Hey teachers! Leave them kids alone!

As I write this, my son is sitting at the piano, painfully and reluctantly plodding through his technique exercises. I see moments like this as a pathway to future success; he sees them as a cruel and unusual punishment. Tomorrow he will spend his practice time on the trombone, in an act that I am sure is a form a parental torture. Don’t believe me? I have earplugs to prove it.

Like most children, practicing is not his favorite thing and like most parents, I require it anyway. It is a battle of wills that is as old as John Phillip Sousa himself. Practice is my requirement and our daily drill.

I do it with purpose.
I do it with mindfulness.
I do it with the best of intentions.

I am just not sure I am doing it correctly. Yes, he will have the horn to his face for twenty minutes, but trust me when I say that there will be little to no improvement during this time. If you don’t believe me, just ask my neighbors.
We all want our students to practice more and improve, but do the two necessarily go together? 

Even as a high school teacher I wrestled with the conundrum of unsupervised practice. Does individual unmonitored practice truly equate to improvement? And, if so, is it a one to one ratio? Does thirty minutes individual practice at home equate to thirty minutes monitored practice in an instructional setting (group lesson, sectional, rehearsal). To be less academic, is the student who practices thirty minutes at home getting thirty minutes of musical growth? Most likely the answer is a resounding “NO." Should we be requiring daily practice? Before you answer, consider the following... Compared to just twenty years ago:

  • Most students spend more actual time in rehearsal and have more instructional interaction.
  • Most groups have more specialty techs/instructors/private lesson teachers.
  • Most students are receiving an improved quality of musical instruction.
  • Most students are playing on better quality instruments.
  • Most students have access to better technology and instructional materials.
  • Most students have better access to recordings and resources.

Knowing all of this, it is not unreasonable to suggest that we re-examine the “art” of practicing and consider a more measured and targeted approach.  We should ask ourselves if there is there a more efficient and effective way to advance student skills.

Listen, I am not in favor of watering down the artistic integrity of the music making process. I believe in setting high standards both musically and personally and I believe that individual practice is a significant part of both of these. I just am asking the question, “Are we going about this the most effective way possible?"

Like every other subject, we want our music students to show improvement and master the fundamentals. We want students to take ownership of their learning. We want them to live up to their individual potential and develop self-discipline. We want all of that and more...

But, I don’t want my son thinking of music the way he thinks of other subjects, because music is NOT like other subjects.

Next week, we will offer some thoughts, tips and ideas about alternative practice ideas. I say “we” because you are going to help me. Aren’t you?  Click here to send me your ideas on alternative practice methods and share them with the rest of the country!

That’s enough for now.  Take care and have a GREAT week!


p.s. Like my new pic?
p.s.sAre you going to email me?
p.s.s.s.  Did you get the Pink Floyd reference?