I hope you have been keeping well. I know I have not been on in a while but things have been very busy in Music Avenue. I promise though to make sure to update you regularly with a new blog or some fresh ideas for your music classes or some fun activities to do at home.
Today I am going to talk about Teaching and Practicing Practice Strategies… bit of a mouthful I know but like any other endeavour, teaching and practicing music requires an amount of strategy to teach effectively and to aid practicing. For many adults, their memories of being taught music as a child were of endless drills and exercises and no sense of joy was to be found in the music or even in just performing.
Over the years since then, approaches to teaching all subjects and disciplines have changed dramatically with findings in psychology and learning enhancing and sharpening learning and teaching tools.
In this article, I will suggest some teaching strategies and practice strategies that could very well improve your approach to teaching and to practicing.
1 – Motivation
A tip I found invaluable when I was teaching children who felt no great connection or interest to the music I was teaching them was to ask them to think of another activity that they felt enthusiastic about such as a sport they enjoy ( like soccer – invariably with boys!) and to apply those feelings to the piece they are studying.
Very often there was a gradual improvement in their interest in the music at hand and many times their playing quite simply ”came to life” through inspiring motivation.
2 – Fun Pieces
Another strategy I have found that works successfully is to give the person I was teaching the piece that they had to study for the exam and then a ‘fun’ piece usually of their own choice which they might have enjoyed playing more. Now, I’m not saying that the pieces for the upcoming exams are boring or uninteresting in anyway but I found that by supplementing the set pieces with a pop song or film music theme the student found it much easier to focus on the exam pieces at hand and it gave the pupil a ‘break’ from the set pieces while practicing their instrument in another style of genre. The 60s surf pop music song ‘Wipe Out’ was a composition that I found always enlivened and intrigued even the most uninterested students.
3 – Practice Strategies
It is obvious that an effective approach and strategy to practicing is absolutely essential. I mentioned earlier how many adults now look back on their years as children learning an instrument ( seemingly always the piano! ) as a tedious, never ending, repetitive and joyless chore.
When a student becomes enthusiastic about a task to learn and perform they will find it easier to concentrate, will find it more enjoyable as an exciting process and make the more difficult or tedious parts of practice less tasking and boring.
The song lyric from Mary Poppins ”A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down” is a very true affirmation.
4 – ”Chops”
In the 1800s Carl Czerny, the esteemed teacher, music publisher and performer once said ”Do you ask me how good a player you may become? Then tell me how much you practice the scales.” When you have productive practice strategies, such as the training of scales it will give you ”chops” as jazz musicians call technique.
I have always found that having the necessary skills to perform a new piece correctly is one of the most exhilarating sensations one can experience in music. It is like a whole new world of music opens up to you where you can thrill as you feel your mind and body progress, learn and adapt to a new work.
5 – Regular Timing For Practice
A set regime for practice is ideal because you can train your body and mind to become accustomed to a daily workout, much like the daily workout which an athlete undergoes everyday. If you persist in undertaking a regular daily musical workout at a specific time, your body and mind will automatically become accustomed to focusing and performing the tasks required at a specific time. In fact, many musicians who practice systematically in this way for a time become ”jittery” if they miss their daily practice session!
6 – Breaks
In my teaching days I would explain to students how to practice effectively by using the following concept. I would often ask them to think of how they would approach devouring a large cake. They would reply ”Well, I would break it up into small pieces, take my time and fit in numerous breaks from eating the cake.”
I often think of this practice technique as being useful in learning a subject or skill and I used it many times and very effectively myself even when I was learning how to drive. A short break between study sessions such as taking some fresh air or shooting a few hoops of basketball outside will stimulate your nervous system to relax, chill out and rests your brain for a few crucial moments. The regular intake of fresh air will also replenish your energy and revive you.
7 – Practice in the morning
It is incredible how sharp your mind and body are after adequate rest. When you practice early in the morning the work you have undertaken will remain in your subconscious all day and you will retain the works and skills learned much easier.
8 – Revision shortly after your practice session
Without a doubt, the following suggestion is by far the most useful practice technique I know of and it is incredibly effective:
If you practice a piece for an hour and you return to it after a short break within half an hour, clinical studies have shown that you will actually retain 110% of the material you have practiced and learned and will continue to retain the material if you regularly ‘refresh’ what you have been practicing.
There are numerous new books available in your music book shop which apply new found discoveries in teaching and practicing to creating and improving teaching and practice strategies.
Check out www.musicavenue.ie as we have numerous teachers and classes available that can aid your teaching and practicing strategies.