How do you know your student is practising effectively? Some insights from meta-cognition
What are some of the tell-tale signs that your music student is practising effectively? There are a number of signs you can list such as progressing quickly through repertoire and developing more advanced performance skills and techniques over time. These will be quite evident from your lessons with the student but how does this progress come about? Some of the answers lie in meta-cognition which the ability of plan, evaluate, and monitor progress.
Meta-cognition and instrumental practice
An important factor in the acquisition of instrumental performance expertise is the ability of students to self-regulate their practice routines. This requires the development and application of meta-cognitive strategies related to their practice. Meta-cognitive strategies are the skills concerned with planning, monitoring, and evaluation of learning. These skills can be at the task level, such as working on a new piece, or at the global level including monitoring the standard of technical skills.
There are wide differences in the meta-cognitive skills of beginners, intermediate, and expert performers (Hallam, 2001a, 2001b; McPherson & Renwick, 2001; Pitts & Davidson, 2000). Some of the activities occurring during instrumental practice are not related to practising at all. Some behaviours are avoidance of practice behaviours like taking a long time to set up for practice, or being easily distracted by other sounds or activities in the home.
More self-regulated students are able to set up and control their practice environment to optimise learning. These students display high levels of meta-cognitive strategy use through planning and monitoring their practice environment to reduce distractions and facilitate improvement in their performance.
Although there are a multitude of ways to facilitate quality practice time, it may well be worth discussing with your students what they do to make their practice environment the most effective it can be to improve progress. Raising the awareness of the requirement of a distraction-free environment (ie: no TV on in the next room) may not occur as something important to your student (or a parent).
Scaffolding ideas to develop your students meta-cognitive awareness and development of practice routines is a natural step in the learning process. High levels of meta-cognition is a common strategy which distinguishes novice and expert musicians in their practice routines (Hallam, 2001b).
Hallam, S. (2001a). The Development of Expertise in Young Musicians: Strategy Use, Knowledge Acquisition and Individual Diversity. Music Education Research, 3(1), 7-23.
Hallam, S. (2001b). The development of metacognition in musicians: Implications for education. British Journal of Music Education, 18(1), 27-39.
McPherson, G. E., & Renwick, J. M. (2001). A Longitudinal Study of Self-regulation in Children’s Musical Practice. Music Education Research, 3(2), 169-186.
Pitts, S., & Davidson, J. (2000). Developing Effective Practise Strategies: Case studies of three young instrumentalists. Music Education Research, 2(1), 45-56.