I was sent to instrumental lessons as a young girl to some very good teachers. They taught me some really good things – but they never taught me specifically how to practise. My mother would say ‘Go and do your practise’, but I wasn’t really sure what to do. Actually, if the truth be told, I was a terrible practiser. I didn’t practise enough, and I didn’t practise carefully enough. That’s probably why I didn’t get really good until someone actually taught me how to do it.
I help run a string program in a disadvantaged school, and over the last few years we’ve hit a few bumps in the road. The teachers say to me ‘So-and-so hasn’t been practising well/ carefully enough / consistently’ and then there are tears (from the student) and sometimes aggressiveness (from the parent) and me having to be diplomatic (which is exhausting). Finally I realised I was going to have to get a bit controlling here and set up some structures, and try and teach all the children how to practise, and get some very experienced teachers to try and change their teaching habits a bit.
And today, I’ve had another conversation with someone about how to teach someone to practise.
Really, it’s not very hard. The way I do it is really methodical. It’s worked for every child I’ve ever taught, and some adults too. It works for me. If I was going to be unkind about my method, I’d call it ‘anal’ or ‘too prescriptive’ and ‘not allowing children to think for themselves’. But unless you show children structure first, they don’t think for themselves at all. They just wander around a bit lost in the big practise-room of life.
Having seen all sorts of not-very-good teaching in my years, I can now appreciate why parents used to think I was such a good instrumental teacher because I put this system in place. The child practised regularly, They knew what to do. No dramas. No tears before bed-time.
Luckily, after some gentle persuading, the experienced teachers I manage said they’d give things a try. Books and charts were printed for all students in the program. And it seems to be working.
So why don’t more instrumental teachers teach their students to practise properly?
Is it because they don’t know how themselves?