Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Helping Your Child Practise

A note to parents of the young bassoon player.

As a parent of the budding bassoonist you play a key role in helping them make rapid progress. After all you have already found a bassoon teacher, paid for the books, the reeds, the hire or even purchase of the instrument and endured the first fantastic cow noises coming from the new addition to the family! You could of course sit back and hope that their weekly lesson of half an hour will bear fruit and transform them into the next soloist and speed their progress into the National Youth Orchestra OR you could get more involved! But how?

From my experience the pupils who get distinction in their exams and make rapid progress have a great deal of support at home. Not that you are expected to teach the bassoon - that's my job. But working with parents on ways to help their child practise constructively and regularly (without undue nagging or "pressure") and by sending recordings of lessons and "how the piece goes" by email to the parents to put on the student's ipod, I have seen a huge difference in speed of progress this year.

Most teachers keep a notebook that they send back with your child after a lesson. This lays out what they have done in the lesson, what they want the child to practise and a place for you to make notes and in some cases sign off the times that the young player has actually practised! But even in schools where this is part of the rules the practise book gets neglected. A short note from you back to the teacher in this book is a huge encouragement that we are not writing notes into a void.

The child who doesn't want to practise at all is not being discussed here - that's a different story. But the willing pupil will usually have chosen the bassoon because they have heard one being demonstrated at school by someone like me and have realised for themselves that it is a wondrous noise unlike anything else. But the sound that comes out of their bassoon (or in the case of the small ones out of their mini bassoon or tenoroon) can bear little resemblance to what they heard. And the task becomes getting enough progress FAST enough so that they can sound good and get to play in their school ensemble as that's when the real fun starts - the bassoon is really a social instrument and doesn't stand up well to years of solitary confinement.

By getting agreement on how much time they can practise (around the sports club, the swimming, the friends, the TV, and the ever increasing "homework" from school) we can then start to monitor progress. This is much more important than "time spent". Progress is what they want and we all want. If they can do this effectively in the least time and have fun whilst doing it then we are all happy. And when things are going slowly that's the time to go back and forth with notes in the book or even call to discuss. With the lazier pupils I often make this into a game of how they can practise better in less time and point out I give no rewards for time wasted blowing down the bassoon with no progress.

As a teacher I want my pupils to learn WHAT and HOW to practise so that they can see, hear and feel the progress and enjoy that progress. Some are exam driven, others reward driven and some (the ideal bassoonist) are happy to go up to their room and tinker and experiment and come back and say "I found bottom Bb!" the next week.

If you are a parent of a pupil of mine already you will know you get emails/sound files and recommendations as well as writings in the "practise book" each week. With these tools and an open dialogue back and forth the whole "learning adventure" is greatly aided.

Here's to constructive practise and happy blowing!