Research indicates that expert instrumentalists engage in a systemic approach to their practice. This includes problem identification, problem solving, planning and evaluation (Hallam, 2001b). This strategy is known as self-regulation.
Research in this area is of importance to instrumental teachers as much of their own students’ practice is completely unsupervised. Many teachers would be unaware of the self-regulation practice strategies employed by their students during the time between weekly instrumental lessons. Additionally, there may be an assumption by instrumental teachers that their students are aware of or know how to practice effectively. Research suggests that this is not the case. In particular, instrumental students under 10 years of age demonstrated little planning and implementation of strategies for effective practice (McPherson & Renwick, 2001). It is necessary for instrumental teachers to have an understanding of effective practice strategies, including self-regulation strategies, and to model and impart this knowledge on to their own students.
Self-regulation is the ability to reflect on one’s own learning. It is a process of metacognition and allows one to determine the differences between the process, expected outcome, and achieved outcome (Dewey, 1933). This provides a basis for self-regulated thinking.
A study of adolescent students has revealed some of the self-regulating strategies employed during their practice sessions Leon-Guerrero, 2008). Some of these observed strategies were: looking at the music, vocalising, kinaesthetic, repetition, restarting, repeating a measure or a group of notes with tempo changes, playing a segment backwards, chaining dynamics, articulation, rhythm, keep going, go to another section, counting or clapping, and use of a pencil to mark sections. The most common strategy was to restart a bar, then next was to repeat a bar. Repetition was the most used overall strategy.
This study demonstrated some of the self-regulating strategies and behaviours utilised in the instrumental practice sessions of adolescents. These behaviours comprised the processes of problem identifying and problem solving in the learning of repertoire.
Instrumental teachers can prompt this behaviour for their students during their lessons by asking questions specific questions. Such questions could centre around the problems they might anticipate in a section of music, having the student describe their approach to solving the problem and having the student demonstrate to the teacher how they would go about practising this problem.
This type of reflective engagement during instrumental lessons will give teachers a window into the minds of their students. The opportunity to shape effective self-regulating strategies into the practice routines of students can assist in improving practice routines and overall progress.
Leon-Guerrero, A. (2008). Self-regulation strategies used by student musicians during music practice. Music Education Research, 10(1), 91-106.