Developing a new approach to music practice

In the previous post, I talked about encouraging pupils to have maybe two shorter practice sessions in a day rather than one longer one.

As part of our challenge to begin changing our pupils’ practice mindsets, let’s begin to challenge them with some questions they need to ask themselves as they set out on their short practice sessions:

  • Why am I going to do this?
  • How am I going to do it?

Then they devise an activity that fits either the personal best (PB) or the mini outcome (MO) models. They do the activity.

  • I did it…
  • What shall I do next?
  • What have I achieved?

Let’s take one of the potentially less glamorous areas for practice – a scale – and see what might be possible.

Practice 1

Minuet in G is my new piece. So, as it is in G, I’m going to begin by practising the scale of G. (Other ingredients are staccato and p.)

1st activity I’ll play one octave of G up and down quite slowly, with even rhythm (noting the speed on metronome). (MO)

2nd activity:  I’ll play it staccato. (MO)

3rd activity:  I’ll play 2 bars of really well controlled staccato notes in a row. (PB)

4th activity I’ll find two bars (that are made up of a staccato scale passage) and play them with even rhythm and really crisp staccato. (MO)

Reflection What have I achieved? I’m aware I’ve made some progress.

Practice 2

1st activity I’ll play that scale again one notch faster (or maybe 2!). (PB)

2nd activityI’ll clap the rhythm of the whole piece very steadily*. (MO)

3rd activity:  I’ll work on that 2-bar phrase again to get it really well controlled and with a dance-like character. (MO)

4th activityI’ll play it again as softly as I can. (PB)

Reflection:  I’m aware of my progress (pupil begins a chart for scale tempo) and looking forward to my next practice!

*Wasn’t sure of the rhythm in bar 6, so will ask teacher.

So, in one day’s practice they’ve achieved five mini outcomes and three personal bests and have one question for the teacher. Of course, the sessions won’t actually go exactly like that, and pupils will need a bit of help and encouragement. In lessons, talk equally about the practice activities alongside your more usual lesson feedback.  Use questions like:

  • How might you practise that?
  • What activity might you do next?  

And always ask for a report on the mini outcomes (MOs) and personal bests (PBs), suggesting one or two new ones from time to time.

All being well, an exciting new kind of approach is brewing. An activity-based approach, driven by short, clear, fun, understandable, gently challenging and imaginative activities. In time it will grow and a whole a new attitude towards practice will develop.

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