I ask all students to pledge their commitment to practicing their band instruments at least 120 minutes per week. Obviously, this has consequences for the entire family, which is why I ask parents/guardians to sign the practice contract also.
It is important for adults to remember they play a key role in student success. The path of least resistance is the path most often traveled; choosing to study music, students must take a different path. Students need support, encouragement and accountability to practice their instruments or most likely, it won’t happen.
Practice permits progress.
Practice is how we improve at anything, whether the task is musical or not.
Tony Bancroft states in his book, Growing Your Musician (2004), “the most challenging obstacle [for young music students] is not how to produce a tone, press a button, or count a rhythm; rather it will be learning how to improve” (p.41).
Practice isn’t easy.
Practice is all about reminding us of the things we aren’t good at (which is why we need to practice them). Most people will fall off and skin a knee when learning to ride a bike, yet in order to learn how to ride, one must get back up and try again; the same is true when learning a musical instrument – hopefully without bodily harm. Just as when learning to ride a bicycle, mastering musical skills through practice builds confidence, courage and consistency.
Practice is more than "Playing."
Though it may be fun, expressive and creative, merely sitting down and playing music on one’s instrument is not practicing. Practice is focused on achieving a specific goal. Many times students will “waste” practice time by continuing to play what they already know, avoiding the tricky stuff (which is what needs practiced). Bancroft calls this the “straight through” approach (Bancroft, p.42). Students will maximize their practice time outcomes if they learn to isolate the tricky spots and systematically work on them.
Making practice part of one’s daily routine (if even for 15-20 minutes) is really important not just for muscle development, but also for future musical success, and the likelihood of continuing musical studies.
Practice with attention.
Our world is increasingly full of distractions for our time, and the expectation of multitasking (sometimes disguised as increased productivity); study of a musical instrument is a good time for the mind to focus on one thing, free from distractions.
Popular culture has implicitly placed added value on things that provide quick results. Just think of all the problems this instant emphasis has contributed to in the world. When learning an instrument, students need to be reassured they are not going to sound like professionals overnight. Practice is a process that develops our skills over time. Furthermore, slow practice allows students to pay attention to all of the details that make music special. When we move too quickly through things we frequently miss these important. details. This is especially important as students learn to navigate through musical symbols, as well as their instrument.
Remember: set realistic expectations, go slowly, take breaks but stay focused on your practice goal, and be systematic about how you solve your problems.
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