In my last instalment on studio teaching we examined the anatomy of a typical studio lesson, starting with the first session looking at both beginners and those who have had former experience.
In this third instalment I would like to discuss the issues towards developing and establishing an effective home practice routine. I would also like to examine the importance of both accountability and ownership in addressing effective student learning development.
It is essential that the studio teacher introduces and reinforces the importance for developing a regular practice routine.
Essentially this routine should contain the following five components:
- Warm up
- Technical exercises A
- Technical exercises B
- Solo repertoire
- Ensemble repertoire
A typical practice session should contain the following components.
1. An instrumental/vocal warm-up routine should consist of:
- Breathing exercises, where applicable
- Long tone studies, incorporating the use of crescendo/diminuendo, (lip slurs over different intervals for brass)
- Flexibility/agility exercises
2. A Technical focus ‘A’ should consist of :
- Rhythmic vocabulary acquisition
- Articulation studies
3. A Technical focus ‘B’ should consist of:
- Melodic/vocalise etudes, which focus on mastering phrasing, inflection, dynamic contrast and harmonic function
- Expressive studies in various key centres incorporating a variety of meters
4. A solo repertoire component consisting of works from a wide variety of graded, standard works across a range of style and genre suitably chosen to match the level of the student's technical development and expressive performance ability. Don't overstep this!
5. And finally, the ensemble repertoire consisting of works drawn from the student’s involvement and commitment to large and/or small ensembles of the particular groups in which they are members.
It is also important to recognise that not all of these components need to be incorporated into an everyday practice, with the exception of the warm up segment. They can be interchanged. For example, the student may choose to practice either 'A' or the 'B' Technical portions, or any other smaller combinations, thus relieving the student of using the same routine every day.
We are now ready to share the process of ‘charting the course’. Having initially observed and noted the new student’s strengths and weaknesses, we must now identify and build on the student’s strengths, with an aim to addressing their present weaknesses. Proven learning strategies are required to deliver positive, measurable results such as slow practice, the use of counting and sub-division, while employing comparative listening and repetition. But there is also the need to identify strategies and applications for each individual student’s needs. It is important at this point to understand that every private lesson should model how students practice at home.
What are we aiming to achieve in the student’s lessons? How can we maintain a passion for detail without discouraging the student? This is the great balancing act all teachers face. When are we to speak, and when are we to listen? Think:
- Don't give too many instructions
- What happens when I provide too much information?
- Aim to be a good listener?
- What is criticism, and how and when should it be used?
- What is praise, and how and when should it be used?
- What is genuine encouragement?
Remember: it is easier to teach the way we were taught than it is to teach the way we were taught to teach or should teach. For personal and professional growth, consider regularly recording lessons, either using video or aural. Recorded lessons and practice sessions can provide the best feedback on the above points.
Further considerations for setting assignments:
- In setting assignments consider that less is more, and programme for success while maintaining the scope and sequence of the method book exercises
- Remember the importance of choosing repertoire that is suited to the general perforamance abilities
- Remember to set time aside for reflection and encourage reflection in the lesson
- Include practical modelling on ‘how to practice’
- Be sure to foster and include opportunities for self assessment
- Be transparent, consistent and clear in establishing assessment criterion
- Be consistent from week to week in assignments and expectations
- Remember to organise assignments so as to lead toward continued development
- Regularly consider the quality of feedback to the student
- Assist the student in time management
"Teachers are the mediators who provide, or fail to provide, the essential experiences that permit students to release their awesome potential..." J.S. Acaro
"A wise teacher makes learning a joy" Proverb
In my next instalment I would like to explore some primary methods of pedagogy in human learning, with applications for assisting studio teachers with their task of assisting students in reaching their full potential.