2016 October

Why Practicing Practicing from an Early Age Is So Important

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This post was written by performance psychologist Dr. Noa Kageyama.  Noa is on the faculty of The Juilliard School and teaches performing artists how to utilize sport psychology principles and more consistently perform up to their full abilities under pressure. For more tips on effective practicing, learning, and performing, visit his blog, The Bulletproof Musician.

 

A few years ago, I heard Robert Duke (who was once a band teacher) tell a story about how he flipped practicing, and got his students to beg him to be allowed to practice more.

Essentially, he told his students that they were not allowed to take their instruments home, until he had heard them play individually and gauged whether they could practice effectively and avoid developing bad habits.

Once they demonstrated a certain level of practice competence, they could take their instrument home – but only practice for a limited amount of time.

When they proved that they had reached the next level of practice competence, their daily allotment of practice time would increase, and so on.

This created a situation in which students would feel great pride in how long they were allowed to practice, and would essentially compete with each other to see who would be allowed to practice longer.

I thought this was a hilariously clever tactic, but the underlying idea upon which this is based is an important one.

Can young students be trusted to practice effectively on their own?

Self-regulation

Two Australian researchers did a study tracking young musicians’ practice habits over a three-year span, to see how effectively young learners could self-regulate – or control and direct their own learning behaviors in six specific areas:

  1. Motive: How capable are students of initiating practice on their own?
  2. Time: How much do students practice? How effectively do they manage their practice time?
  3. Method: What sorts of practice strategies do students use?
  4. Performance outcomes: How capable are students at monitoring, evaluating, and controlling their playing?
  5. Physical environment: How effectively do students structure their practice environment to minimize distractions and maximize learning?
  6. Social factors: How much initiative do students take in seeking out help that might help them improve faster (asking questions, help from parents, etc.)?

Procedures

157 families were approached, but relatively few agreed to videotape practice sessions, and fewer still followed through on a consistent basis. Ultimately, seven students’ videos were selected for inclusion in the study.

The included students were all aged 7-9. Two were complete beginners who didn’t know how to read music, while the other five had learned another instrument previously.

The practice videos spanned a 3-year period, and the researchers selected two practice sessions from the first year and two from the third year to analyze in greater detail.

Here are a few of the more interesting findings:

1. Motive

Even at this young age, there were clear differences in motivations for learning an instrument. Some expressed more externally motivated reasons, like wanting to be in band because their friends were doing it. Others had more internally driven reasons, such as liking music, or wanting to play specific pieces they liked.

Ultimately, the researchers found that the children who had more extrinsic reasons for learning made the least progress, while those who identified intrinsic reasons progressed more quickly. It seems that students motivated by a more personally meaningful reason to learn are more likely to engage in the kinds of behaviors that maximize learning.

2. Time

Not all “practice time” was actually spent practicing. In year 1, for instance, only 72.9% of their time was spent actually practicing. They spent the remainder of time engaged in activities like looking for music, day-dreaming, etc.

As a group, they became more efficient practicers over time, but there were pretty significant individual differences from the very beginning. “Male Trumpet 1”, for instance, spent less time practicing than the others, instead engaging in avoidance behaviors like fiddling around with his instrument. As a result, it took him 3 years to reach the same level of playing that many of his peers had reached in 1 year.

The researchers suggest that tiny differences in the beginning can add up and have a significant impact on subsequent learning and students’ progress as the years go by.

3. Method

As you might imagine, the beginners’ practice strategies were pretty unsophisticated. The most popular strategy was to simply play the piece through from beginning to end, which represented about 95% of their practice time.

There were some additional strategies, like foot-tapping, counting, thinking, singing, or silent fingering, but these were pretty rare to see (<2% of their time).

Another finding, was that despite being asked by their teachers to repeat pieces until they came more easily, ~90% of the time, students played through a piece only once, and looked pretty content to move onto something else once they got to the end, regardless of how it sounded.

4. Performance Outcomes

One of the key areas of self-regulation is the ability to know when you’ve made an error, stop playing, and fix it.

In year 1, most of the young learners simply ignored their pitch errors (there were so many rhythm errors that the researchers stopped keeping track). But here too there were individual differences. Some students were much more capable of noticing and correcting their errors, and played better on the second run-through of a piece, while others actually made more errors on subsequent run-throughs.

