The issue of practice frequently raises concern with parents and teachers. ‘Why do I need to practice?’ is a question we often hear students ask.
So why is practice necessary? We know that purposeful practice will achieve many goals:
- It will build ‘muscle memory’. Muscles don’t really have a memory, rather the memory resides in the nervous system which controls the muscles. A good example of this ‘memory’ is that as a teenager I learned all of my major and minor scales on the piano. Now, many years later, I can still play all of these scales without thinking!
- It builds strength and stamina. Many instruments require the development of muscles to perform specific tasks. A good example is the lip and mouth muscles required to form the correct embouchure on brass and wind instruments.
- It will refine technical skills involved with playing music, like sight-reading and fingering skills. Once these become automatic, the player has the scope to think more deeply about the music and to play far more confidently and expressively.
Parents can help their students to ensure they have productive practice by:
- Assisting with the logistics. A student can’t practice if their instrument is sitting in a locker at school.
- Helping their child to develop a regular routine with minimal distraction.
- Making them feel comfortable with playing their instrument with others in earshot.
Beginner students do not need to spend hours with their instrument. Just 15 minutes four times a week will produce good progress. It is important that practice is active and purposeful. While it is tempting to play through the things you can already play, it is far more productive to tackle the two or three bars which are problematic, and to work actively to make the ‘difficult bits’ easy. Practice should always be an active pursuit, and students should always strive to produce the best possible sound on their instrument.
Progress on any new skill will be limited without some regular practice, so yes – you do need to practise!
Head of Music