After teaching private horn lessons for over forty years (and living to tell about it!) I would like to share some ideas and routines that have helped my young students to be happy and successful. These ideas may be adopted by private teachers and band directors; I have personally seen remarkable progress when they have been implemented. I hope this information is helpful to all educators and that it may serve as an encouragement to all of us who teach young musicians.
1. KEEP A PRACTICE CHART. Incentivize students to practice a minimum of thirty minutes per day, 6-7 days per week. Stickers, small prizes, or “Student of the Week” certificates may be awarded at the end of the week. Yes, bribery is an effective tool to encourage practice in young students!
2. ENCOURAGE A WELL-BALANCED ROUTINE. Assign a variety of instrument-appropriate exercises in the following categories: range, flexibility, tone, and technique, as well as prepared etudes and/or band music.
3. MANAGE ENVIRONMENT. If possible, have students practice at the same time/place every day, thereby establishing a routine. Parents may also be able to help, providing a quiet, comfortable room and reminders if needed.
4. USE FLASH CARDS. Using flash cards is especially helpful for drilling scales and arpeggios. Classroom teachers may even create team activities using these cards.
5. TEACH THE “WHY?”. Rather than simply handing out assignments, take time to explain the goals and benefits of each exercise. Students are more eager to practice if they understand the purpose of an exercise.
6. MAKE RECORDINGS. Encourage students to record themselves playing an exercise, etude, or solo once a week. Often, when they listen to the recording, they can immediately hear their own mistakes and take steps for correction. We want our students to be active participants in the learning process and to be critical listeners.
7. GIVE REWARDS. After playing a “balanced diet” of exercises during a practice session or band class, encourage your students to indulge in “dessert”. Have them play something fun, either individually (i.e. favorite song, movie melody, video game theme) or conclude class with a favorite band/stand-tune.
8. SIMULATE A COMPETITIVE ENVIRONMENT. Most young players need guidance on how to manage the nervousness associated with competitions such as honor band auditions, solo contests, and chair tests. I play a game with my students in which we try to simulate the physical effects of stage fright (dry mouth, rapid heartbeat, shaking, “butterflies”). I have them either jog in place or do jumping jacks for an allotted amount of time, immediately followed by playing a scale or part of an etude or solo. After playing this game several times, along with many giggles (of course), comes the confidence knowing that it is indeed possible to play an instrument successfully in an uncomfortable environment.
I hope this information has been helpful and has perhaps sparked some of your own creative ideas for enhancing the learning experience of young students. If you have questions or comments, please post them below!