‘The actual application or use of an idea, belief or method, as opposed to theories related to it.’
Music is unlike many extra curricular activities, as it requires an understanding and dedication kin to that of other educational models such as mathematics and science as well as being an inherent artistic venture. On top of this, music is a discipline, requiring a responsibility of diligent focus and constant attention. Music is an applied study, where students are encouraged to practice daily. In Australia we have a very strong sporting culture, and this should be highly valued for its community building and health benefits. However, it is vastly different to playing music, which in contrast is a disciplinary field. The main area of difference is when the release of ‘happiness’ is achieved. On the whole students achieve the sense of achievement and happiness from the journey in music, meaning delayed satisfaction. For the most part students will most likely approach sport as an extra curricular hobby where training and games are the only time spent learning the skills of sport, achieving instant satisfaction. This approach is less successful in music where constant dedication is required to achieve the delayed satisfaction.
Music not only requires a focus on daily practice but also a deep understanding of musical listening, and education.
This discussion is aimed at aiding pupils, their teachers and their home network to build an effective approach to their music making and instrument skill in an era where time is becoming more and more scarce.
As parents the idea of assisting a student with their music can be a daunting prospect. Many of you out there may have little knowledge of how music works and this leads to questions such as:
How can I possibly help?
Well, the most important way you can help is to be involved in this exciting undertaking that your child is taking on. Be proactive in their musical journey and assist them with routine building to enable them to succeed. Creating an understanding of the long-term gratification of music making will ensure they continue on this endeavour with passion. A routine is ideal for ensuring regular practice is achieved.
Parents, teacher and students must work together to insure the success in the study of the discipline of music and this always leads to the most positive outcome for all.
MUSIC ISN’T FOR EVERYONE
'Music isn’t for everyone' is a comment heard often that has some standing; although not for the reasons you may think. As mentioned above unlike sport where happiness can be achieved simply from participation, for the most part music should be approached differently. Many schools have band programs and parents see this as an opportunity for fun music making akin to that of joining a rugby team. These programs should be looked at as an addition to the whole musical education and not the core of the experience. It’s no fun for anyone if the student is unable to achieve the goals required by the band.
In an era of ‘Australia’s got Talent, The X Factor and The voice’ our current conception of music is that Talent is paramount. It is NOT true that talent is all you need, in fact talent is very far down on the priority list for someone wanting to learn music. The misconception ‘I’m not good at this so I should quit’ is a dangerous arena, persistence is key to becoming a successful musician. When we say ‘music isn’t for everyone’ what we truly mean is that if you do not have the ability/time/desire to devote attention and diligence to this art then it isn’t for you.
MOTIVATION TO PRACTICE
People learn tasks if they value the activity or anticipate success. Value depends on a number of types of motivation. Research has shown that people who engage with music and practice use three external sources of motivation.
Extrinsic (when tasks are carried out because of some external reward potential such as passing examinations)
Social (to please or fit in with others)
Achievement (for enhancement of the ego, to do better than others, to pass a hurdle)
Once these three areas are in development then intrinsic (interest in the activity itself) values develop.
These motivations are often misaligned, particularly by parents. Many expect that intrinsic motivation should be at the top of the list. That their child should always have interest in the activity itself. However this is unrealistic. This is a motivation type that develops after extrinsic, social, and achievement models are introduced.
Extrinsic motivation is not to be confused with the idea of rewarding pupils with gifts. While this can be a productive form of motivation in the beginning this ‘bribery’ of sorts does not instill a sense of dedication to the task at hand and development of the students skills. Interest in the activity itself rarely follows on after gift giving.
The hardest thing about practicing is getting the instrument out of the case. I find this myself, once I’m blowing into my sax the time flies. As a student you should instill in yourself that you will at least set up the instrument every day.
HOW TO PRACTICE
So how should we practice? This depends on time available and the concentration levels of the particular student. Therefore a very effective initial approach is to setup a timetable and within this a schedule.
The timetable – how long should you be practicing for and for how often? The simple answer is, the more you do the faster you will progress, however we need to be realistic. The more frequent the better even if this is only short amounts, but everyday. Try to think of your practice sessions as goal orientated, rather than time focused. Your teacher should be giving you appropriate and achievable goals each week that will dictate how long your practice session goes for.
The schedule – I’m a firm believer in dividing practice sessions into 4 equal parts.
- Part 1 should be devoted to technical work. This will include warm up skills, technique exercises given by the teacher and scales (the building blocks of all music)
- Part 2 towards etudes. Etudes are musical works that are designed to increase a student’s ability in a particular area, be that technical or musical. If you are undertaking an AMEB exam your list A pieces fit in this category. When approaching etudes, it is essential to focus on the goal of that particular etude, keeping that in the forefront of the mind.
- Part 3 for repertoire. This is any pieces of music the student is learning for the teacher as well as band repertoire.
- Part 4. This is possibly the most important. Free time to play whatever the student wants to play. This can be their favourite song or more of something they have already practiced. Perhaps a scale that is frustrating them or running through a band piece they love. We have to instill the idea that we want to play.
A practice journal is an essential tool to successful practice. This is not the book your teacher writes in to tell you what to do, but a book that you write down what you did in each practice session. This will give you motivation to practice and enable you to be effective with your time, informing you of what needs more work in your next session.
What are we thinking about when we practice? Self analysis is the key to an effective practice session. Remember playing is not practice. Practice is focused on improvement. Try to keep in the front of your mind what you are trying to achieve at all times. This is easier with Technical work but should still be a focus in Repertoire.
Music is an aural part of life, and far too often the aural faculty is the last to be used if at all. There are numerous professional musicians that still neglect this so obvious part of making music. It is so easy to become engrossed in the challenge of reading the music, putting the right notes at the right time and following all the details of the score that we begin to turn off our ears. While this formal practice can be very beneficial for the execution of the music, it limits us to the interpretation and often obvious musical shape. The concept of passive practicing (that of practicing away from the instrument), which involves improving and learning music by ear, enables the technical skills to develop alongside the musicality and understanding of musical language and structure. It also allows you to participate more effectively in group music making.
At a time when so much music is at hand and the ability to record ones self is so easy, it is important to dedicate time to listening. ACTIVE LISTENING. This means to listen for a purpose and this should be done at least 3 times a week. Listen to many versions of the music you are playing, other works by the same composers and music of the time. Also listen intently to your favourite music, try to analyse it and understand it further. Work out why you like it, better yet listen to music you don't like and try to understand why you don't like it.
Lastly, learn to enjoy your practice.