My last blog was written for parents of new beginning band students. In that article, I eluded to a better way of practicing. So here is my take on spending time learning to play. As a public school band director, I spent thirty years requiring my middle school band students to fill out practice cards with the amount of time practiced each week. Now I realize that my private teachers really had a better idea– how you spend your playing time is more important than the amount of time you play.
But first, what is the primary goal of learning to play a band instrument, or any instrument for that matter?
1. To have fun!
2. To do something different!
3. To play a favorite music!
My musical ear was formed by sit-com music of the 60’s. The serious shows had orchestral music, while the comedies of the time used big band jazz/commercial music. No wonder I was drawn to the sound of the trumpet. Growing up with records of Raphael Mendez and dads’ trumpet in the closet closed the deal, and I chose trumpet to play in the school band.
Back to the main idea…My private teacher really had the right idea. He knew I needed to play about an hour a day to progress. He directed my practice so the time flew by. By teaching me how to practice, he developed a life-long learner of music.
He knew how to instill in me a desire to get better and to improve. So rather than saying that I needed to spend X amount of time practicing, he assigned tasks or different techniques that he wanted me to learn. They were all sequential in nature. He had a master plan to take me from point A to point Z. As I look back on it, it was shear genius. For instance, I would have three or four exercises. Each exercise focused on a specific technique. I was to play each exercise a number of times through at a certain tempo, working for mastery. I also worked on longer pieces. He would chunk them into smaller segments and ask me to repeat the short sections with repetitions as I did with the exercises. As I mastered pieces, they became repertoire, destined to be memorized. It was easy to see the time go at each practice session. There were some instances I would look up at the clock and find that I had been lost in music for well over an hour.
I enjoyed playing and did not call it “Practice.” I enjoyed the time I spent with the instrument. I learned to problem solve in music by breaking down difficult parts to smaller, more manageable segments. I learned better techniques that gave me more enjoyment.