Teach Your Students How to Practice, Part 1

When we ask string students to practice, we often assume they already know how. Some good strategies for practice, no matter what level the technical challenge, include:

Slow motion: Practice small sections of difficult passages slowly until everything is correct.

Separate hands: Make a challenging part simple by playing only the rhythm with the bow on open strings or only fingering the left hand without the bow.

Focused repetition: Choose a reasonable number of repetitions (3 – 5 times is recommended) for a short passage. Some students might like to use charts or some other type of counting gimmicks (beads on a string) to keep track. Suggest that they start over again when they make mistakes.

Variation: Find ways to change a passage being practiced just for fun by changing the bowings or fingerings. Then go back to the original version.

Singing: If you can sing it, you can play it. It is important for the listening portion of the brain to have a tonal image of the sound. (Starting a good listening library should be every musician’s goal.)

Mental rehearsal: Visualizing how to practice a section of a piece of music is important. The brain must be engaged on the physical aspect of the performing with respect to bowings, fingerings and posture.

Record and assess: For some students, it’s difficult to remember errors that occurred during a practice session. Recording a performance, lesson, or practice session is not only fun, listening to the result can be an eye-opener. It encourages students to self assess and critique privately.
Read Part 2 of this series.
Adapted from Patti Fleer’s “You Must Teach Your Students How to Practice” in the Fall 2011 issue of the Missouri School School Music Magazine. Used with permission.
—Gregory Reinfeld, October 14, 2011. © National Association for Music Education