Based on their data, the researchers suggest that teachers stop during lessons and ask students to reflect and comment on the accuracy of what they just played.

This could then be the basis for teaching students strategies like mentally singing the opening phrase before playing, or looking at the music to identify potential trouble spots, or remembering to think about the tempo or key before they play.

Their other suggestion was to occasionally take a momentary time-out in lessons and ask students to demonstrate how they would practice a tricky section. To see how they approach listening and problem-solving – to essentially practice practicing in lessons.

Two take-aways

Admittedly, it’s a small sample of students, but the researchers make two specific recommendations based on the observation that while most of the students displayed the desire to practice in the videos, they didn’t appear to have the skills required to practice effectively.

In other words, while their teachers were helping them identify what to practice, the students weren’t very clear on how to practice. Students were also not so great at noticing errors and monitoring the quality of their playing.

Thus, the researchers’ recommendations to teachers were twofold:

1. Spend time demonstrating or modeling specific practice strategies during lessons, that students can try using at home during the week.

2. Find ways to help young learners reflect on the quality of their practice time. Whether through practice diaries or goal-setting exercises, help students get better at listening/evaluating their own playing, and making better decisions about what to spend time working on. Because these are not necessarily things that students will intuit on their own – and the researchers suggest that the tiny differences that start to appear even in the very first practice sessions accumulate over time and could very well be the difference between a student who practices harder, is more confident about their learning ability, and achieves at a higher level, and a student who lags behind.

The Value of Toddler Movement Classes

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by Sarah Ruppel Bullis

I’m thrilled to witness that in the past several years a growing number of people have realized the importance of dance education for children. I have noticed that more and more schools in the Richmond area are including dance as part of their curriculum. I personally teach movement classes to infants through adult age, and have noticed that those students that start at a very young age and continue through their childhood development are much more advanced in every aspect of their life than those who have not. Dance has been a part of my own life since the age of 2, and I attribute much of the success in life (communication, organization, and memorization skills, discipline, manners, excellence in school, and success in business) to what I learned in dance classes. This is not to say that my faith and my parents’ encouragement and way of raising me were not significant; however, without a doubt, years of dance classes ingrained the above elements of success into me and have shaped me into who I am today.

It is never too early to put your children into dance classes! Ponder this: babies move before they talk. Movement is an innate part of us. Why not learn how to coordinate movements at the early development stages of our lives? A “dance” class for a toddler does not mean that the toddler will be learning serious dance technique of any particular style. A toddler dance, or better known as creative movement, class entails that the students will learn and perfect the foundations of dance: coordination, balance, spatial awareness, rhythm, pattern recognition and memorization, expressiveness, and creative thinking.

I cannot speak to the specifics of all toddler movement classes, but I can speak for my own. I have been teaching young children how to dance for 20 years (yes, I was 10 years old when I started to arrange dance classes at my house for the younger children in my neighborhood), and I now teach the Creative Movement and Dance Discovery classes at Passion Academy. This blog in particular will focus on these 2 classes. The additional younger-age classes on our schedule follow the principles I describe below with a format based on the age group and style of the class.

Both Creative Movement and Dance Discovery classes are parent participation classes. Thus, the child does not have to have prior movement experience to attend one of these classes because the parent and teacher will help the child with the movements. Do not think that your child has to be “good” at dance or moving in order to enroll in a dance class. This is what I will teach them with your help!

I believe that individual attention from the teacher is important in every dance class, and thus, the student body in each of these toddler classes at Passion Academy is small. I limit the number of students in each class to 6 or less so that I am able to teach the sequences as well as provide individual attention to each student several times during the class. A limited numbers of students also helps keep the number of distractions to a minimum.

