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Winning the Practice Challenges of Students

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

After watching a TED-ED video on "How to Practice Effectively..." by Annie Bosler and Don Greene, I think I can relate to these experiences in my own practice, and with how my students apply these effective practice strategies in their lessons. I think this is one of those many "secrets" of helping my students enjoy and reach their potential without being overwhelmed.

The 3 main points presented in the video are:

1. FOCUSED Practice

What is focused practice? Is it practicing the piece several times in a session or is it working towards a specific learning goal?

When students are aware of what they need to work on, they will know how to go about their practice time. It is important for us teachers to COMMUNICATE and PRACTICE the way we want to them to practice when our weekly lessons with them are done. Focused practice would usually include specific passages without having to go through the entire piece each time. This is a very common habit of students: play through from top to the bottom, repeating the same errors over and over again. Most of the time, these errors are attributed to poor techniques. Giving kids the appropriate exercises and techniques can significantly help them through the challenging part of the piece, while at the same time making them realize of "why" they need to be doing the exercises prior to their pieces.

Although we enjoy the accessibility of the digital version of the music sheets, there is nothing compared to seeing those pencil marks on that sheet. The "messy" marks that remind our students on what to focus on when they practice.

Lastly, I believe habits of focused practice need to be embedded and modeled in our lessons with them. There is no perfection, but there is value in doing things consistently beyond words.

2. Practice with BREAKS

Short but sweet! Brain breaks are essential in everything that we do, and our students are not in exception. I cannot imagine an hour of lesson with purely note-reading and playing of pieces. The elements of fun should always be there so that kids of various ages are kept engaged in a meaningful way.

Technology and improvisation activities can provide us with opportunities to listen, create and respond ACTIVELY to what we are doing. The engagement of the whole body and our senses continue to play a role in refreshing, understanding, and connecting what we are learning.

For early years students, "off-bench" activities play an integral part in their learning. Even if the lessons are conducted in 30 minutes block, a young child should not be kept sitting still on the piano. Learning music in the younger years comes with an experience, and not an overloaded information about music theory. Let the "breaks" be creatively felt.

3. Practice in your BRAIN

Speaking from personal experience of being able to play several instruments, I do believe that we can reinforce practice through imaginations. I have trained several band drummers who did not even have an instrument at home, but they can perform really well during band sessions. They said they have to imagine things in their mind every time there is a chance. Usually the practicing in the brain happens when they are bored in class, when they are travelling or when they are just watching TV. This is just another way of using our time productively in times when our brains are disengaged or relaxed. Indeed our brain has no limits as to where our imagination can take us.

The above strategies are proven to have worked for me and my students. Mindful and consistent practices are more effective for sustaining interest, encouraging fun, while giving students a sense of accomplishment.

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