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How to Practise Music by Andrew Eales is one of the best books related to instrumental teaching and learning I’ve read for years. It’s essential reading for music teachers, students and parents. If it isn’t yet on your bookshelves, it should be. I’m definitely going to have to do an updated version of this blog post!
I could simply stop there, because what more can one say? Nevertheless, it gives me great pleasure to explore some of the different aspects of this excellent book.
The book is divided into seven useful sections:
- How to be motivated
- How to plan your practice
- How to warm up
- How to practise core skills
- How to practise pieces
- How to practice mindfully
- How to practise playing
One thing which stands out about this book is that it is full of practical, down-to-earth advice, all of which is delivered in bitesize, accessible chunks. The book is therefore inherently readable, from whichever area of music education you approach it from.
Something I want to say at the outset, is I think a lot of this book, although designed to facilitate practice outside of the music lesson itself, can be applied to lesson planning and teaching. There is much of value here for instrumental teachers, whoever and wherever they teach.
I have to admit that as I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat relieved that Andrew commits to paper much of what I’ve been saying to my own students for years, not least that when it comes to practice, quality is better than quantity: half an hour’s clock-watching is far less effective than five minutes’ focussed practice.
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I particularly liked the third section on warming up. This is something which I think is undervalued, both in and outside of lessons. It is always quite noticeable in lessons who’s been playing or singing before they come. As Andrew explores, it’s as much about mental preparation as it is about the instrument and physical body itself:
“Before we play a single note, we begin with a commitment to practise, closing the door and making a conscious decision to concentrate on the joy of making music.”How to Practice Music, p.26
Andrew also talks about Active Repertoire, something I think is very important and of which I’ve shared his material previously. It’s important for motivation as much as it is for progress. He describes Active Repertoire as ‘music we can play any time, any place’ (p.31). I’m sure Andrew could write a whole book on the topic (hint).
If scales are getting you down, then Andrew offers no fewer than 11 ideas to make your practice more effective, more efficient, and more pleasurable. For example, have you tried playing your scales swung or with alternative rhythms? Core skills such as arpeggios, studies, exercises, music theory and sight-reading are all covered and explored in detail. This is just one example of why this book is about so much more than just practice.
In How to Practise Music, Andrew offers a huge amount of advice on how to practise pieces, including planning practice sessions, ‘chunking’, slow practice and troubleshooting problem areas. There is a particularly useful section on using a metronome effectively as part of your practice. The book also doesn’t shy away from modern practice aids such as backing tracks, apps and availability of recordings, exploring how these can both help and hinder learning.
If I was to make one criticism of this book, it would have absolutely nothing to do with the content, but rather that Hal Leonard have chosen to produce it in rather a small format. At 18x11cm, it’s small, and this is reflected in the size of the print. I don’t think it’s small enough to be classed as ‘pocket-sized’, but not really close to the size of any other similar book in my bookshelves. That said, even in its small format, at 80 pages, it’s great value.
I am convinced that if every musician, whether they be performer or teacher, read this book, music would be more enjoyable for us all. Every page is packed full of advice, tips and ideas to make not just practice more effective, but learning an instrumental more fulfilling. Perhaps the challenge for us teachers is to communicate this effectively to our students, and to facilitate an environment in which the skills of effective practice are both taught, and ironically, practised.
How to Practise Music by Andrew Eales, is published by Hal Leonard, ISBN 9781805142837, RRP £7.99.
I was sent a review copy of this book free of charge; however, this review is my honest opinion as a teacher. You can find my Reviews Policy here.
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