Mature Motivation

Would you like to be the subject of a future practice clinic? Contact us with any practice problems and we’d be happy to help.

Practice is not just an issue for young learners. Older, more experienced musicians can face dilemma’s too as a recent contact to the clinic put it:

I am hopeless with routine because I am not preparing for anything at the moment. I can only justify practice when I have a gig on the calendar.

Our reply:

This is an issue many older musicians face. After the challenge of grade exams, school concerts, college auditions and playing with youth groups there can be a sizable hole left in your performance schedule. There is also not the level of competition among peers which pushes younger players to practice. In the absence of these things you need to be more self reliant in finding reasons to practice.

Creating a varied musical diet becomes even more important at this stage in your musical development. Practising away at the same old pieces and exercises year after year is a sure way to lose motivation to practice. Instead keep your routine fresh by trying new music on a regular basis. The internet is an excellent place to research and find new material. This material doesn’t necessarily have to be technically difficult – just new. The challenge as always is to play it as perfectly as you are able. Even the simplest scale is almost impossible to play perfectly.

Other ways to get some variety are to explore different styles, listen to more music, try some composition, learn a new instrument or find out more about famous performers.

Perhaps, most importantly, play with other musicians. You mention that you already play in a group which is great. Groups can become stale – especially very small ones. Make sure your group tries new material in different styles and perhaps try rehearsing in different venues or even outdoors! It’s also worth investigating if there are other groups of like-minded musicians in your area that you could join. If not why not set one up?

All of the above really point to one thing. Always have something to work towards.

As a teacher, to guide students in developing better practice routines (they seem overwhelmed by their other commitments to netball, swimming squad, chess club, taikwondo, homework).

This is a perennial question for all music teachers. Aside from the practical aspects of making sure they set aside a regular time and have clear practice tasks you have to find ways to make them want to practice. These can either be external (keeping up with the Joneses) or internal (love of music). The tricky part is that the motivation will need to be slightly different for each student.

I would suggest as a start that you keep your lessons varied. If a student knows exactly how the lesson will pan out they will prepare accordingly. If however they are unsure whether you will focus on scales, theory, pieces, listening or history then they are likely to work on everything just in case. Even if you cover the same things every lesson, perhaps try to do them in a different order.

Next I would make sure that each student knows exactly what is expected of them during practice. Be very specific about which bars and speeds you expect for the next lesson, which techniques should be mastered or scales learned. This has the benefit of giving more structure to their practice. From the students perspective you can explain that what you have set is all that is required. Once mastered their practice time is over. If they practice effectively they might get their practice done in much less time!!

Have you considered the idea of practice partners?

All the above are encouragement from other people. To really get students excited about practice it needs to come from within. I’m sure you’ve discussed their favourite music with them but have you really delved into it? Perhaps get your students to present to you on their favourite piece. Listen to it together and get them to explain why they like it so much. Get into more detail by discussing the instruments, melody, dynamics or anything else you can think of. Use the session as the start of follow up work such as learning to play the piece themselves, composing something similar, finding similar music, finding music which is exactly opposite or going to a concert of that music. There are endless ways to follow up. The best thing about approaches like this is that they are led by the student. You as the teacher merely become a facilitator guiding them in the learning they want to do.

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