Three Fundamentals of Good Practicing | #TeachMeTuesdays
Anyone who has studied a musical instrument understands the importance of practice in making steady and successful progress. For younger students who have trouble staying motivated to practice the same music day after day, here are a few tips that parents can use to ensure long-term success, even when time and motivation are lacking.
1) SAME PLACE, SAME TIME
Consistency is an essential component of good practicing. Trying to schedule practice time at roughly the same time each day can help build a routine that reinforces music as important, the same way that homework is often done immediately after school. When this is not possible, try incorporating practicing into daily schedules, on Mondays before soccer and Wednesdays after homework, for example. In addition to establishing a routine, this also prevents relegating practicing to “when there’s spare time”, because we’re often too tired or distracted to focus in between larger commitments.
2) GO SLOW
What’s better, playing a piece of music through once slowly or three times quickly? 90% of the time, the slower and more focused practicing will lead to better results, even though the number of repetitions is comparatively lower. This is because practicing is the process of constructing ‘muscle memory’, building specific and complex connections in the brain. When we practice slowly, we retain more information with less repetition, the same way we can remember more from an article we read slowly than one we skim through. Also, slow practicing helps minimize errors, an important component of our final point:
3) PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Often a student practices by playing his/her songs once or twice straight through, barreling through any errors, then starting from the beginning again. Then, when that student plays in their lesson, they make those same mistakes in front of the teacher! The reason for this is simple: By repeating the same errors over and over without any correction, students can ‘learn’ mistakes the same way they can learn to play well. Therefore, students must learn to play everything perfectly in practice. To do this, simply move back a few notes every time an error occurs and work on that tricky bit in isolation (slowly, if necessary!). Then, when the problem notes are worked out, incorporate them back into the song. This way the reinforcement of errors is avoided and the student’s confidence gets a big boost.
Preparing a piece of music is much like the structure of an iceberg: the performance itself is just the tip, built on a much larger foundation of preparation and practice. It’s okay to not like practicing; even professionals get tired of working on the same music every day for a long time! What’s important is that progress is made, even if only in small increments. By using these tips, hopefully you can keep your young musician engaged and working towards their musical goals. Trust me, it’s worth it!
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