Many parents of music students commonly express to me their frustrations in getting their children to practice their instruments regularly. Quite often tutors find also, that many students who devote a considerable amount of time to home practice, however, do so with practice that is to some extent inefficient. Students and parents should always remember that in a typical year which only has 40 weeks of formal music lessons (if going by Australian school terms calendar) and by doing only a typical half hour worth of formal lessons per week only amounts to 20 hours of formal lessons per year, even less if you’ve had some absences due to illness. It is therefore fair to say that in any field, be it educational or leisurely, by having only 20 hours per year exposure to an activity would never be enough to acquire enough skills to become competent in that chosen field. Without practice at home to supplement weekly lessons, a student will experience many road blocks and their progress will reach a ceiling that stops any progress forward as a musician. Here are some tips and tricks to help assist the efficiency and productivity of a student’s practice sessions so that students come to lessons a better musician each and every time.
1. Breaking Up Your Practice Session
For a typical half hour home practice session, the practice activities can be broken up into 3 parts ensuring that most important factors of musicianship are practiced:
10 minutes – Technical work: work on scales, arpeggios and sight reading.
15 minutes – Set pieces: work on songs and pieces being taught in lessons.
5 minutes – Free time: allow for free time, where student can do what they please… for example work on a song they most enjoy, or work on a piece they might be composing themselves.
What inevitably happens is that the last 5 minutes (free time) of a students practice schedule ends up being their most enjoyable, and as such students tend to spend much longer than 5 minutes practicing and playing what they please. This part of a practice session brings about much more enjoyment to home practice schedules rather than having a high disciplined program with no free time. After all, it is most important that while a student learns an instrument that they enjoy playing, and this is only made possible if a student is given the freedom to explore their instrument on their own terms.
2. Routine and Regularity
Establishing a regular practice routine is an essential aspect to completing homework tasks given by the students tutor every week. Many students struggle with having the motivation to complete their work at home, and often find themselves scrounging for time at somewhat random slots every week. If a practice schedule is implemented for the same days and relative time every week, which works well time-wise with other extra-curricular commitments students, may have, then this is effective in creating a routine which is easier for the student to adhere to.
3. Time of day
Much like a student’s school homework, the time of the day when homework is completed is crucial to its completion. The easiest time of the day for most students to have the enthusiasm to begin their practice sessions is first thing after they get home from school on an afternoon. This way they are still mentally stimulated from just having been in ‘learning mode’ at school, and have enough energy left in the tank to properly dedicate their time productively to their music homework rather than late at night, for example. Students who have a habit of waking early could also achieve very productive practice sessions before school rather than watch morning cartoons.
4. Parent involvement
Having a support network at home is very important for all music students, as sometimes the content of their work can seem daunting or is difficult to comprehend. Having parental involvement at home during practice sessions and establishing good communication between the tutor and a student’s parent can greatly benefit and encourage a student to continue their studies and maintain their interest in the work. For non-musical parents, even reading the student’s homework to them to better comprehend the tutor’s instructions and timing the practice sessions to fulfill their homework requirements will be immensely helpful to their child.
5. Efficiency of Practice Sessions
Even when students adhere to the amount of time they are instructed to practice every week, on occasion tutors find that they are still not completing the entirety work set for them. Sometimes this is the result of inefficiency within the sessions themselves, not the overall time dedicated to the cause. Ensuring that their practice time is not wasted on songs/pieces that have not been set by their tutor is vital, and dedicating certain days to certain songs exclusively can also assist in the competence of their practicing. This can be brought up with a student’s tutor if necessary, and the tutor will be able to provide basic guidelines for the structure within each practice session.
6. Playing Pieces at Correct Tempo’s
Many younger students look at practice sessions as being most beneficial with regards to quantity rather than quality, by aiming to complete a piece a set number of times within that practice period. What inevitably happens is that the young student aims at completing a piece for example 5 times within the practice period and ends up playing the piece at much too quick a pace to complete the piece over as quick as they can. Playing pieces way too fast contributes to students introducing bad habits, and bad techniques into their pieces… Remember that a slow steady pace played correctly once is more beneficial than practicing a song 5 times with a tempo way quicker than a composer intended the piece to be played.
By Evelyn Hedges and Darko Zoric.
To book in for lessons at JumboNote Music School, call 1300 787 697.