying, and jazz. He toured South America three times with the Chase Educational Foundation, giving concerts and masterclasses in Argentina and Chile, and has performed in concerts in France, Italy, the UK, and the US. He regularly collaborates with performance students at the Peabody Institute.

In 2017, Carter founded the Union Square Chamber Music Society, and as Artistic Director, he organizes monthly salon concerts in which he regularly takes part as a performer.

Memorization

Memorization technique

The following is one of the most efficient memorization techniques that I’ve taught my students.

It’s common knowledge that students all around the globe practice too fast. And this produces poor results!

Slow and steady wins the race.

I always remind my students about The Tortoise and the Hare.

Who wins?

The tortoise, of course.

Why?

Because he’s slow and methodical.

The hare gets cocky and only knows one speed – fast! And this ultimately leads to his losing the race.

We have to take care in reminding our students to practice slowly.

Learning the piano is a marathon, not a sprint.

So, why memorize music?

Well, we encourage our students to memorize music because it helps them internalize and bring a higher level of interpretation to their music.

They don’t have to worry so much about the notes anymore and can focus on the dynamics, phrasing, and other musical nuances.

When it comes to memorization, I like to teach a back to front approach.

It’s not a quick approach, but it yields amazing results!

Maybe you, like me, have seen students attempt to memorize a piece from beginning to end quickly.

Impatience = Sloppiness

This is why it’s so important to remind students about the long game. In the end, the tortoise wins the race!

One caveat before we dive into the technique; a student shouldn’t attempt memorization until she can play a piece from beginning to end without making mistakes.

She must have a solid grasp of the music.

Now, on to memorization.

As already mentioned, I prefer a slow and steady back to front approach.

Once students are ready to begin memorizing, I have them turn to the very back of a piece, extract the last three to four bars, and play them several times slowly along with the music.

I stress slowly here.

Once they’ve played the three to four measure phrase slowly with the music, I ask them to play the phrase from memory.

Carving out small sections one at a time and practicing them in this way forces students to pay attention to what’s going on in the music.

What are the intervals? What does the melody sound like? What’s the rhythm?

Extracting small snippets of a piece and practicing them in this way gives way to solid memorization.

You’re determining these little fragments by the phrasing, or course. You could be working with six bars phrases in your case. Or it could be less.

But I would not bite off more than six bars. This may be a bit much for your students depending on the tempo and difficulty level of their piece.

I’ve had my students repeat as little as two measures at a time.

Once students have mastered the last three or four bars of a piece (or last part of a phrase), I have them back up to the preceding three to four bars of music.

Now, have them repeat the process. Not only with the new measures, but the measures they’ve already memorized.

This technique reinforces the music that they’ve already memorized and works extremely well when it comes to solidifying memorization of any piece.

Okay, so just to recap. –

  1. Play the last three or four measures of a piece (depending on the phrase) several times while looking at the music.
  2. Next, play the passage from memory.
  3. Then back up to the preceding three or four measures and play them plus the memorized measures several times while looking at the music.
  4. Now try the passage from memory.
  5. Rinse, wash, repeat.

This approach just works!

I encourage you to approach large-scale works, such as Beethoven’s sonatas a little differently.

You’ll want to break larger pieces into smaller chunks (one or two pages at a time) and then apply the slow back to front approach.


So there you go!

I hope this quick article gives you some food for thought as you’re resting and gearing up for a new semester of teaching

Remind your students of the classic fable The Tortoise and the Hare.

Remind them who wins the race!


So what works for you?

What memorization techniques are you using in your lessons?

I’d love to hear from you!

Please leave a comment below.

And as always, thank you for supporting the PracticeHabits community!

Student Procrastinating and Parent Involvement

work student procrastinating

Student procrastinating…

Oh, I remember studying (cramming really) for those school history and language arts tests.

Sincerely meditating on the test material, I’d allow my head to fall deeply into the center of the thick textbook memorizing dates and vo..caa…buu…lar…….y….. woooooo..r……d….ssssss (zzzzz……zzzzzz…..zzzz).

Oops! I’m sorry! I dozed off!!

Just thinking about it makes me super sleepy.

The textbook wasn’t as soft as my down feather pillow, but I made it work.

We’ve all been there!

  1. Temporarily fill brain with information.
  2. Take test.
  3. Dump information.

It’s unfortunate, really.

I used to procrastinate on my piano assignments as well.

I’ll never forget student procrastinating the week of piano festival. Oh, what a fearful experience that was!

Served me right, though!

My parents pushed me to practice, but they could have pushed harder at times.

It’s tough to strike the appropriate balance, right?

We don’t want our students to burn out. But they need to be pushed. And sometimes parents need to be pushed.

I believe that parent involvement is key to children’s success in the lesson room.

There’s perfect case study by The Center for Public Education on this topic. It’s not a quick read, but worth your time.

Unfortunately, too many parents allow piano teachers to shoulder all of the responsibility.

Sound familiar?

Many of you have told me that the two biggest problems you face in the lesson room are a lack of practice and parent involvement.

I struggle with these myself.

But there are ways to combat these problems.

One of the most efficient ways is to inspire students to practice with well-crafted and imaginative music. 

