You are on page 1of 3

MAKES

PRACTICE
EFFECTIVE
SUCCESSFUL
PERFOR
Instrumental
musicteacherscanhelpmanystudents
performsuccessfully
byengaging
them activelyin a five-stepprocessfor effectivepractice.

~~~We have all heardthe age- or in a studio recital for friends and
old joke in which the cab relatives.
driveris asked,"How do Accepting performance as the goal
I get to CarnegieHall?" of practice preparesstudents to com-
He of course responds mit themselves to a practice routine.
without missing a beat, "Practice,prac- Because daily practice is essential for
tice, practice."But do we really know consistent musical progress, practice
what practiceis? Moreover,can we con- Withoutproper time should be scheduled accordingly.
vey to our students the importance of Teachers and students should first
daily practice without first teaching
instruction in practice,
agree on an amount of time to be
them how to make effective use of the students will almost allotted for practicing, and students
largeamountsof time they arespending can then set this aside in their daily
in this necessaryendeavor? invariably misuse schedules. Once a mutually acceptable
According to Webster's, "to per- schedule is in place, students should
form or exerciserepeatedlyin order to preciouspractice time by make every effort to stick to it.
acquire or perfect a skill" is what
"practice"means.1 There is no deny- repeatingtheir mistakes. Although this responsibilitylies largely
with students, encouragement and
ing that repetition is a necessary tool thoughtfully sequenced instruction on
for the practicing musician. However, the part of teacherscan be key to stu-
without proper instruction in practice, dents' making effective use of their
students will almost invariablymisuse practicetime.
precious practice time by repeating
their mistakes. Teachers must in turn
correct these and students must then
Performance
IstheGoal of Practice
Components
Before practice can be truly effec- Music educatorsrecognizethat stu-
methodically unlearn them before
tive, students need to understand its dents learn through a variety of styles.
anything new can be attempted. This
tedious process can gravely impede goal. That the goal of practice is per- Nevertheless, teachers can help many
formance may seem to be mere com- of their students by engaging them in
students' progressand lead to frustra-
mon sense. However, students can a processfor practice.An effectiveprac-
tion and a lack of confidence.
benefit significantly from understand- tice session can be considered to have
ing this objective very clearly before five components, or stages: setup,
embarking on their first practice ses- preparation, warm-up, maintenance,
sion. Moreover, if the experience of and advancement. Students who con-
performing music in the presence of sciously involve themselves in the first
others can be simulated in the practice stage will become readyto move on to
DavidPedrickis anactiveperformer
andinstruc- room, students can increase their the second stage, and so on, through
torof guitarwhomaintains a private
teaching chances for successful public perfor- the sequence. When students routine-
studioinOxford,Pennsylvania. mances, whether on the concert stage ly follow the sequence, their practice

SEPTEMBER 1 998 33
goals for the session by asking such
questions as, "What do I need to
accomplish this week?" and "How
much of it can I accomplish in this
session?"
To prepare physically, students
relax their muscles and free themselves
from any physical tension in their
necks, shoulders, backs, and limbs.
This process promotes correctposture
and playing technique and can aid
subsequently in the avoidanceof such
debilitating health problems as repeti-
tive-straininjury and tendinitis.
I ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~..,.,8# ',% :v .-'3... '""'.':. '''' * Warm-up. Only now, with the
tasks of setting up and preparing to
f~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~:~
~~~~~~~?~~~~~~ ~ .~'.. ' ':.% ....:-~.'Jt . rs~
X;;-
....':?x
- practice completed, are students ready
to engage their instruments. If the
|~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~.
..., |f|;Z/.,-5',..:,
..' instrument requiresdaily tuning, now
Tetesdindepleto -whres is the time for this, for it is vital that
students maintain correct intonation
Thestudentshould findaquiet
placetopractice,
where
heorsheisfreeofsuchdistractions astelephones. during the entire practice session.
Then, at last, students are ready to
begin warm-up exercises. These exer-
cises serve the simple purpose of rein-
sessions tend to become more effi- troducing students to their instru-
cient, productive, and conducive to ments; therefore, basic fingering exer-
successfulperformance. cises such as scale patterns are appro-
* Setup. There is a great deal for priate at this stage of the practiceses-
students to do at the beginning of a sion. The students' approachto these
should be neither precipitatenor per-
practicesession before playing a single
note. First, they remove all distrac- A completereading functory. Rather,students should per-
form these exercisesin a deliberateand
tions. Telephones, televisions, and
other devices that can hinder their
allowsstudents togeta calculated manner, giving special
attention to technique, form, and pos-
concentration on the task at hand are senseof theworkasa ture. When students feel sufficiently
turned off or put at a distance. The
practice room should be a quiet place, whole,togaugethe reacquaintedwith their instruments,it
is time for them to proceed to the
free of interruptions.Second, students
assemble all materials for the practice
staminathatthepiece most important phase of the practice
session.
session in addition to the instrument
itself. These materials may include a
demands of them,andto * Maintenance. This is the area of
music stand, metronome, tuning notesections thatthey practice that students most often
neglect. This stage of the practice ses-
device, recordingdevice, pencils, sheet needto isolateand sion provides time for students to
music, or method books. Finally, stu- review material that their teachers
dents see that everythingis in working refine. have alreadypresented.Too often, stu-
order, including the instrument, dents skip this phase, erroneously
which should be well-maintained and
thinking that they can use their prac-
clean. Having everythingwithin reach tice time more efficiently by proceed-
will minimize students' time away
ing directly to new material. The
from their instruments once they problem with this thinking is that
begin to play, thereby sustaining con- To preparementally,students focus without first maintaining the tech-
centration and focus for the duration intensively on the practice session at niques already presented by the
of the session. hand. Engagingtheir minds in the con- instructor,time spent working on new
* Preparation. With distractions centration and focus requiredfor suc- material is often unproductive, and
removed and the materials gathered cessful practice may involve their progressmay be hampered.Reviewing
together and in working order, stu- blocking out a bad or
day setting aside allows students to confront the new
dents prepareto practice. This prepa- the frustrationof a personaldilemma.2 technical challengeslying in the week's
ration is mental as well as physical. This is also the time for students to set assignment without suffering the