The Creative Movement and Dance Discovery classes are 30 minutes long, which I have found to be the perfect amount of time to keep a toddler’s attention with movement exercises. Each class begins with different warm-up exercises on the floor that will attune the students’ ears to the rhythms of music, familiarize each student with his/her own body, and introduce mild stretching. These warm-ups are repeated every class, and I gradually advance them as the students demonstrate their understanding and perfection of them. After our warm-up section, we perform different standing and moving-around-the-room exercises that teach coordination, directional movement, balance, jumping, and pattern recognition/memorization. I use colors, shapes, numbers, and musical tempos to teach these exercises. Finally, the last bit of our class includes a themed portion where the students will “become” something or “go” somewhere and learn how to move their bodies accordingly. I provide the guidelines for these movements and then let the students’ creative minds take over. In the more advanced Dance Discovery classes (ages 3-4), the children work up to learning short dances during this part of class. All of the above exercises include the use of multiple props as a way to better engage the children in the exercises, teach tactile coordination, and to help encourage their creative minds with the visualization of different objects that can be “seen” as different things, depending on the theme (i.e. a hula hoop could be a pond or a nest or a vehicle). Additionally, music is used throughout the class to assist and inspire each movement. However, unlike many other toddler dance classes, I do not use music with words to accompany the sequences. I use only instrumental music to better attune my students’ ears to the musical rhythms and so that they hear my words and instructions without the distractions of words in the songs.

Thus, as seen above, these movement classes will aid in the physical development of your child by teaching him/her body awareness, spatial awareness, coordination, and balance. They will enhance the development of cognitive thinking by teaching  rhythmical counting, following directions, problem solving through movement, and pattern recognition and memorization. They will encourage his/her emotional development by inciting the use of facial expressions and imagination during the themed part of our class. They will advance social development as your child dances with other toddlers and is taught social skills such as sharing and staying in line. Finally, they will enhance your parent-child relationship by providing you and your child time set aside each week to work and learn together in a loving, encouraging, positive environment.

And one final important note for these classes: Do not give up on your child’s ability after the first class! It is very rare that I will have a young student perform or participate in every movement exercise or sequence in the first class. This takes consistency and time, which is why the repetitive nature of my classes is extremely important. The first 20 minutes of class is repeated each week and gradually advanced throughout the session, and I always repeat the entire 30 minute lesson plan (i.e. the same theme) 2-3 classes in a row. The repetition will allow your child to learn and become comfortable with the movements, and the goal is that he/she will eventually be able to perform them on their own. Also do not compare your child’s progress to another student’s progress. Every child learns at a different pace, and it is up to you to encourage your child to continue at his/her own pace. Patience and positive reinforcement is the key!


Passion Dance Program Director
Creative Movement and Dance Discovery Mentor

Passion Dance offers several classes for students under 5 years old:

Tuesday
Creative Movement  9:30-10:00am (Ages 18-24 months)
Creative Movement  10:00-10:30am (Ages 2-3)

Wednesday
I Got Rhythm  10:00-10:30am (Ages 16-24 months)

Friday
Creative Movement 9:30-10:00am (Ages 18-24 months)
Creative Movement 10:00-10:30am (Ages 2-3)
Dance Discovery 10:30-11:00am (Ages 3-4)
Creative Movement 4:15-4:45pm (Ages 2-3)

For young dancers interested in an introduction to tap or ballet ballet technique, we offer Primary Tap and Pre-ballet classes during the following times:

Primary Tap
Monday 10:30-11:15am (Ages 3-4.5)

Pre-Ballet
Tuesday 10:30-11:15am (Ages 3.5-4.5)
Friday 11:15am-12:00pm (Ages 3.5-4.5)
Friday 3:30-4:15pm (Ages 3.5-4.5)

ENROLL TODAY

Who Actually Quits Musical Instrument Instruction — Children or Their Parents?

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by Anthony Mazzocchi

How many times have we heard from adults that they wish their parents didn’t allow them to quit their musical instrument when they were younger?

There comes a time in a large percentage of music students’ lives when they want to quit their instrument — and more often than not, parents allow them to do it.  But is the child quitting … or is the parent?

I remember wanting to quit the trombone when I was in middle school.  Honestly, it’s hard to remember why.  It could have been peer pressure, boredom, or something else — but I had my mind made up.  I shudder to think of what my life would be like now if my mother had decided to quit as well and give in to my pleas.

Ultimately, it is important to understand that when it comes to music education and other transformative activities that require some grit in order to succeed, most children go through a period of time where they must succeed despite themselves.  They must be encouraged and supported through the tough times, not given a pass.  It is only at a certain point that children — and parents — can make an informed decision to quit their musical instrument, and that point is usually much later, not sooner, than one may think.

