...But mum, I’ve already finished my scales. Can I have my phone back now?
What is good music practice?
First you have to know what good practice is. Most people are led to believe that practice is having your child sit at their instrument and go at it like a child prodigy for a set amount of time. The more the better right? Or perhaps your notion of good practice is sitting at your instrument until you complete a particular song or section. Some might consider good practice to be 1 hour daily with no breaks in between. So instead of good, let’s talk about effective music practice
What effective music practice actually looks like!
Effective practice is simply personal improvement based on routine and sound technique. The key words here are routine and improvement. You need a set of principles to guide you through your musical journey, one which will hopefully lead you to wherever your musical horizons lie. So don’t worry if you don’t know much about music theory or how to play an instrument. With these 5 steps, you will be able to identify effective practice, then ensure that your little one is keeping to it.
Step 1 – Set Goals
I base my teaching philosophy on a number of principles. One is goal centered practice. You need to know where you are heading in order to know if you have succeeded or failed. Your first priority should be to determine a simple A and B trajectory. A) Where are you now in terms of your musical abilities? B) Where would you like to be? By setting a goal at B, you have already take the first step to effective practice. Think of B as a long term goal, possibly a few years down the track. For some that might be learning how to play their favorite song on an instrument. It may be to perform in front of an audience with confidence, or maybe it’s earning a grade certificate or enter a competition. For others it might just be to enjoy learning a new instrument. Whatever the goal, start by setting it in your mind, then writing it down and adding today’s date next to it. If your children don’t have one yet, then sit with them and ask them why they want to learn their instrument. Guide them through this and help them find a meaningful reason, one that can transcend through the years to come.
Step 2 - Scaffold
Next, you need to set some supports or scaffolds to help you reach that distant point B. These are sub goals, which all contribute to you reaching the final target. It is important that these are directed towards your main objective and that they push you further, not on a tangent to your point B. For example, if you want to play in a rock band someday, then your scaffolds would be learning guitar technique, rock related repertoire, timing and ensemble skills. If your goal is to win a music competition the your sub goals should be to earn some grade certificates, develop a high level of technique, learn a concerto, find a high level teacher, and go for gold! For those choosing to enjoy the journey rather than the destination, sub goals would be to find a teacher you connect with, fitting your practice around your existing schedule, picking songs you like then sticking firm to your routine. Start by setting 3 sub goals which should take a third of the time of your long term goal, then ask yourself ‘are my sub goals pushing me towards point B?’
Step 3 – Monitor
Now that you have your structure sorted, it’s time to stick with it and give it some time. Learning an instrument is not easy, and it cannot be rushed. Over each week, month and year; monitor how you are going in relation to your goals and if you are actually getting closer to achieving them. If your child is on the same level 1 piece for over a month, then ask your teacher what needs to change in order to improve. Perhaps it’s a lack of effective practice, or maybe the difficulty has not been adjusted. Whatever the case, monitor your progress then speak to a professional if things don’t improve over time. I personally suggest keeping a diary with logged weekly practice time, topics studied and songs covered. This will show you where you have come from and where you are heading towards.
Step 4 - Compare
Once significant time has passed and you achieve either your sub goals or major goal, start looking back at your journey and compare where you are to where you were at the start. Only by comparing the distance traveled will you be able to see the true progress. Can your child play that scale faster than before? Have they learnt new songs? Have they attempted grade examinations? Do they now have the confidence to step on stage and perform in front of others? With enough time and effective practice the comparison should be evident.
Step 5 - Improve
What happens after I reach my ultimate goal? Does it end there? The good news is that it does not end… ever! Now that might sound daunting however think of it as an opportunity to improve instead of an eternal death sentence to the practice dungeon. Your child can always improve! That is the beauty of being human, we can always get better, reach further and strive for more. Reached grade 1? Aim for Grade 2! Won a piano competition? Try going for a state or national title! Learned how to play that song you like? Learn all the songs from that artist! Enjoy playing your instrument? Learn to play it better and your joy will increase as a result! Whatever the ultimate goal is, think big, plan, set goals then go for it.
How to stick to effective practice?
The most crucial aspect to all of this is sticking firmly to your routine then finding an experienced teacher to guide you along the way. Regularly consulting with a professional mentor who has been there and done that is essential and cannot be replaced by YouTube videos, books or online courses. At Contreras Music we have spent over 2 decades perfecting our skills as mentors, teachers and instrumentalists. Our main priority is to structure a tailored practice routine to suit your needs, then helping you achieve your set goals. Visit ContrerasMusic.com to book in a free lesson with your professional mentor and experience our difference for yourself.
© 2016 Cristian Contreras.