HOW TO PRACTICE MUSIC AT MAROUBRA MUSIC SCHOOL
THE PRACTICE ROUTINE vs WEEKLY NOTES
(pls note, I use the US spelling of 'practice' - same for verb & noun)
Practice Routine: Learn and practice the Practice Routine - this is what you need to practice at home.
Weekly Notes: You are welcome to read these for an idea what is being done in class - they are not instructions so they probably won't be followable by parents or newer students until they have mastered the content in class.
Parents sometimes try to practice the weekly notes instead of the Practice Routine, which in most cases will not work with younger or newer students. In short, the practice routine is what you should practice at home but if you get through it and want more work, start to include material from the weekly notes. A rule of thumb is that if your child doesn't understand the weekly notes it is because they should still be doing The Practice Routine. The Practice Routine is a 3 level repetitive routine of drills - it is for ongoing skill development. The weekly notes are a mix of everything else including a diary of what we did in class and any new songs or concepts that have been added such as the songs. Songs are not meant to always be playable by younger or beginner students so we work on them in class, but older or more experienced students are welcome to try them. If a student is having trouble playing a song or anything found in the weekly notes it is likely because their fingers are not working independently enough to play the song yet, so it is best to keep doing finger work found in the practice routine.
THE PRACTICE ROUTINE
The practice routine is a regular, simple and easy to remember routine that you can construct to fit your schedule and goals. It is like an organised exercise program. We work on short drills and coordination exercises that develop dexterity so that when we play songs in class it feels natural and easy. The practice routine targets areas that make playing uncomfortable so that when we play a song there is a positive association rather than it seeming difficult and out of reach. Kids love routines - done properly they are exciting and give honest feedback to the student about their skill because they are even and systematic, objective and not subjective. Students literally feel improvement after each practice session. This is different to systems that focus on song learning and reading only, with negligible scales, etudes, drills, bi-lateral coordination patterns and mathematical / rhythmic approaches.
Each week I also send weekly notes - these are multi purpose and can be read through but they work on the basis that if students don't read them they will be covered in class and the content will eventually be understood. Many items in the weekly notes can not be repeated at home such as improvisation - at least not without a Jazz Improv teacher handy. The weekly notes are good for parents to track what we do in class, and experienced or older students will understand them more and will be able to add sections to their practice routine. You will find songs or patterns or exercises here that can be added to a daily routine but it is not required. The weekly notes are like a bulletin board and will have different content at different times. They will also often change and develop as students update their learning so you may see the same song appearing with different fingering etc, or sometimes they may be sketches from the computer or discussion notes similar to the way a modern classroom uses a smart board, and are not meant to be necessarily understood - they may even appear to have missing information if it has been a quick class chat designed to be chased up in class later. It’s good for students to look at them but it’s not essential that they do anything with them unless they can, or if they want to augment their practice.
SONG LEARNING vs DRILLS, SCALES, ETUDES, CHORDS ETC
A song is an abstract and complex piece of music that usually has easy and difficult parts, which makes it less useful as a practice tool. Children will usually play the bit of the song they know, and fudge the bit they don't, but a drill has the same difficulty throughout. Songs are made of these drills, so we learn them to play songs, like we learn the alphabet to learn to write words. Song learning is an important part of music study but a song can flop along for ages only making slight improvement. A drill or etude can be made more difficult by speeding up, extending the duration, or using better technique. Song practice is obviously important and kids love to play songs they know, but they are best done after the routine. Having said that if a students starts spontaneously playing a song they have learnt then obviously don't stop them, but I would observe for a while and if I saw repeated mistakes, or that it has gone stale and isn't getting better, I would suggest going back to the drills, then playing the song again afterwards. Also noting that if students don't have time to add some songs to the home routine then don't worry, we will be doing them in class anyway, and as long as they have been moving their arms and fingers and learning their note names at home via the practice routine then they will be ready to learn the songs in class.
Training videos and tutorials cover a variety of subjects from literacy to theory to pitch coding, and these prepare students for class work so that they have the requisite skills to make the most of the lesson. These are usually in a practice routine but may appear in the weekly notes. Some training videos are finite so once learnt you don't need to use them again, but most can be used in advanced ways so they are scaleable up to very advanced levels. The 'Play the Note' training videos for example have no upper limit even if the student knows the notes because the student can then play the note in as many locations on the keyboard as possible in the given time.
WHAT IF MY CHILD CAN’T OR WON’T PRACTICE (YET) - AND ABOUT ‘LEARNING TO PRACTICE' vs 'PRACTISING TO LEARN'.
Fun home practice done correctly will accelerate learning but if your child can't practice at home they will still progress from class work alone, just more slowly. The method I use is about 'learning to practice' and I run music class like a karate class where you learn karate simply by attending each week because it is an experiential routine - after a while you start to develop a sense memory for the moves. Music class is a sonically and kinaesthetically stimulating environment that usually can’t be repeated in a household, and it’s very difficult for young people to practice at home effectively without a teacher present until they are experienced, so this is what we do in class - we learn to practice. This doesn’t mean we don’t practice, but it's not possible to practice something you don't know. This is where the practice routine is useful because it is easy to follow and remember, yet highly effective.