Here are a few ways that parents are the ones that quit music instruction, and some thoughts on overcoming the tough times with our children that are bound to occur:

“I can’t bug my child to do one more thing”.  I have heard this line so many times as a teacher and administrator.  A parent tells the teacher that their child will be discontinuing music because they haven’t had any luck getting their child to practice, and the “child doesn’t want to play anymore.” In addition, the parent says the child “seems to be over-scheduled and is overwhelmed with the demanding school curriculum.”

This parent has clearly given up.

There are many things that children need to do that they do not want to do. They don’t want to bathe, do homework, brush their teeth, or do their chores oftentimes.  But we as adults understand that we would be teaching them to be irresponsible if we gave in.  We also understand that children are not old or mature enough to make many life decisions — but when it comes to quitting music instruction the rules somehow seem to change.  The truth is that we can insist our child do “one more thing,” and if that’s really not humanly possible, a curricular activity such as music should not be at the bottom of that list.

Parents have overcommitted their child.  Our children are growing up in a time where the U.S. has turned into a society of “overachievers”. Downtime or activities that are perceived to be “fun” (i.e. music and the arts) are considered wasted time because concrete results are not being measured and money (and a job) is not at the end of the equation. Children have so many choices of ways to “enrich” their lives that quitting has become an easy response to frustration or boredom. Most adults regret many of the things in life that they quit, especially because they could have had stuck it out, reached a good level of proficiency and found that enjoyment that seemed to elude them earlier.  Parents need to remember this fact and encourage their children to stick with music instruction for at least two years, if not through middle school.

Parents must remember what their goals for their child’s education is.  Perseverance, commitment, loyalty, and grit are all values I hope that I — and my schools — instill in my children. Learning to endure something even when it temporarily becomes boring or unpleasant or when the teacher isn’t the most engaging person in the world is a lesson truly worth teaching. I would argue that the time you let your child walk away from something just because at that moment it doesn’t suit them is the last time you may have any credibility with them about endurance or resilience ever again.

Parents, teachers and students have a misguided view of passion.  Parents often talk about helping kids find their passions.  When parents allow their children to quit music, we often hear excuses such as, “Music is not where my child’s passion lies, it seems.”  But most of the time, passions do not always appear out of nowhere; they are often a result of hard work and dedication — the happiness that comes from doing something well over a period of time.  I have spent most of my life reaping the rewards of a life devoted to music, yet in 7th grade I was begging to quit.  And there are thousands upon thousands of other children who were not allowed to quit who have gone on to rewarding lives in many fields that would never have been possible if not for their musical education.

Parents need to embrace the struggle that their children are facing.  The reward of performing a piece of music after overcoming obstacles during practice is a great vehicle for parents to teach their children that true growth occurs when we struggle a bit.  Learning to deal with struggle yields some of the greatest benefits imaginable over time when applied to other areas of life.  But a child’s struggle is a parents struggle as well, of course.  There are bad days — and some really frustrating days.  There may be tantrums and miserable practices and screaming scenes where you may feel as if you are at the end of your rope. But if you stick with it, your children will have long, enduring relationships with instructors and classmates who will change and enrich their lives.  Don’t forget to reach out to your child’s teacher for extra help during these challenging times — I promise you that they will pass.

Your child’s experience with their music studies will shape their adult lives more than you will ever know.  They will be different people in the best way imaginable — people who would be far poorer intellectually without music in their life.  Let’s not kid ourselves — children quit things all the time.  Sometimes it’s even the right thing to do, but sometimes they are simply bored or don’t like the teacher or would just rather do nothing at home — and that is not acceptable or in their best interest over the long-term. Deciding when to let your child quit is a difficult problem that never goes away, but it is safe to say that one year is simply not enough time for anyone to decide whether to stay with musical instrument instruction or not.

Maybe you didn’t study music.  Maybe you quit prematurely and you didn’t even realize it — but the road is open to your children, so steer them down it.  They will never tell you later in life that they are angry at you for not letting them quit.

Learn simple steps to becoming a great Music Parent in Tony’s new book:

The Music Parents’ Guide – A Survival Kit for the New Music Parent

The-Music-Parents-Guide-Book