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Planning Practice by Mandy Quinn

Nov 18, 2020, 08:00 AM by Rhythm Scene Staff

“I can’t do it! I don’t have time!” We’ve all heard it from students regarding assignment preparation for weekly music lessons. Unfortunately, many young musicians are simply not properly taught how to practice. We teach them that they must have certain materials prepared by a specific date, but sometimes neglect to teach them how to prepare. It wasn’t until my time at the University of Central Florida that I realized the importance of time management in the practice room.

Since that time, I decided to take these concepts and modify them for my secondary students. Before diving into time management, I discuss proper practicing and share relevant resources to that end. The purpose of this article is not to talk about proper practicing (many helpful resources are available on this subject), but rather to discuss the process of breaking down time management for young musicians to incorporate efficient proper practicing into their schedules. 

To begin, students must have a clear picture of what they do throughout the day to be able to schedule practice time. When do they get up, eat breakfast, go to school, do homework, participate in extra school activities, church, sports, and any other family events? Students should also schedule time to rest, be a kid, and have healthy, well-rounded experiences. 

Students must then be able to articulate what their end goal is. Are they preparing for a performance that is happening in a month? What are their weekly goals to achieve the monthly goal? How can they manage their practice time to accomplish these goals? Once they know their weekly schedule and their musical goals, then smaller, more concentrated goals can be created.

Daily Goals
Once students identify a weekly goal, have them break the exercises/music into subsections for practicing. With each of these subsections the students can write down how much time they will need to achieve their daily goal. The students will write a breakdown of the daily goals at the beginning of the week. This will allow them to understand what they have to do prior to each day, eliminating any feelings of ambiguity or anxiety. Students need to understand that they can adjust their times, adding more time if needed or moving on to the next objective if they accomplish something sooner than expected. 

Let’s assume that the end-of-week goal is to be able to play six major scales. There are seven days in a week. If students learn a scale a day, then they will achieve the goal of playing six major scales by the end of the week, with a day left over for review. Have the students identify (in writing) a scale for each day. The students should also plan for review time before adding each new scale. The students should write down how much time they should practice based on those two daily objectives (e.g., new scale for the day requires five minutes of practicing; reviewing previously learned scales requires five minutes of practice). This is a total of 10 minutes a day that they will dedicate to practicing their scales.

Scheduling Practice Time
Once the students know the breakdown of how much time is needed for each objective, they can add practicing to their schedule. Begin by adding up all the minutes needed to practice mallets, snare, and/or timpani. Once everything is added up, they will know the time required for each instrument and total daily time required. In the schedule, students can identify when they can practice for this amount of time. This doesn’t need to be all in one block of time; an hour of required practice can be broken into two 30-minute sessions or three 20-minute sessions. Practicing should be as consistent as possible; however, there will be times where they may be lucky to just get in 20 or 30 minutes a day. If this is the case, make sure to adjust the other practice days to stay on track with the goals identified. 

If students combine these concepts of time management with proper practicing they can accomplish many great things. Included with this article is a practice log that I use with my students to help guide them in documenting their goals and times. It may be easier for the student to write it on notebook paper or in a planner. Regardless, documenting it will help them remember priorities, goals, and will set them up for success. 

Happy Practicing!

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Mandy QuinnMandy Quinn is the Assistant Band Director at East Central Community College. Quinn previously served as the Assistant Band Director and Director of Percussion for Biloxi Public Schools. She completed her Master of Arts degree in percussion performance and conducting from the University of Central Florida, and received a bachelor's degree in instrumental music from the University of North Alabama. 

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