practice recipe #9: go fish!

Fish1Games are fun – I don’t care how old you are. One of the favorite games I had as a tiny child was the fish game, and I remember never tiring of it. In the last few years I’ve heard of teachers using it in their studios, and I thought I’d give it a go. And…I LOVE it. Like Mr. Potato Head but a smidge more challenging for the student. Here’s how I use the mechanical fish game:

Each color of fish represents a section of our lesson (or could be used for sections of practice at home.) Example:

RED: review
LIGHT GREEN: technique focus (maybe finger dexterity)
YELLOW: theory
DARK GREEN: current piece

This creates a wonderfully quick way to structure home practice for littles! It helps students to see how many things they have left and they tend to forget what the colors mean and keeps the element of surprise! This can be used for older students as well to decide which technique to practice if they are dragging their feet.

So, go fishing (even though it’s January.) Fish2


practice recipe # 22: the mixing bowl

I have wonderful students. Truly! I know every teacher says that but really I do. They give their all during lessons, are game to try silly things I throw qt them, and most of them even practice regularly!

10timesThis year one of my goals for them is to teach them processes, and not just passages. If i can teach them how to monitor/teach themselves then I have given them something greater than sounding good on a sonata. Practice is something we all know we need, some enjoy, but unfortunately execute it with inefficiency or awareness.I can assign a piece that has 4 challenging measures, and students will have various ways of tackling the tricky part.

  1. Student A will play it until they get it right ONE time.
  2. Student B will play it until they get it MORE right than wrong.
  3. Student C will play it 10,000 times right.

Progressively each student does better than the previous, but does even 10,000 times right get us to work out the kinks? I have certainly assigned the 10 times-in-a-row-right with the wipeout rule (they restart from zero if they play something incorrectly.) It certainly makes for a more competitive way to complete repetition, but how did you do the day AFTER you completed it? How about the third day? I can certainly work out a passage and rock it by the end of a practice session, but then I have had times when I try to play the same thing the following day and it feels like I hadn’t worked my fingers to the bone.

Repetition is essential, but it shouldn’t be mindless. Our brains tend to be less functioning if we aren’t introducing something new that challenges it. So the REAL question is how do we make repetition engaging?

UnfocusedThe blog Bulletproof Musician has written a beautiful post about random practice, and I think he may be on to something that we all agree on yet forget to do – use your brain. To do this we must prevent our minds from getting into a mindful rut, which can be helped by changing activities at a faster pace and then coming back to it. Try this for a 20-minute practice session:

  • Major scales – 2 min
  • Practice spot 1 – 2 min
  • Tonalization – 2 min
  • Practice spot 2 – 2 min
  • Minor scales – 2 min
  • Practice spot 1 – 3 min
  • Recital piece – 3 min
  • Mindful review with tech focus- 2 min
  • Run-through a working piece – 2 min

This allows one to work on important things, truly focusing on what needs it, and then eventually coming back to it to ensure mindful practice. I’m not saying this is a fool-proof recipe (or that anyone has truly figured one out at all) but it is certainly worth a try to see if this helps to make the precious moments we spend on our music worth it.