Summary of Practice Strategies

“Do you really want it?” Find a place & a time:

 So often, when I question students about their practice habits, they say to me: “But I don’t have time”. My reply; “Who made your breakfast this morning?” “Well Mum (or Dad) did. But what has that got to do with practice?”  Well……plenty.

Many primary and secondary aged children have the time and opportunity to practice but I have found a trend that “I’m too busy”. It’s trendy these days to be busy. This is the nature of school-aged children. They need adult intervention to get them to realise that they have the time and opportunity BUT, they may need to give up something – it could be Facebook or video games. (In our day, it was just television) At the end of the day, they do need some help in finding the time and opportunity.

However, the name of the game is Motivation. Some of this motivation can come from the school music program or teacher, but ultimately, the student must be able to see the possibilities and become goal oriented.

How do we motivate our students or children? Here are some tips for parents & teachers:

Exposure to exemplary performance.

This tip is for both teachers & parents. I was very fortunate that my parents were very keen on music & arts and though we lived in a small coastal town, they would subscribe to concerts by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and we would regularly make the 100 km trip to our nearest regional centre to see this orchestra.  A few times there were solo violinists and this, along with my father’s vast record collection sowed the seed of motivation for me.

These days, in suburban areas, I would argue that community and even professional orchestras and also local music theatre productions may be closer at hand than you realise.

Teachers – perform for your students in the lesson. Classroom teachers, play Youtube clips, DVDs (I own Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra – my classes LOVE his very witty performances) Even better for schools to access live performances such as Musica Viva – or even find parents who are musicians to come and perform in your school.

 OK….. I’m practising. What now?

Students; don’t just shut yourself in your room and say: “Well, I spent half an hour practising, so I’m getting better”. I have to be honest and say that we have all fallen into this trap at some time.

Here are some very direct tips on achieving your goals:

  1. Make certain that you have a goal. I have to be very honest with you here students. Listen to your teachers on the topic of repertoire. So many times I hear students say: “But I want to learn to play a Taylor Swift Song”. OK…. That is a valid goal. BUT you need to know about music and how to play your instrument before you can play music by your favourite pop star. This is true of everyone. Your teacher will know the scales & exercises you need to learn. Plus, from my other blog, my advice to teachers is to choose repertoire that will motivate – that has the right balance of being attainable BUT with some challenges. Don’t be content to just keep playing the easy pieces at the front of the book over and over – you’ll never reach your end goal otherwise.
  2. If your school has a music program and ensembles, join an ensemble, band or orchestra. It is much more rewarding to rehearse and perform with other musicians. This will also give you performances to prepare for and aim towards. It is like being on a sporting team. If you train alone and you don’t have a match to prepare for, then it is hard to train alone and reach your goals. If you are part of a team, you have the pressure of having others depend on you to learn your part BUT on the other hand, being part of a team also means you get more encouragement and it is more rewarding at the “Big Match” or the performance.  SJPSorchestra1
  3. If you are the type of person who works better to a schedule or timetable, then by all means, make a timetable. I decided that I want to lose weight and get fit BUT as well as working long hours, I spend up to 3 hours a day in my car driving to work and then driving between schools and the office. I either get up at 5.30 AM and fit in a half hour walk at the start of the day OR, after dinner at night, I take a torch and do a 3 km walk around the block – I take a torch if I have to.  The lesson here is that 20 minutes 5 times a week is better than NO practice. My 3 km walk that is now a habit instead of watching the TV means that I walk at least 15 km a week instead of watching a silly 30 minute sitcom. I feel better and then do at least a 5 km bushwalk on Saturday or Sunday. It’s a great health plan and it can be a great practice plan.
  4. LAST THING – start your practice session with something easily attainable that you enjoy and then reward yourself at the end with something fun that you enjoy. Spend at least 15 minutes in the middle working on a difficult passage. This way, you will look forward to your practice – like reading a good book.

These times are just guidelines. When I am teaching beginners, I advise at least 20 minutes a day. 30 minutes a day is better. Students wanting to do music as an elective subject at school or to attempt external exams should always follow their teacher’s advice on practice times. I would not attempt to teach someone on 5th grade violin unless they commit to at least 45 – 60 minutes a day. Students working at 7th Grade and above as a guideline need to commit to at least an hour a day.

Think of it like this. If you are on a representative sporting team, you will do your own training program everyday, then at least 3 team training sessions per week.

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About captivatestrings

Phil Rooke is a Teacher Educator, specializing in Music Education for the Catholic Education Office - Diocese of Parramatta, authoring & implementing teaching programs and leading music learning across a system of 78 schools in Western Sydney. "I am on a learning journey to find and invent better ways to motivate students and teachers in music making."
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