Finding the right level of involvement in a child’s instrumental practice can be a tricky balancing act. Cellist and pedagogue Oliver Gledhill offers some strategic guidance
1. Practising needs to be seen as an essential feature of a valued long-term activity. It needs to be regular, preferably daily, but in the early stages for no more than 12–15 minutes per day.
2. Practising after rest is more productive.
3. Distributed practice, say in two shorter parts during the day rather than massed in one long session, or regularly throughout the week rather than crammed the day before the lesson, may be more effective for all but the most able learners.
4. The practising room should be quiet, free from distractions and appropriately equipped.
5. Parents intending to supervise home practice would be advised to have an involvement in lessons, in order to pick up suggestions and strategies modelled by the teacher.
6. To be effective, the parental level of involvement in lessons may only need to consist of discussion with and feedback from the teacher, rather than always sitting in. Parental involvement in practice, where present, is likely to be weaned off between the ages of eleven and thirteen.
7. Encourage small-section rather than whole-piece practice
8. Encouraging memorisation and the analytical questioning inherent in this approach will be beneficial, as will looking for memorable patterns by ‘chunking’.
9. Encouraging variable practice approaches and material may be beneficial to most children’s learning, though at times a more limited sphere of activity, with a more holistic approach, may suit some children’s learning styles better.
10. Providing a calm, non-threatening environment for practice will help imagination – created by associative links – to flourish.
11. Risk-taking in learning steps, especially for more ‘helpless’ children, can be sensitively encouraged.
12. Encouraging with praise should be oriented towards what specific aspects were successful (encouraging learning or task goals) rather than the child seeking to please in general or expecting extrinsic rewards (performance or ego goals).
Oliver Gledhill is Professor of Cello at Junior Guildhall in London
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