We all know that skill comes from repeating an action correctly and we teachers are fond of encouraging students to perform a number of correct repetitions in a row, typically asking a child to go back to the beginning if he makes a mistake.  The idea behind this, is that the threat of having to start again will help of focus his mind.  So what’s new?

This is by no means an infallible strategy.  Over the years, I have come to realize that the success rates from asking for correct repetitions in a row, can be patchy, to say the least.  Some children catch on delightfully quickly and enjoy rising to the challenge of high numbers.  However, the majority have problems with this, seeing repetitions as a form of torture, dreamed up to make music teaching practice sessions extra long.  Some more insecure children can be reduced to tears, when they invariably make a mistake near the end of the set of repetitions.  These children are well on the road towards believing that no matter how few repetitions they are asked to do, they are predestined to trip up on the last one.  They can end up thinking that music teaching practice is boring, frustrating and an absolute waste of time.

The problem here is that everyone likes a quick success, and that includes us teachers.  In our race towards results, it is all to easy to skimp on making sure that a child can focus well enough to perform the task correctly in the first place.  If a child doesn’t understand how to get it right, it is absolutely crazy to ask for several correct repetitions in a row.

This leads us to a further problem.  A young child is unlikely to have the patience to approach a practice task with focus, at a speed which is slow enough to ensure accuracy.

Get round this by asking for practice tempo.  This is the speed at which the task can not go wrong.  Pausing to think before playing is NOT a mistake when you are learning new music.  Practice tempo will be different, depending on the difficulty of the assignment and it can take time for a child to realize that it can be very slow indeed.  Rather than nagging, I like to allow a child to experiment with tempi and find out how to make the best use of practice tempo.

All children can be helped if you ask for practice tempo.  Just make the rules clear – when learning a piece, don’t play a note till your fingers know where it is.  Encourage every sign of focus.  Rather than looking for mistakes, ask your child if he thought that his repetition was really at practice tempo.  This will work much better than nagging,  “Slower, slower!”  By asking a child where he had to play extra slowly, he will be helped to become aware of the trouble spots.  It’s rather like learning to drive on a difficult road, or negotiating a tricky obstacle course.  You don’t want to have an accident, and will take care to avoid it.

Once your child can play the practice task correctly at practice tempo, you can ask for two repetitions in a row.  If that works, ask for three.  After three, he may be up for four repetitions, all at practice tempo.  Hey presto!  Ten correct repetitions in a row!

Less secure children will be happier with one correct repetition at a time.  Make multiple copies of a practice task and mix them with the other assignments.  Play fun music games, like, the Leap Frog Practice Game with them and there you have it – a stress free music teaching practice session, full of correct repetitions.  As they mature, you can always up the number of repetitions in a row, but do it gradually.

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