In my final installment I will continue the discussion on developing home study habits, along with further discussion on developing and sharing specific learning and practice skills.
A major consideration for cultivating successful individual study habits is assisting your student to understand the innate difference between ‘learning’ and ‘practice’. In the ‘learning’ stage the student approaches the sequence of pitches, rhythms, articulation and expressive challenges at a comfortable, slow tempo allowing the student to correctly perform the whole passage in question. In the ‘practice’ sequence the student now begins to bring the passage slowly up to required speed, while also refining the appropriate expressive control. However, there are several elements at work in assisting students toward developing a successful individual study habits commonly referred to as ‘practice’.
In developing effective practice habits one begins by promoting inspiration through programming the brain with superior musical images as mentioned in my previous installment discussion. These in turn engender dreams, visions, inspired imagination and future goals. Generating excitement through reflection on these aural and visual experiences plays an important role in further stimulating the creative mind. In effect, most physical actions that are learned are acquired through the act of imitating visual and aural images formed in the mind. It is important then to remember that time spent in creating mental images is much more useful than mindless rote repetition on target performance material that is ultimately finite and seldom retained past the target performance or exam.
The engagement with, and imitation of visual and aural images requires the capacity to remain ‘focused’. Concentration in the practice room can be fostered through encouraging students to be 'here and now’ in their practice sessions. Maintaining focus and attentive listening will aid in defeating the ever-present mental and physical distractions referred to by Timothy Gallwey as ‘roof brain chatter’. To assist in this task one should encourage students to practice in quiet environments. One should also require that students start each practice session with a plan, or 'roadmap' in mind. ‘What do I wish to accomplish today? How will I accomplish it, and how will I recognise when my goals are achieved?’
“If you don’t know your destination, any road will take you there.”
Another aid in improving effective practice skills is found in applying the three developmental learning stages. These are referred to by Kohut as the Synthesis-Analysis-Synthesis approach, meaning "from the whole to the parts and back again". The three stages are comprised of the following elements: The conceptual-learning stage where the student is presented with a model; the voluntary-action stage where the student tries to reproduce the model through trial and error practice; and the involuntary-action stage where the student’s performance through trial and error practice reproduces the original model. I observe the model. I try to emulate the model. I evaluate my attempt to reproduce the model. I now make the necessary adjustments and then try again, repeating the process until success in matching the model is achieved.
Like a master builder with the apprentice, first introduce the student to each tool and then show the student how to use the tool. This in turn will allow the student to create many kinds of objects of art or utility, while continuing to grow through the experience. By the age of 20, our oldest son had successfully completed building a beautiful 7 meter sailing vessel; a project of two and a half years. His manual arts teachers had never built a boat but they showed our son how to use and care for the tools he was to employ in building his boat.
The musicians’ inventory of tools includes the mastering of memory as the means, or process through which one is able to remember. Developing the tool of retention is building the ability to memorise, retain or remember. The ‘often abused’ tool of repetition is the act of doing something with thoughtful purpose and reflection, over and over, thus locking proper physical, visual and aural responses in place. As discussed above, the tool of practice is the act of repeating what is already known with a goal to perfecting the physical, visual and aural response. The tool of experience is exercised through the actual living through of the performance act in which we are engaged. The tool, motivation, is the desire, or the urge to achieve a goal or target found within an individual that provides the incentive for purposeful activity. Of all the components related to learning, motivation is the most important of all. Developing and refining strategies to introduce and demonstrate these tools should be one of the foremost goals of all teachers.
The teacher's role here is essential as student frustration and disappointment can dampen early eagerness. The use of suitable, stimulating study material and performance works, supported with proven practice strategies and identifiable outcomes is invaluable. Systematic learning and practice strategies supplemented with excellent teaching materials and repertoire will assist in sustaining students’ engagement, ownership and achievement. Once again, the student must begin to focus on the positive first, instead of the negative; observing what has been achieved, then moving on to what needs improvement. Remember to encourage students to use their strengths in addressing their weaknesses, not the opposite. "What you think upon grows." Anon
In a sense we teachers are investment counsellors. Our students are investors. We are asking them to invest time, money and energy into mastering their instrument. We must be able to demonstrate that the return is worth the investment. Our son’s vision of his completed sailboat was fed by the incremental successes he enjoyed along the way, gained through his investment of time and energy.
Finally, teaching is a profession in which teachers give lessons or instruction on how to learn. Robert Duke in his text, “Intelligent Music Teaching” puts it this way; “Teaching is that activity which causes learning” After all, it is the students who do the learning. In other words, students generally learn through the act of doing. Students who are in possession of good learning skills and enhanced musical perception generally use effective personal practice habits through attention to detail, delayed gratification and focused attention span.
The process of learning can then be defined as the act of gaining inspiration, purpose, persistence, knowledge and skill. It is important to remember that the student’s personal ownership of the process of the learning is what will ultimately produce the lasting transferral of vision, knowledge and skills. It is essential that we imbue our students with the desire, ability and passion to go on learning well after the time for our practical input has finished. We must always be careful to link the ongoing process of learning toward achieving the desired performance goal. Performances, concerts, exams, festivals and auditions are no more than stops on the railway line of human experience, indicating our ongoing progress toward our ultimate musical goals.
In conclusion, for studio teaching to remain effective for both the musical and personal growth of students, it is imperative that studio teachers continue growing in their craft, thus demonstrating their relevance in today’s education environment.
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