34 MUSIC EDUCATORS JOURNAL


inevitable lapse in concentration that Students' next step is to read the practice routines and be prepared to
occurs when students find that they piece through again. In this second analyze them and offer suggestions for
must backtrack and spend time reading, it is important that they not improving their effectiveness. While
acquiring or refining skills that they regress. Far too often, students need- ineffective practice can be discourag-
supposedly masteredin the past. lessly repeat passagesby stopping and ing enough to teachers, it can defeat
During this stage of the practice returning to the beginning of a piece students altogether. An instructor's
session, students work to maintain whenever they make a mistake. This is failure to discuss, demonstrate, and
technique, but this should by no a habit they should break as soon as analyze practice habits can produce
means be the exclusive focus of their possible. Mistakes need to be isolated such frustration and lack of confi-
attention. This is also the time to and addressed immediately. Students dence in students that they may give
practice skills in rhythm, sight-read- accomplish this by taking the prob- up their instrumentsunnecessarily.
ing, theoretical analysis, and tone lematic passageout of its musical con-
color and dynamics. Maintained daily, text and repeatingit slowly and delib-
erately until they can perform it three
times in a row without error. Once
they can do this, they should read on,
following the same procedure when
confronting the next musical dilem-
ma. Approachingnew materialin this
way minimizes the time needed to Mistakesneedto be
learn the piece. Moreover,it ensures a
Thepracticeroom better performanceby diminishing the isolatedand addressed
number of incorrect notes and elimi-
shouldbe a quietplace, immediately.
nating the hesitation between phrases
that resultsfrom insufficient repetition
free of interruptions. of specific sections of a piece that
requireparticularattention.
Finally, when students feel com-
fortable with a piece of music, they
should perform it for the most unbi-
ased audience available-the tape Merely talking about and demon-
recorder. Recording helps students' strating effective practice procedures,
musical progressin two ways. First, it however,may not be enough. Properly
all of these skills give students the abil- simulatesa performance,and therefore sequenced instruction can help to
ity to proceed with new material effi- students experience some of the pres- ensure the series of successesnecessary
ciently and confidently. sures that go along with performing. to bolster students' confidence. For
Advancement. Students are now Second, listening to the recording each practice session to be productive,
ready to work on new material.Their serves as an effective way of assessing the material assigned by instructors
first task is to examine the assigned the performance objectively, enabling must be organizedhierarchically.That
exercise or composition and garner as students to identify flaws while is to say, students should learn to
much information as possible about strengthening critical self-listening crawl before they attempt to walk. It is
the piece before transferringit to their skills necessaryto evaluate future per- the responsibility of instructors to
instrument. They look at the key sig- formances. design a curriculum that allows each
nature, time signature,dynamic mark- weeks materialto build upon the pre-
ings, phrase structure, and any possi- forTeachers
Implications vious week's. Only such a curriculum
ble trouble spots lurking on the page. It is important for music teachers is conducive to the confident, effective
Once students consider all of these to take the time to discuss the value of practice necessary to elicit successful
elements, they read the piece from daily practice with their students. performancesfrom students-perhaps
beginning to end, "warts and all." Moreover, it can be extremely benefi- even a successful performance at
Most likely, they will be painfully cial for instructors to teach students CarnegieHall.
awareof hesitations, wrong notes, and how to practice. Often teachers
rhythms played incorrectly.A perfect become frustratedwith students who
reading of the piece, however, is not practice daily but fail to complete the Notes
the primary goal here. Rather,a com- week's assignment satisfactorily. This 1. Anne H. Soukhanov, ed., Webster'sII
plete reading allows students to get a shortcoming might well stem from the New RiversideDictionary (Boston: Houghton,
sense of the work as a whole, to gauge poor quality of their practice time 1984).
the stamina that the piece demands of rather than its quantity. Teachers 2. Aaron Shearer, "On the Primary Intent
them, and to note sections that they should take the time to question stu- of Learning the Classic Guitar," Soundboard
need to isolate and refine. dents in this situation about their 23, no. 1 (1996): 17. ?

SEPTEMBER 1 998 35