When you repeat something over and over you will learn it, right or wrong. Isn’t that what we do when we practice?
Next time you are walking down the street, look at the faces of strangers. You will notice in the blink of an eye, who practices smiling daily and who doesn’t.
Listen to the way people talk, the words they use, the sound of their voices. Do they sound melodious, rough or whining. Is what is said interesting, or unimaginative. What you say and how you say it, are all the result of practice.
Most of us are completely unaware of 90% of what we practice daily, or of how this practicing affects every minute of our lives. It’s hard to focus on something as intangible, as smiling, or modulating your voice and choosing your words, all day.
When it comes to practicing a musical instrument, you would think that focus should be easy. After all, we are told what to do at lessons. All we have to do is go home and help our child to do it.
Here, we come to a major glitch. Those of us in the “Oh why are we progressing so slowly!” brigade, don’t seem to have very high opinions of our teachers. This usually comes from an unintentional failure in communication. The main reasons are:
The quality of the instructions:
Having quality instructions makes all the difference between boring mindless repetition and fascinated engagement with fun music games. Time needs to be set apart in a music teaching lesson, to give out homework. It is no good just running through pieces, fixing mistakes as they come up and expecting quality practice to happen automatically.
Please teachers, be more specific. The teacher needs to make sure, that the parent goes away with concise written instructions, i.e. WHAT needs practice, WHY it needs to be practiced and HOW to practice it. HOW means, the sequence of stages, what it should sound and look like, and how to help your child to “get it.” Most successful teachers that I know, will take time in the lesson to explain to parents.
Understanding what is wanted:
Once I was astonished by a student, who when asked to play Minuet 3, performed it note for note, BACKWARDS! I thought that I had shared some good advice, on learning the last measures of a piece first, to make them sound more confident in a performance.
Parents, if you don’t understand, it is very important to ask for clarification. I would much rather spend time making sure that my parents get the picture, than spending frustrating hours undoing practiced in mistakes, at the next lesson.
The importance of believing in the teacher:
When you invest in costly music lessons for your child, you are laying out quite a lot of money for expert advice. Your teacher will have spent years learning to play and teach the instrument. He or she will have a good knowledge of child psychology and know the best practice techniques. Why waste of good money to have your child taught by an expert, when you don’t make sure, that you understand and then follow instructions. (If your teacher says to make 5 bow holds with a curved pinkie sitting on the pinkie spot, 4 times a day, 7 days a week, do it.) You will be delighted by the results.
Remember, quality of explicit sequential instructions + depth of focus when following these instructions = your rate of progress. Too little of either, and you will find that practice does not make perfect.