Effective practice strategies

Effective practice strategies

Barry (1992) investigated the effects on structured and unstructured practice sessions for brass and woodwind students between grades 7 and 10. These students were randomly assigned to either a structured practice group or a free practice group for the study. Each group had four practice sessions across two weeks.

The practice sessions of both groups were judges by independent judges for correctness of rhythm, correctness or melody and overall musicality on a set piece for all participants. The free practice group recorded their practice sessions on audio tape. The structured practice sessions had a supervisor with them and guided the students through the practice session which was outlined on written instructions. The supervisor was there to ensure all structured practice group participants followed the practice instructions so that the group practices identically for the purposes of the research.

Effective practice strategiesThe results showed significant differences between the structured and free practice groups in their pre-test and post-test assessments of the practice piece. The differences were due to:

1. Practice tempo: free practice students played through the piece at faster tempos where structured practice participants used a metronome and started slowly.

2. Use of metronome: structured practice participants were required to use a metronome consistently. Free practices participants did not have to use a metronome and after some initial use, they most often stopped using it.

3. Silent practice: Structured practice participants were required to examine the music visually prior to playing and finer through the notes. These behaviours were not observed very frequently in free practice participants.

4. Tapping rhythm: Structured practice participants were required to tap the rhythm of the piece before played it. This was not observed in free practice participants.

5. Identification and slow rehearsal of trouble spots: Structured practice participants were required to mark trouble spots and to practise these spots slowly. Free practice participants did not marks errors and tended to practice trouble spots at the same tempo.

6. Marking music: Structured practice participants were required to mark key signature, time signature, accidental, terms and definitions, as well as any place where errors occurred. Free practice participants made no markings on their music. Those free practice students who did usually wrote note names and fingering.

The results of this study suggest that designing a practice routine around these structured practice sessions is a reliable way to improve student performance and progress. Although the study could be considered a pilot study, there is evidence to suggest that replication could produce similar results and the development of specific practice activities for ability level of students.

Effective practice strategies

Barry, N. H. (1992). The Effects of Practice Strategies, Individual Differences in Cognitive Style, and Gender upon Technical Accuracy and Musicality of Student Instrumental Performance. Psychology of Music, 20(2), 112-123.

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