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Teaching Students How to Practice

Practicing is self-directed learning. Many teachers emphasize the importance of the QUANTITY of time a student spends practicing. Many private teachers expect their students to practice one or two hours per day or more. If a student comes for an hour lesson once per week, she will be spending 7 to 14 hours in self-directed learning for every hour spent with her teacher. Obviously, it is critical to spend lesson time teaching students HOW to practice. All other things being equal, it is the QUALITY of practice time that will determine success at learning a musical instrument.

It is okay to ask your beginning students to NOT practice alone until you believe they have an established technical foundation and are able to (with parental assistance) assume the responsibility for self-directed learning.

You will need to teach the student or the parent how to tune the instrument before you can assume that any meaningful practice will occur away from the lesson.

For example, it is not enough to tell an inexperienced student "practice your scales." Tell them HOW you want them to practice scales:

At the beginning of each practice session?
Slow or fast (what tempo?)
Loud or soft?
Always starting from the bottom?
Checking intonation with open strings?
With or without vibrato?
What bowing(s) to use?
What are the musical objectives of scale practice (tone, intonation, etc)?

In the lesson, teach students how to mark their music for fingering, bowing, etc. instead of always marking it for them. Teach them how to think critically about choosing a good fingering, and writing it down so they maximize their practice time. Efficient practice habits must be taught.

During the lesson, write down what you want your students to practice, and how you want them to practice it. The more detail you provide will help your students when they practice at home.



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