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Part 1- That Dirty Word: Practice

Practice. That dreaded word. On the same level as “Eat your veggies” and “Brush your teeth, it’s almost bedtime”.


But here’s the thing, practice doesn’t have to be dreaded. In fact, it can be quite rewarding and fun. But the easiest way to practice often doesn’t feel like a walk in the park.


Why? Because it requires you to be creative, inventive and to have a smile that even Barbie would wilt at.


I’m not kidding about the smile.


Practicing creatively is really hard! There is a way to make it enjoyable though.


First we need to talk about what practice is and is not:

Practicing is about creating habits that become ingrained in who you are and how you play. Habits are not created overnight, and we usually make the big mistake in thinking that amazing practice today will leak into tomorrow. I’m here to tell you: sorry, it doesn’t work like that, at least not right away.


Practice”, the verb, is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “to carry out, apply, to do or to perform often, customarily or habitually... to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient, and to train by repeated exercises.” The noun “practice” is along the same lines, however adds the work “systematic” to the definitions, which I think is rather telling.


Practice is not willy-nilly wandering or undecided. Practice is not undecided or unfocused. Practice is the systematic application of chosen, unformed habits, performed over time, with the knowledge that practice makes permanent (no, not perfect).


Practice that is unfocused, undecided, not guided or containing active decision-making opportunities is not practice. That is simply “doing”.


So how do we practice effectively?

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone just told us what to do? Yes, but that takes the decision-making out of practice. We all need to make decisions in our formation of habits, whether you’re 4 or 35. Whatever age you are, taking responsibility and exercising autonomy makes the end product more enjoyable, even if the process wasn’t entirely enjoyable.


Step 1:

The most basic first step is to start at the beginning, figuring out what “large” items you need to accomplish. At WSM, we accomplish this with Daily Practice Charts for each student, filled out by the teacher every week at the lesson. This chart of assignments gives you the framework on which to build a fruitful practice.


Step 2:

Take a deep breath, pause and ask yourself what do you want to accomplish? Is there anything the teacher wants you to accomplish? What is your goal in practicing?


Step 3:

Once you have decided upon the goal, then you can ask yourself what the best way to achieve the goal would be. This is where you do the nitty-gritty thinking.

Examples of this are:

  • “What does my right arm have to do to get the sound that I want?”

  • “Do I have to look anywhere in particular to execute that motion?”

  • “Is my thumb going to be stationary, or can it move a little bit to accomplish what I want?”

  • “Does my wrist need to pronate or flatten to do this motion?”


Thinking Critically and Creatively

Of course, your 4 year old will not know to either ask these questions, or come to these decisions themselves, you will need to help them. Parents need to think critically and creatively when practicing with their children, and teach them to think critically and creatively when it comes to confusing and tricky spots: How to get out of this one tricky spot right here with the tools we have available.

Ask The Right Questions

In music lessons, leading questions are gold. Ask questions that give children enough information to connect the dots themselves, giving them ownership.


Taking Ownership and Responsibility

At WSM, our long-term goal is to inspire a life-long love of music in our students, so whether they become a doctor, a teacher or a professional symphony musician, they appreciate music, playing their instrument, and see themselves as responsible for their own growth. We do this through inclusion of thinking and decision-making skills in our lessons.


So to recap:

  1. Start with what you know you need to accomplish, task-wise (play the B section of Lightly Row x5).

  2. Decide what your goal or desired outcome is (smooth, beautiful sounding bow strokes).

  3. Figure out what you have to do to get that desired outcome (soften your bow hold, don’t stop the bow).


Start with the end in mind, and you will not need to think for long about how to get there.

A word about efficient practice. Adults usually LOVE efficiency. Kids are usually not great at being efficient. This is because they don’t have the life experience to make decisions that are efficient. Children learn by doing, so their learning needs to be formative, based on choices and decisions, with a healthy amount of mistakes mixed in to give them knowledge.

Practicing effectively, not efficiently is your goal.