With the words of Eddi Reader ringing in my ears a short post on the issue of practice. I have seen a lot of blog and forum discussion on the issue of ‘how do we get students to practice?’, I think it is quite simple. We need to get them to enjoy it.
The ability to wield your musical weapon of choice relies upon you developing your skills with it. It is like going to the gym, and let’s face it for most the act itself is not the source of pleasure or the driver. It is the results! The same rings true in musical endeavors.
Now, with several years spent as a researcher in the centre for sports research at Edinburgh I have a small sliver of insight here, but that is perhaps for another time. It is interesting to note that as we get better at skipping, running, jumping or lunging say, then we begin to derive pleasure from the basic activities themselves, as we become more skilled in the execution of these sinewy moments of ‘isotonically balanced beverage’ fuelled endeavour, but I digress.
I hated practice as a student, the boring kind. But I loved to play, and playing is practice.
In the words of the wise and motivationally challenged Peter La Fleure (of dodgeball fame) “I have often found the best way to learn a sport is to play it anyway”.
So where is this all going practice wise?
1- Give students music they want to play to practice! if they are truly developing musical skill then it will transfer to whatever piece of music we require them to play for assessment or public performance. If they have music they actually like, it won’t even be practice, it will be play.
2- And yes they may not posses the skills to immediately render the solo from Hendrix’s Hey Joe note for note, but we can help them engage with the music that drives them. Use simple pentatonics to enable them to play alongside their heroes, developing their perception and understanding of rhythm. Or help them play a ‘part’ of a ‘part’, and to add to that as their ability increases, it can start off as just a single note. And if you are playing along to a piece of music, on your instrument, deriving pleasure from it you will develop in skill. I am sorry but there will be educational benefits no matter what you do!
3- As they gain in confidence and experience of being part of music, then the penny will drop. In order to catch that riff, to ‘hit it’ and ‘quit it’ then they will practice themselves. Repeating phrases until they are note perfect, essentially running drills! But because their eye (well ear actually) is on the prize, the delivery, the music, then they have something to aim for that they actually want!
We are there to support them, advise of the best technique to help achieve those goals, breathing, phrasing, posture; ‘You will find that much easier if you keep your elbow up”, and we can use these musical markers to push, challenge and expand their horizons. I think this is one of the unexpected educational joys of alot of R n B or Hip Hop, as so much of the music is created from samples, we can start with Eminem and work out to Labi Siffre (and believe it or not Chas and Dave).
This act of ‘music-ing’ gives meaning to practice. It makes it play, and play is supposed to be fun. This was one of the drivers for developing the ‘top tunes’ part of the Skoog website. Where by matching the key of the song to a pentatonic scale setting in Skoog anyone can play along with a piece of music they enjoy. As a resource this can be used by anyone to help any child learning an instrument. On the teaching side all we have to do is furnish the student with ‘how to’ play, or access the notes for the right pentatonic scale and ask them to enjoy themselves. We can always expand this into more complex improvisation using sympathetic or resonant pentatonics but that I think is for another time.