Rote pieces are perfect for early-late beginner students because they allow them to play more exciting music since they’re focussing on patterns and not note reading.

There are other ways to combat these problems, of course. But that’s enough from me.

I want to hear from you!

How do you open this dialogue with your families? What’s working for you? What’s not working for you?

Please leave a comment below.

Inspiring Music Sparks Imagination and Creativity

Inspiring

The boy in the picture looks pretty bored, doesn’t he?

I think he needs a new and inspiring piece of music!

Do you remember receiving a brand new piece of music from your piano teacher?

Do you recall the wonderful feeling you’d get when opening the clean, crisp pages for the first time?

I sure do.

What a joyful experience it was!

There’s something special about introducing a student to new and inspiring music.

This reason alone helped me fall in love with festival competitions.

My teacher, Mrs. Jackie Hudson, always picked the best pieces for me to play.

The vibrant and colorful pictures on the front covers and the clean smell of the new pages inspired me to practice (something Mrs. Hudson was super thrilled about).

Of course, the music had to be good as well!

And it always was.

The National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC) sure knows how to put on a good piano festival.

I’m always impressed at the attention to detail in every aspect of the festival.

They’ve produced a nice teacher resource of music titles suitable for students of all levels.

The NFMC Festival Bulletin is an excellent resource. And they’re always updating it. So you can trust its contents are relevant!

There are other sources for new and exciting music; PracticeHabits.co of course, and others.

I’m a huge fan of the Festival Collection series produced by F.J.H. Music Company Inc.

It’s perfect for actual classical pieces (no arrangements) and runs the spectrum from beginning to advanced students.

Many of my students have made their way through these books.

The repertoire contained in the Festival Collection series is excellent for festivals, auditions, and recitals.

Here’s a quick list of several other fantastic and inspiring resources I’ve used in my teaching journey –

  1. The Complete Book of Scales, Arpeggios, and Cadences
  2. Music and technical exercises arranged by Keith Snell
  3. Most anything by Dennis Alexander
  4. Alfred’s Music for Little Mozarts

What about you?

Are you in the market for some new and creative piano music to inspire your students this Summer?

I sure do hope so.

Well-crafted and inspiring music sparks imagination and creativity in piano students and encourages healthy practice habits!

 

What is Rote Learning and Why Should I Teach By Rote?

teaching by rote

Rote piano teaching seems to be experiencing a resurgence.

But what does it mean to teach by rote?

Webster’s has two definitions for the word.

  1. “The use of memory usually with little intelligence.”
  2. “Mechanical or unthinking routine or repetition.”

I don’t really appreciate the first definition…

Little intelligence?

I guess Webster is trying to say that there’s no formal process for solving a problem such as an algebraic formula or the scientific method.

But it sounds demeaning!

The reality is that this method of learning is an excellent way for students to quickly discover musical patterns and develop their ear.

The following is a quote from the mid 20th-century Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki. I firmly believe his thought process.

The early years are crucial for developing mental processes and muscle coordination. Listening to music should begin at birth; formal training may begin at age three or four, but it is never too late to begin. Children learn words after hearing them spoken hundreds of times by others.

The primary concern among piano teachers in teaching the Suzuki method is that it takes so long to begin written notation.

So, why not adopt a hybrid approach? Why not teach music by rote and traditional notation at the same time?

There are several benefits to teaching by rote.

  • It forces students to quickly identify musical patterns.
  • It helps student’s ears develop more quickly.
  • It helps students learn precise rhythm and correct fingering.
  • It allows students to play more exciting music at an early age.
  • It paves the way to excellent musicianship.

Alfred Schnittke is one of my favorite composers and musical thinkers.

Schnittke advocated that the future well-rounded musician would feel at home with various styles. In other words, she would play jazz, classical, pop, and other styles equally well.

Do you know any musicians that can masterfully play in different styles?

Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, and Yo-Yo Ma come to mind.


So now that you have a good understanding of rote piano teaching and its many benefits, you may be asking, “what makes a good rote piece?”

Above all, patterns.

Music is all about patterns. Well-crafted music is full of familiar patterns to help listeners grasp the main themes and ideas.

Here are a few fantastic rote selections listed by Natalie Weber at the Music Matters Blog.

  • A Day in the Jungle by Jon George
  • Bumblebee Toccata by Lynn Freeman Olson
  • Buzzing Bee by Mark Nevin
  • Castle Days by Kathleen Massoud
  • Cross Current by Ted Cooper
  • Devil’s Night Dance by Catherine Rollin
  • Dragon Hunt by Nancy and Randall Faber
  • Dream Echoes by Nancy and Randall Faber
  • The Fly by Nancy and Randall Faber

Candle in the Night, The Music Train, and Running in Circles are three excellent rote pieces that you can find in the PracticeHabits.co store.

I love what Amy Greer has to say about scouring for rote piano pieces on Tim Topham’s brilliant Creative Piano Teaching Podcast.

She says that a good rote piano piece is a piece that’s easier to teach by patterns than traditional notation. If it’s simpler to learn from the music, then it’s not an ideal rote piece.


I hope that you’ve found this article to be helpful and informative.

As always, thank you for your ongoing support of the PracticeHabits.co community. I appreciate you.

Your friend,

Chris