Traditionally, music teachers have required students to record the amount of time a student practices each week on a practice chart, but how many of our students really know how to practice for success? Whether you are struggling with the time honored question of how to get your students to practice –or frustrated when the results of their efforts are less than acceptable -this post will give you some ideas for inspiring students to practice effectively.
1. Effective Practice is Hard Work
Effective practice is probably one of the most challenging tasks we ask of our music students. Practicing involves a complex array thinking skills (e.g. the ability to recognize patterns and correct pitfalls) and is usually completed independently by students in their homes. As a result, students often develop poor practice habits, performing exercises, scales and concert selections without stopping to correct fingering mistakes, missed attacks or rhythmic errors (Oare, 2011; Walter & Winter, 2015) .
2. Develop with Your Students a Vocabulary of Practice Strategies
Practicing is a learned skill and students need to become well acquainted with a variety of practice vocabulary, such as:
- Small Portions –Can you take the smallest pattern that makes sense, 5 to 9 notes is usually enough to learn at a time?
- Chunking –Can you work to combine these little portions of notes/measures to create larger ones?
- Think –Can you count it, say the note names, finger and say in rhythm
- Assess –Can you recognize patterns and correct mistakes (e.g. fingerings & rhythms)
- Repetition –Can you play the musical exercise/excerpt 5 or more times in a row correctly (Johnson, 2009)
3. Model Practice Vocabulary
Research indicates students are more likely to imitate what their teachers do in class, instead of doing what their teachers say (Barry & Hallam, 2002). Model the practice vocabulary for your students in group lessons and rehearsals. Ask your students to identify the strategies used as part of their group lesson/rehearsal. After teaching students to perform an excerpt of music or exercise, ask your students, “What strategies did I use to help you learn that musical excerpt?”
4. Create Practice Checklists to Help Navigate Student Practice Sessions
Instead of having students log in time on a practice chart, help your students to practice with purpose. Provide students with a practice checklist that clearly outlines what needs to be accomplished during student practice (Walter & Walter, 2015). Click here for a sample Practice Check-List, I have created for my middle school percussion students.
5. Encourage Students to Reflect on their Practice Sessions
As students develop and learn to effectively use practice vocabulary, they also need to learn how to reflect on their work and plan next steps. Include a self-reflective question along with practice check-lists: What improved as I practiced? What problems did I encounter? What skills or problems need to be addressed next time? Wendy Barden has published an excellent practice and reflection resource for music educators: "Practice & Reflection in Band and Orchestra"
Barden, W. (2010). Practice and reflection in band and orchestra. San Diego, CA: Kjos.
Coyle, D. (2009). The Talent Code: greatness isnt born, its grown, heres how. New York: Bantam Books.
Oare, S. (2011). Practice education: Teaching instrumentalists to practice effectively. Music Educators Journal, 97(3), 41-47.