I’m often asked, “Why is practice so important in band?” The answer is very simple…practice makes permanent. Playing a musical instrument requires an high level of hand-eye coordination, incorporating thousands of muscles to produce a single sound. As a student practices, he/she develops muscle-memory. The student is required to look at a note, decipher what the note is, determine how the mouth needs to be positioned, push down the right fingers, and regulate the proper amount of air. As the student continues to do this, it becomes second-nature and he/she doesn’t have to think through all of the steps.
To get a better idea of how muscle-memory works, think about what takes place when a person first learns to drive a car. At first, several methodical mental processes take place, applying the break to shift, pushing the gas pedal at the appropriate pressure to accelerate, watching for other vehicles, steering so as not to hit other objects, applying the break, etc. The first several times a person drives all of these processes are thought about carefully, but eventually we just get in the car and drive. The same is true with learning to play an instrument.
So when a student is first learning to play, practice is extremely important. The student needs to build muscle-memory, and the best way to do this is by practicing on a regular basis. It is also better to practice frequently, rather than for extended periods of time.
In 5th & 6th grades – when the student is developing the necessary skills to play the instrument – 60 minutes of practice is required each week. Keeping in mind that we want to strive for frequent practice, students are encouraged to practice at least 10 minutes a day, taking one day of the week off. This is not a great deal of time, but practicing frequently will help ensure the proper muscle-memory is developing. Of course, students are encouraged to practice more than 60 minutes a week.
I ask parents of 5th and 6th grade students to please help encourage your child to practice. They will develop faster, feel more confident, and in the end have a more positive experience.
If you have any questions regarding the practice expectations and/or my philosophy, please do not hesitate to contact me.