Hey Teachers! Leave Them Kids Alone! Part 2

This is part two in a series about getting kids to practice
As I have mentioned last week, I struggle with the concept of students and practicing. Maybe I struggle with this because I struggle to practice myself, not just as a musician but also as a teacher. If I am going to be honest, I should start by asking myself:
How often did I actually practice my craft as a teacher?
How often did I listen to professional recordings?
How often did I attend live concerts?
How often did I study my scores?
How often did I practice my own instrument?
If I were to be TRULY honest, I might have to admit to a little hypocrisy when I asked and implored my students to practice.
Like you, I worked hard at my job…VERY hard. Twelve hour days and eighty hour work weeks were more the norm than the outlier.  But I can also remember many a time when I would be leaving school at dusk and see my students still on a at school with their after school team or club. I can remember grabbing dinner on the way home and having it served by a student working an after-school job. I can remember gulping down my early morning coffee as students walked by and talked about doing homework until two o’clock in the morning.
Again, I do believe that individual ownership and accountability are part of any person’s musical and personal growth, but with increased academic rigors and outside of school demands, the solution is often times not as simple, "take your home and practice!"
Let me just offer a couple of my favorite ideas from my teaching days that might spark your creative teaching juices. Consider the following:
Band camp week: One week each concert cycle I would push the kids extra hard. Practice records, before school rehearsals, after school sectionals. I would ask them to eat, breathe, and sleep band. If they would give me this one week, I would accomplish everything else in class for the next six week with no outside class time required.

Targeted tape testing: I know the “tape” part is antiquated, but you get the gist. I would make students submit recordings of specific four measure phrases. I would pick the hardest four measures for each section and ask them to submit a tape test. The students would not only practice for the test, but would usually make 5-10 recordings of it and pick the best one (hint, that just meant more reps). They had to submit a form with a grade they gave themselves and a parent signature. The students were ALWAYS harder on themselves than I was.

Practice bursts: As a way of breaking up the monotony of rehearsal I would allow for one minute “practice bursts.” I would set my stop watch and ask the kids to fix one thing in a given section in sixty-seconds or less. Think about it, with sixty students in class, I got sixty “man-minutes” of practice and only gave up one minute of class time.

Macro/micro block: I would divide the class period and the ensemble in half (usually low reeds would stay with low brass). I would spend the first have of the period doing “macro-block” with the brass while the woodwinds would leave and do “micro-block” (sectional or individual practice). At the midway point of the class, I would switch up the sections.

These are just a couple of different ideas to get you thinking creatively about how we get kids to practice in an effective AND efficient way. But this is just the beginning. I am attaching to this email ALL of the responses I received last week. It was almost overwhelming. I have left the name of the sender so as to give credit and have not edited their suggestions. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy all of the incredible ideas your peers provided you.

It’s moments like these that I really do feel like we (you the readers and I) are a merry band of brothers traveling together in search of excellence.

Thank you for bringing me along on your journey.  Have a great week!

p.s.  Don't forget to download the attachment below.