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Directed Practice vs. Timed Practice

Teachers want students to practise outside of music class. How can you move them from extrinsic motivation

(i.e., signed, timed practice sheets) to be intrinsically motivated to practice? Become hooked with the thrill of becoming accomplished musicians? You are encouraged to think about student-centred learning. Turn this task over to students. Help inspire students to become their best by actively engaging them in in their learning. Suggested strategies include the following:

  • To expect a student to immediately add the traditional 30 minutes per day practice schedule to their home routine is simply unrealistic. The system of students practising because they have been told they must or for a set amount of time often sets them up for failure. They most likely will not do it, which can become a point of contention between student and parent or teacher. The key is in creating a multi-step method of getting students to practise with the objective of having them practise for themselves with a specific purpose or goal in mind. This often transcends into something fun and useful, or even better, something they choose to do.

  • You will experience better results for student engagement with their instruments outside of music class by being less adamant about home practice and more encouraging about playing their instrument at home for the sheer joy of it as well as being a wonderful diversion to relieve stress. Every time students take out their instruments they are practising. Getting in the habit of taking out their instrument for fun leads to great practice habits.

  •  3. Set realistic expectations that the student can and will be able to achieve. ​Start with small steps:

      1. Get students to at least think about what they just learned that day in             class. Give them five to seven things to remember that night before               going to sleep. The next day in class, hold them accountable and ask           them to repeat the five to seven items to indicate that they, indeed,               thought about it. Getting them started by having them give five                     minutes to thinking is the first step.​

      2. Once you are confident that students are at least doing the thinking,             ask them if they would add an additional five minutes to sing, play,             or demonstrate only what they learned in class that day to help them             remember the lessons.  

     3.  Once students are doing the above at home on the day of their class,           ask them to add two to three more minutes to play or sing whatever             they wish. These extra minutes turn into more minutes and end up                 reinforcing the concepts and skills they have been thinking about or             practicing. Once the class day home practice is established, you can           ask students to give you one more day of practice between classes so           they can get better faster to help the whole group. This turns into a               day for them and a day in support of their classmates. Hopefully, as             they become more and more intrinsically motivated to practice, they             will find themselves increasing their practice time and enjoying more             success. Before they know it, practice has become a part of what                 they do.

  • Students are now ready to develop the art of practicing. Begin with teaching students how to isolate and problem solve. Encourage them to concentrate on specific parts of the music that they identify need work. For example, at the end of each piece rehearsed, take two minutes and have students make notes in their music or on sticky notes so they will be reminded where they need to individually focus. Ask students to clearly define their goals (isolate) and consider several ways or ideas to reach these goals (problem solve).

  • Goal Setting: Students should consider questions such as

    • What do I want to accomplish in this practice session?

    • Which parts of this piece or exercise am I struggling with?

    • Should I work on my intonation?

    • Should I work on my tone?

    • Are my articulations unified?

    • How can I phrase this more beautifully?

    • Is this rhythm accurate?

  • Students should set specific goals for each practise session and practise until those goals are accomplished. It might take 10 minutes or it could take 40. It is not about the length of time but rather about setting goals and working to achieve them.

  • Limit the number of goals set per practice session. It is recommended to limit students’ goals to three to five per practice session as opposed to trying to do it all and failing. Small successful steps are far more useful than having lots of issues only partially solved or addressed. This is referred to as chunking, and teaching this technique to students is recommended.

  • Encourage students to practise in pairs or small groups. It is so much more fun to make music together and to help and support one another. In fact, consider dedicating some rehearsal time to practise how to practice.

  • Set up (perhaps through guided journal writing) a constant and positive communication vehicle among you, the student, and the parents. By recognizing students’ efforts and achievements in their personal practice plans, students will be encouraged as they see the connection between their personal practice and the growing success of their individual and the ensemble’s musicianship and performance.

  • This method works well as an advanced organizer, precursor, or companion to other common methods; perhaps even to the way you learned. You are encouraged to always expect students to sing and play with passion and intent as they learn how to read and interpret the written page and turn it into that often elusive, but by no means impossible, task of making music that expresses the inexpressible.

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