Practice Tips

The two key concepts to keep in mind when considering practice are:

Quality not quantity – There is a difference between “practising” and “playing” your instrument. “Practice” involves purpose, repetition, focus and starting and stopping constantly often playing just a few bars or lines over and over until the goal of the practise has been achieved. “Playing” is less focused, hardly repetitive and covers as many different songs or exercises as you like often simply played once through from start to finish in its entirety. Each is equally as important and should play a role in your weekly schedule but all too often we fall into the trap of simply putting the clock onto our routine without actually considering which of these two types of approach to our instrument is required at any given time.

Use it or lose it – The purpose of practise at home, particularly at primary school level, is to reinforce techniques and knowledge learned at school during lessons. Students don’t practise at home to learn something NEW, they practise at home so they DON’T FORGET WHAT THEY JUST LEARNED. As such, the longer the break between each time they play their instrument the more likely they are to forget and have to revise or re-learn in their next lesson. So it is not how much time a student spends ON an instrument each week that really counts so much as how long they spend OFF an instrument before their next practise. A 2 hour solid practise session one night per week will never achieve as much as 15 minutes 5 nights a week. 

Both concepts are hardly new or even unique to musical pursuits but are crucial in coming to terms with a successful practice schedule. Keeping both in mind it soon becomes clear that the ‘ideal’ weekly routine involves a student’s instrument coming out of the case at least once EVERY DAY for as little as 5-10 minutes with this time being spread evenly between individual private ‘practise’ and more social/public ‘playing’. Read on for some more practical tips on how parents can help their child become more effective and regular in their practice.

Regardless of your musical literacy (or lack of) there are some very basic things you can do as parents that will have an impact on your child’s progress:

Set clear and realistic goals – Right from day one, discuss very specifically how the instrument will be incorporated into your weekly schedule. Try to find at least 5-10 minutes EVERY DAY if possible but if not, try not to have more than two consecutive days in the week where the instrument remains unplayed. If necessary set exact times and days for practise and draw up a star chart or spreadsheet for the fridge.

Keep it positive – It was their choice (we hope) to take up this instrument and so you are not asking them to do a chore. In fact, you are helping them find time to spend doing something they should enjoy. Try to reflect this in your language – they don’t “have” to come inside and practise instead “how about you come inside and show me what you did on your clarinet this week?” Parents of beginners, be warned – it will NOT SOUND PRETTY for quite a while. But like those abstract finger paintings you hung on the fridge for years in pre-school and kindergarten you need to show your child how proud you are of their achievements. Simply setting up the instrument unassisted for the first time is cause for celebration so avoid making jokes about squeaks or fluffs, no matter how light-hearted, and look for the tiny improvement each week.

Give them space – It is very difficult to play or practise when you don’t have the appropriate space to do so. If your child needs time alone make sure they have a room away from distraction (and where they won’t interfere with others). Brass players and percussion may require practise mutes and bass guitar and keyboard may benefit from headphones. All students will need a good solid music stand and somewhere to store their instrument and accessories that is easy to reach but away from curious younger siblings and pets. Once they have mastered the assembly of their instrument you may even consider purchasing an instrument stand for them to leave their instrument on, fully assembled, in between practices if there is a safe space to leave it out of its case.

Give them purpose – Having a performance to work towards when learning a piece can really focus a student’s efforts but we cannot hold band concerts every week at school so try adding in the odd informal family showcase every now and then. Grandparents, aunts and uncles make great audiences and modern technology means they don’t even have to be in the same room to receive a recital. 

Give them your time and interest – Above all, just a few minutes of your time and attention will help them value practise and play time on their instrument. Try the following conversation starters (with or without instrument) – “What songs did you play at band today?” – “How fast can you set up your instrument now?” – “Can you play any Christmas songs?” – “What’s your favourite song?” – “When is your next concert?” – “How many ticks do you think you will get in your lesson this week?”

Music is a team sport! – Peer support is a wonderful incentive and can freshen up a stale weekly routine. Host a ‘practise party’ for your child’s friends who are in the band where the kids bring their instruments over for a day or a weekend and learn some songs together. Equally as powerful is senior mentoring, there are bound to be several senior students either in year 6 or who have moved on to high school that would be prepared to help with some supervised practice or tutoring. 
Keep in mind that, although both practise and play should be fun (most of the time), there may be one or two new concepts that are not fun at first. If ever your child gets overwhelmed or seems to have lost momentum the most important rule of thumb is to simply do whatever it takes to get that instrument out of its case and where it belongs, in your child’s hands. Go back to old easy songs they will enjoy or get them to play something that is not in their ‘homework’ first just for fun. Getting the instrument out of its case is the hardest part of the battle.
For more specific practice advice contact your child’s band director or tutor. For students learning in a TSA group or private lesson the following points will generally hold true:
*Songs that require ‘practise’ will be circled
*Songs that have been completed will be ticked (but are still good to ‘play’)
*Practice sessions should follow a similar routine to a lesson: WARM UP (long notes, scales and old exercises make great warm ups) – EXERCISES (these will be circled in your Accent On Achievement book) – REPERTOIRE (songs the band is working on for performance)