Directors often tell their students to practice, giving them a laundry list of items that they must improve. An area that is often overlooked is a critical component of student preparation: how should students practice? This article will focus on the concept of having the “Tools for Success.”
Have you ever had students come into class or a lesson and not be appreciably better than the last time you saw them? This can certainly be due to a lack of effort on their part. There are times, however, when students are putting in the time but are not getting better. This means that there is something wrong with the way they are practicing. The following are two critical tools that can help every student practice effectively when used correctly.
Rhythms, at their core, are sound expressed in mathematical ratios in time. In order to understand how rhythms relate, a student must first have a method for determining accurate time. Do you have students who can consistently land on the downbeats but the rhythm isn’t even? Make sure they are using subdivisions. This is another critical function of a metronome: teaching students how different rhythms relate to one another in time.
A recording device with immediate playback has consistently made the biggest difference in student achievement for those I work with, especially at younger ages. Listening accurately whilst playing, reading music, and thinking about things to improve is extremely difficult. By using a smart phone or tablet to record themselves, they can focus exclusively on their performance of the given section of music, then come back moments later to evaluate. As an added bonus, many metronome apps will also play while recording, allowing the student to hear the metronome during playback.
The recording device can also be used as a mirror. For example, a student playing a simple exercise can use the device to work on having their sticks come up to the same height consistently. By identifying something behind the sticks, such as a line or graphic on their shirt, they can evaluate this facet of their playing without the need for a mirror.
By equipping your students with these tools, and teaching them how to utilize them properly, you can ensure that your students feel a sense of accomplishment after every practice session.
Dan McGuire serves as Director of Percussion and Assistant Director of Bands at Science Hill High School in Johnson City, Tenn. The Percussion Ensemble is a two-time winner of the PAS International Percussion Ensemble Competition, performing at PASIC 2013 and 2016, and performing at the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic in 2018. McGuire’s students have won the Tennessee Statewide Solo Percussion Competition, as well as participating in DCI Top-12 Drum Corps, Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts, regional honor bands, and the Tennessee All-State Band. McGuire was on the Board of the Tennessee PAS Chapter, serving as Vice-President from 2017–19 and President from 2019–22.