A new way to look at practicing music

We all hear it from our music teachers, “Practice! Practice! Practice!” But, what does it mean for us in the long term? I think what many music educators miss is the explanation and example of what long-term practicing can do for the student. For the student the drudgery and monotony of constant practice can create a grim outlook on their daily musical activities. Music students need the following two components for practice success:

1. Fun: Practicing needs to be more like play. After all, we do call it “playing music.” Practice should be outlined and described to the student as a time for them to explore and compete with themselves. They need to perceive practice as a time to be curious and to take risk. To try new ways of doing things and to engage self-teaching mechanisms.

2. Practicability: Students of all ages need to fully understand how practicing will impact their future musician-selves. This can be achieved by showing them examples of world-class musicians, explaining to them all the daily hours that went into becoming that great; with an emphasis on the musician competing with them self for that mastery. Students need to see how what they do now will impact their future as a musician. By seeing this in actuality via professional musicians, students will be inspired to work harder and longer than ever.

Once these two elements are seen by the student the teacher can prescribe practice goals that make sense for the individual level of the student. There will be a drastic shift in both, attitude and focus when the student understands more clearly why practice is such a good idea.

According to Edward Droscher, founder of Real Music Production, there are two major keys to effective practice.

1. Goals are key. It is human nature to take pride in reaching a goal whether a promotion at work or winning a competition. If you have a set goal to reach you will be more willing to put in the work required to achieve it. Some examples of goals could be to learn the latest song you’ve fallen in love with, to be able to sight read in a certain key, to develop faster, more technical playing or to reach a certain exam grade before a certain period.

2. Little often is better than a lot occasionally. One key point to remember is that repetition is the quickest way to learn something due to your brain and muscles ability to develop and store a so called ‘muscle memory’. It will take a substantially longer time to learn and retain your new knowledge if you practice for a long period but only occasionally. See tip 3 on how to easily incorporate regular practice sessions into your daily routine.

When you are having a bad day and nothing is going right . . .When the pressures of life are crowding in on you and you need some time by yourself . . When someone, or something has made you angry . . When you are bored, or when you are feeling flat or unhappy, don’t complain, just go and do some music practice. That will lift your spirits and energise you. — Ron OttleyOttley, Ron., Now I Love Music Practice (Eileen Margaret Publishing, 2009) Pg 62-63

Practicing should be taken out of the “nose to the grindstone” light, into the “play and exploration” sunshine. Students need to see an overview of how what they are doing now will make an affect on their future selves. This is enabled when the responsibility of this eye-opening is taken on by the teacher. After all, the teacher is the guide for the student to reach full potential. Therefore, the teacher’s J.O.B. is to bring the students narrowed vision of practicing into full vision of how fun and explorative it can be. Once this is achieve, the sky is the limit for both, you and the student.

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