Two weeks ago I discussed how to practice if you are an advanced student. Today I want to talk to you about how to practice if you are a beginning or newer student.
FYI: you should know there are many different types of beginners based on musical background, maturity, age, and learning type, so what I teach is tailored to the individual student. This is just one way I teach my students to practice, but there are other ways to do it. For instance, a very young child (younger than 6/7) could not practice in this manner because they do not read music)
How to Practice
- Listen to music! -Ideally the student will be listening to his/her song multiple times a day in order to help with memorization and understanding of the piece. I should also listen to other music featuring his/her instrument. I suggest different orchestral or chamber music pieces each week for him/her to find on YouTube. This brings an appreciation and understanding for the ensemble playing.
- Warm up- Warm-ups have a purpose to warm up the physical movements of the student as well as to give them something to focus on and improve specific technique skills. Warm-ups could be left hand pizzicato strums, bowing word rhythms, scales, or bow hand exercises. These are meant to be easy so that the student can focus on technique and posture.
- Explore the form -Form is very important when learning music. I explained it last week, so be sure to read Understanding Musical Form. Exploring the form breaks the music down into sections so that the piece can be easily learned.
- Learn one section - Take a phrase and do it over and over again until it is comfortable. I usually have my students learn one phrase a week. By going at a slower pace the students have a better chance of learning the piece correctly instead of learning it wrong and then having to break a bad habit. I use the following steps to learn the piece (each step takes repetition- usually 4 times)
- Clap and say the rhythm (saying ta and ti-ti, etc)
- Clap and count the rhythm (saying 1 and 2 and, etc.) *This is an optional step
- Sing letter names
- Sing finger numbers
- Play it! (You will need to play it more than four times to get comfortable with the phrase. Add in one extra technique with each repetition- articulation, dynamics, bowings, etc.)
- Chunk sections together -After two sections have been learned and each section is played with ease and confidence, it is time to put the two chunks together. First, have the student listen to the music so that he/she can hear the two sections and how they fit together. The next step is to play the two sections together. I usually give them a week off of learning a new phrase of music in order to get them to work on stringing the phrases together. Slow and steady wins the race!
- Reward yourself! -This is one of the most important steps! After your student has done all this hard work, it is so important to take some time and just have fun! Some of the things I suggest is to learn some fiddle music or play a song learned previously but that he/she just loves to play. Other fun options include turning on the radio and playing along, improvising, or composing your own piece to play. It is also fun to play for the family or a friend. Whatever they do- make sure they have fun with their playing, because that is what will keep them practicing and coming back for more lessons.