We have all heard the old adage, “Give someone a fish and feed them for a day. Teach him how to fish and he can feed himself for a lifetime.” When you teach your students how to practice, they gain the ability to know how to learn and enjoy making music which can be used for a lifetime. In my years of involvement with many excellent band programs in my area, I can see that the kids rarely understand that there is a connection between how you, their school directors, organize their daily school rehearsals and how they could be structuring their personal practice. I also see a lot of kids relying on what they think they know about “how it goes” rather than being able to figure out their part on their own. It is as if they are passively riding a wave, going along with everyone else rather than taking personal responsibility for their contribution to the ensemble in terms of tone, technical skills, counting, phrasing and musicianship.
Here are some points I emphasize to my students at virtually every lesson:
- Structure your practice time. Do a warm up both for tone and technique. For young flutists, this means octaves and scales EVERY DAY. Then use the rest of the time to practice band music, solos, lesson material.
- Scales are the building blocks of music for wind instruments (and not just a Bb scale, as many scales as they know, through the range they know and especially sharp scales). Everything we do is based on scales and related patterns like arpeggios.
- Set your tempo first (even before checking the key signature) and understand how the rhythms fit into the tempo. Learn to play with a metronome.
- Learn how to break things down, isolate difficulties and solve problems. This is sometimes called chunking. There are many ways to do this. The more creative you can be with this type of problem solving, the more quickly you can assimilate new music.
- Learn to practice phrases or parts of phrases rather than measure to measure. This leads to learning musical breathing habits. (It’s a pet peeve of mine that band kids often breathe on a bar line or before the last note of a phrase because that is how they have been rehearsed in school.)
It can only help to take the time to point out to them that the way you organize their daily ensemble rehearsals is a model for how they should structure their personal practice, namely warm ups, problem solving and run throughs. It also makes a huge difference when you hold each student accountable for understanding the challenges in their parts rather than just relying on listening to everyone else.
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