Less Practice for More Results – MicroPractice

The struggle of getting students to practice is not a new one.

The pandemic has shown, though, that a lot of the struggle isn’t necessarily a lack of time (although that’s the common excuse). It’s more a lack of motivation and planning.

I’ve been trying a new approach to practice with some of my younger students, and it’s seemed to be working well. I call this “MicroPractice”, and while my original idea was to sidestep the “no time” to practice excuse, it’s seemed to work even better than I expected.

How to MicroPractice

My new recommendation to the students (and their parents) is that they only practice 5-10 minutes per day.

I give them a couple of exercises every week to work on (usually a harmonic series and a scale), and ask them to do the practicing before other homework. I do make a couple of other things clear:

  • If the student doesn’t get through both of my exercises, that’s okay. They can (and should) start with the one they didn’t do tomorrow.
  • If the student wants to keep practicing, that’s also okay. Sometime I give students “bonus” music, but they can also work on music for their schools ensembles. I make it clear that in lessons we will be covering my exercises first. If they want to do other music (either for class or fun) in lessons, they need to prepare my assignments to my satisfaction.
  • While it’s okay to continue past the 5-10 minute mark, there is a cutoff time when they need to stop practicing. This can depend on things like their other homework, dinner time, the student’s experience, etc. For middle school students the cutoff is no longer than 45 minutes (and usually 20-30). If a student can’t get all that they need to do in that time, they need to make sure they are using their time effectively.
  • If they want to do another session later on in the day/evening, that’s okay – the same rules apply (including the cutoff time).

Why MicroPractice Works

For most young students, the hardest thing to learn about brass instruments is that 5-10 minutes a day – done well – is more effective than a single 1-hour session once per week. It doesn’t feel like you’re making progress in that small amount of time, but getting the lips, tongue, air, fingers, etc. to work together is a lot of mental (and physical) work, and trying to do it for too long in the beginning is actually counterproductive.

Once students start to understand how these “micro-sessions” – done consistently – lead to progress over time, they don’t need quite as much pestering about practice. Additionally, learning how to be effective and efficient with time early on helps to prevent “run-through” syndrome, where a student tries to start at the beginning and play through a piece during every practice session.

If you’re looking for a way to “jump-start” your students (or your own) practice in these summer months, try some micropractice and see if you notice an improvement!