How much fun can practise be?


Rock star baby!
photo ©hpbatman7
Many professional musicians I know also teach. So do I. And we all know the age-old adage "practise makes perfect". We all know that repetition is necessary to enhance skills - in any endeavour. Unfortunately, practise is often equated with drudgery. A necessary evil. But does it have to be that way? One of the things that frustrated me as a kid learning to play the clarinet was the rigidity of the instructions. I was never allowed to deviate from the exercise, since I was "learning to play in a wind orchestra" where you weren't supposed to deviate from your part. Of course this makes sense for a concert piece, but for an exercise? I felt as if I was turned into an automaton: switch on and whatever is on the page comes out. Looking back, this experience seriously impaired my love for making music for quite a long time... And I know this happened to many people. Some even gave up music altogether. Does it have to be that way? I think not. Read on and put some fun in the practise:

Fun while practising at home. Love for the craft - whether that be music, film, drawing, painting, learning a new language, anything really. So I often instruct pupils not to practise. I instruct them to play. Not only play the exercise at hand, but to have fun with it. To use it as a basis for discovery. If they don't like the exercise, I challenge them to "make it better": what would the exercise be like if they did like it? I think this is especially important in the early stages. Once we know what we want to play and how we want to sound, specific exercises begin to make sense. This relieves something of the drudgery of practising the same thing over and over again and to keep perspectives fresh.

As teachers we are of course responsible for channelling all this fun. We have "the bigger picture", the overview. Sometimes we need to move our students back a few squares when they get overexcited. But generally this isn't that much of a problem since now they decided (at least partially) their own direction. Therefore I encourage pupils to show me what they discovered. For them this feels like a mini-performance in a safe setting. For me it provides the opportunity to correct techniques and lead them to material to improve their own discoveries. I firmly believe there is truth in William Butler Yeats' statement: "Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire.". If possible we are to install a love for not only our subject matter - be that music or anything else - but also for learning itself. Knowledge and repetition will always be necessary for learning anything so we should at least strive to make this a fun activity!

So what about you? Which techniques do you use to teach "fun"? Regardless of your chosen field, what tips, tricks and techniques would you like to share?

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