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Home Practice

Why does my child have to practice at home anyway?  Are not the band classes enough for learning and playing a band instrument?

Band classes are enough to transfer the knowledge of the band director to your child.  He/she will impart this knowledge to your child of how to play an instrument, make corrections when necessary, and steer your child in the right direction when he/she moves off course.  However, band classes do not provide the time necessary for training.  A vital aspect of any learning process is the repetition of drill and practice which is a part of the training process.  Your child is “burning” a great deal of information into his/her mind to learn a complicated set of skills necessary to play a band instrument.

Think about how your child learned to read.  At first, it was very slow with your child sounding out individual letters.  Through drill and practice, your child began to recognize letter patterns when grouped together formed words.  Your child used the sub skills (small simple one-step skills) of voice production, mouth and tongue formations, breathing and sound/sight memory to produce the complex skill of reading.  Slowly, but surely, your child began to recognize and memorize these letter patterns and found that sounding out individual letters was no longer necessary.  As letter pattern (word) recognition improved, reading became smoother and faster.  It is an amazing note that the average first grader has a working vocabulary of over one thousand of these letter patterns.  Remember how your child’s kindergarten and first grade teachers encouraged reading out loud practice at home?

Learning a band instrument also requires mastering a set of sub skills that are combined for the complex skill of performing.  There are many similarities to reading a book or magazine out loud and playing a band instrument:  Both require proper breathing, mouth formations, use of tongue for “diction” (in music it is called “articulation”) and sight/sound recognition.  However there are additional skills necessary to master on a band instrument:  reading the new language of rhythm and pitch (notes on a musical staff), complex finger combinations involving psycho-motor skills (communication between the brain and fingers), mouth muscle formation (called “embouchure”) and abdominal muscle development to provide proper air volume, pressure and speed.  That is nine different sub skills that your child must not only master individually, but must learn to combine those sub skills to the complex activity of playing a band instrument!  Your child should be giving attention and practicing each of these sub skills every day so that they become a part of his/her “band memory bank”.  As these sub skills become second nature, the complex combination of these become much easier to handle.  This is an ongoing process that improves with practice.

Since the combination of these skills are complex and not attained easily, it is important for your child to practice most every day.  “Burning into the brain” requires consistent repetition on a daily basis so that skills will not be forgotten after a couple of days.  Practice should be planned and logical with a plan similar to this:

  • Warm-up with long tones
  • Review of already learned materials
  • Scales, rhythms, and technical exercises
  • Method Book Practice
  • Performance Music
  • Fun Music

A beginning band student should practice a minimum of fifteen minutes daily to learn the basic skills required for first year students.  By the second year, practice time should be increased to twenty or thirty minutes daily.  More serious students may practice for forty-five minutes, an hour, or more.

It is important for a parent to be firm regarding daily practice.  There many times we have heard students say when they are older: “I wish my parents had made me practice when I was younger”.  Parents can teach their children good practice habits just as they would homework with other subjects.  Like the line it the movie “Remember the Titans” when the high school football players were at summer camp and practicing into the night by the light of their bus headlights: Coach Boone told them - - “Practice doesn’t make perfect - - - - - - Perfect practice makes perfect.”
How your child practices is just as important as what your child practices.