6 Steps to Self-Regulated Practicing

Last month, I attended a national music teachers' convention. It was my first time as an attendee (versus when I was  a organizing committee member). One session that really resonated with me was Dr. John Picone's Steps to Parnassus: Guiding Young Musicians to Self-Regulated Practicing.

He was such a dynamic presenter and had wonderful ideas. I hope that one day, the Alberta Registered Music Teachers' Association or the Alberta Piano Teachers' Association could bring him out here to do a session for music teachers AND music students.

He shared a lot of information and examples with us. I will just highlight six main points for you try to incorporate into your at-home practicing. They are, what Dr. Picone referred to as "Six Dimensions of Self-Regulated Learning":

  1. Take charge of your environment: Is your pet pestering you when you practice? Does your little sister come and bash on the keys while you are at your instrument? Or is your practice area in the same room as the television? You need to, perhaps with some help from your parents, create a practice space in which you can actually get some quality practice time in. Get rid of those distractions!
  2. Manage your Time and Setting Goals: This past year, I introduced my students to the concept of "speed learning". To force them to think about time management, I used  the countdown timer. If you only have 10 minutes, then you need to have a solid plan of attack. Pick a chunk of music that's do-able in 10 minutes. How much can you learn in 10 minutes? Or fix? The clearer you are with your plan, the more productive your practice will be.
  3. Record and Review: Record and Review is something I encourage my students to do regularly. I think some do but not all. There's a lot going on when we play a piece or technical exercise. How else are you going to know if you're making any progress at home unless you listen to what you just did? If your iPod records, then use it. Or a tablet, computer, phone or other recording device.
  4. Seek out resources on your own: Can't remember what "subito" means? You know technology more than your parents and teachers do. Google it! Or get a music dictionary app.
  5. You have a repertoire of strategies and you know how to use them: One drill I grew up on was "Drill this 10 times". I'd get tired by five. My students have some more creative practice drills in their arsenal (e.g. Smarties Drill, the Every Other Bar Drill and the Fill in the Blanks Drill for starters). Regardless of what practice drills you have been taught, you have to know when to use them and how to use them. Now that would require you to read your music notebook, wouldn't it?
  6. Motivation: There's external motivation (e.g. you have a music exam next week and you don't want to fail) and internal motivation (you simply want to do well). It doesn't matter how often your teacher asks you to practice more or how often your parents yell at you to practice - if you don't want to do it, it's not going to happen as well as it should. However, you need to really think hard about whether you don't want to practice because you've hit a snag or because you really hate music, but that's a separate topic.

The video that Dr. Picone showed us was of a seven-year old boy. He didn't really play much in the practice clip, but he didn't need to. He spent about a minute asking his mother to take the family dog into another room. Then, he spent a couple of minutes planning out what he was going to practice.

Once he selected a piece, he took another minute to skim through it. His finger traced over the notes. He stopped and looked at a tricky rhythm. After a moment's thought, he pulled out his music notebook to read his teacher's practice suggestions for that rhythm. Then, he remembered that he had a recording of that part of his lesson, so he listened to it. He checked his clock. Then, the clapped out the rhythm a few times. Checked his time again and then did a run-through at the piano - slowly. He tried it a few times before running through the whole piece.

If a seven-year old can master self-regulated, or organized practicing, you can too.