School’s out! Time away from school means no homework, no papers or tests, and lots of fun to be had. But, for many music students, being away from school also means no structured rehearsal time, which means … no practice.
As a music educator, you understand how damaging a break in routine can be for developing musicians. Too much time away from a student’s instrument can lead to bad technique, weakening embouchure muscles and a general breakdown of the skills built up over the months of careful study and deliberate practice. How do you keep your music students’ skills and chops up when they are away from the music room during summer vacation?
While you obviously can’t observe students during their summer break, you can help them understand why they should practice and provide them with exercises, assignments and even rewards to motivate them to keep up with their instrument.
Here are some ways to motivate musicians to practice during breaks:
- It can be hard for younger musicians to understand just how important a routine is when it comes to practice. But, you can still explain that practicing during breaks will make it easier when they return to the classroom. Instead of having to reacquaint themselves with the instrument, the music and the technique, they’ll be prepared to dive right into new pieces and prepare for the next performance.
- Provide students with fun music that they know and that they’ll want to play, such as famous and fun marches for the Fourth of July. When students are able to learn and play music that friends and family love to hear performed, they’ve got built-in motivation to practice and sound great.
- Solo play-along books and sheet music are also great ways to encourage individual practice. Just a few examples include Hal Leonard Jazz And Blues Playalong Solos for Alto Sax, Hal Leonard VH1's 100 Greatest Songs Of Rock & Roll Trumpet and Alfred Ultimate Movie Instrumental Solos for Clarinet Book & CD. Or choose from thousands of other sheet music and music book titles to find the perfect selection for your students.
- Just as students often have summer reading assignments that are due upon return to the classroom, ask them to keep practice logs that will count towards their grade. Have them log 20 to 30 minutes of practice at least 3 days per week over the break.
- Allow students to select a piece of music of their choice that they’ve always wanted to learn. Get them started with guidance before they leave for summer break and see how far they’ve progressed when they return to the classroom. If it’s a selection they love and want to learn, chances are they’ll be more motivated to practice.
- Assign any of these exercises, logs or selections and have them count as extra credit during the next term. If students see the practice as benefitting their future grades, it may entice them further.
- Send a letter home to band parents and let them know the methods you’ve selected for motivating their students. Clearly explain the benefits of ongoing practice and help them understand why it’s so important to make time during these breaks for music.
- Finally, prepare your students for success during school breaks with plenty of music accessories that will serve them well for practice and performance alike. Items like valve oil, music stands, and high-quality reeds will ensure instruments perform well and will allow students to set up a comfortable practice space at home. USB microphones can plug right into a laptop or computer to record themselves for both critique and to record their performances. All of this will continue to build good habits and encourage students to play.
It’s never easy getting students to practice, and it’s even harder to motivate them to do so during summer breaks holidays. However, with some up-front preparation, clear communication and fun ways to approach practice, students and instructors alike will be pleased with the progress made during time away from school.