Home Practice – Best Practice

Speaking as a violin teacher, I know how much we love providing lessons, group classes, concerts and guiding students in all the joys and challenges of learning and making music. Interestingly – or perhaps paradoxically – we dedicate years of intensive study and hard work to develop and deepen our teaching skills, while our students’ greatest progress in both playing skills and musicality happens almost entirely at home practice, away from the teaching studio and our professional oversight.

Photo courtesy of Shche Team

Generally speaking, teachers know what their pupils need to practise and how they should be going about it. Do we always know they are doing it correctly?

Beyond the content side of things, a vital part of our job is to inspire and help them reach that happy stage when good practice has become a daily productive habit.

Beyond the content side of things, a vital part of our job is to inspire and help them reach that happy stage when good practice has become a daily productive habit.

What, How and Why of Practice

Plenty of materials have been published for the young violinist. Most of them are about what to practise. Some time ago, for example, I bought a book called Practiceopedia, by Philip Johnston, a master work with a wealth of ideas, tips, techniques and exercises. Philip’s publications on this aspect of practice are an extraordinary achievement.

An earlier book of his, Not Until You’ve Done Your Practice: The Classic Survival Guide For Kids Who Are Learning A Musical Instrument, But Hate Practicing, is more about the conundrum we teachers set out to solve: How can we help all our students to practise daily and make good progress  – and actually enjoy practising?  I suspect music teachers of every country and culture face this question in varying degrees at some point.

The Vision

Finding the solution to this quandary was an important milestone in our violin institute, to reach the point where every student, supported by their parents, was happily practising twice daily and making good progress.  I’d previously thought this goal could be reached by some students only, and probably not by the whole school. Ultimately, it was achieved in an unexpected way, which will be explained in our upcoming series, Home Practice.

In Japan

While studying at Suzuki’s music institute in Japan we’d seen how young beginners had practised and progressed, with remarkably consistent results. Like us, visitors viewed it with a mixture of awe and puzzlement.

Were there cultural influences at work that enabled all of them to cheerfully achieve such a high level of work? The Japanese teachers we spoke to at the institute didn’t think so, but I wondered if they could see it from outside the bubble.

The Motivation and Willpower Fallacy

In the past I used the word motivation in relation to achieving habitual enjoyable practice, but ultimately came to think this term is inadequate and even misleading. Motivation and willpower are capricious forces with a tendency to wax and wane, as any gym member or ex-smoker will tell you.

Everyone Needs to Practise

Great practice creates great playing” applies to beginners as much as it does to advanced players. Teachers, parents and students are all aware, sometimes frustratingly so, of this obvious truth. Despite the myths, even so-called talented or gifted players need to do lots and lots of regular practice.

The Purpose of Practice

As we see it, violin students practise to improve their playing for the following reasons, to:
1. Learn, memorise and internalise the music;
2. Improve and perfect difficult passages;
3. Learn and master new skills and techniques;
4. Grow their musicality;
5. Transform consciously performed skills into spontaneous abilities;
6. Discover and understand deeper meanings within the music.

Key Questions about Home Practice

The Home Practice Series will explore how to create a daily habit of good practice that is both enjoyable and rewarding. Here’s a few examples of the questions the series will address:

1. How long should violin students practise for?
2. Should practice be based on time spent, the progress actually achieved in the practice session, or what?
3. What are the most important things to practise? Technique, musicianship, memorising new music, improving previously learned pieces…?
4. What should be practised first?
5. How should we set achievable practice goals ?
6. What time of day is best for practice?
7. Should it apply in the same way to all levels?
8. How do you make practice into a spontaneous habit?
9. What is the place and value of scales, exercises and reading for young students?
10. What are the effects, consequences and point of rewards and incentives?
11. What is the role of parents in home practice?
12. How important is listening to music for practice purposes?
13. How do beginners practise intonation?
14. How much do students need to practise posture?
15. What is the place of games? How do they help students to practise? And what are some good games for practice?


John and Allie


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