Let’s not kid ourselves. The best way to practice is to play your instrument regularly.
But, it can be hard for students to practice without the guidance of their director, and they may not even have their instrument! Luckily, there are ways for them to practice without making any noise.
Technique 1: Mental Practicing
“Mental practice” is an exercise in which the player envisions themselves going through the motions of practicing music.
Dr. Noa Kageyama, a Julliard alumnus, professor, and performance psychologist, has a 6-step system to mental practice:
1. Calm down
Relax your body so that you’re prepared for practice. You can do calming breathing exercises or stretching, anything that relaxes you.
2. “Expand your focus”
Focus on something, your stand, instrument, etc., mentally. See it in your head and as you practice, start to see more of the item’s detail.
3. Warm up
Envision warming up, and try to feel the physical aspects of playing: how your fingers move, how your instrument sounds, and how your body moves.
As you mentally play your pieces, concentrate on how the exercise feels and sounds, and continue to play until you hear a mistake.
5. Work through mistakes
Dr. Kageyama calls this step “TiVo it.” When you hear or feel a mistake, work through it as you would in the practice room. “Pause” and then “rewind” until the phrase sounds correct and feels right in your head.
6. Keep it real
Throughout this exercise, try to keep the feeling and sound of playing as real and vivid as possible in order to keep the rehearsal authentic and meaningful.
Read more about Dr. Kageyama’s system on his website.
Technique 2: Active Listening
Background music doesn’t qualify as active listening. The listener needs to fully concentrate, understand, respond to, and remember what is being played.
Though it won’t replace traditional practice, it will familiarize your student with their music. They can develop a deeper understanding of what they’re playing by recognizing musical sections and phrasing, and can cut down their review time when they play next.
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Also, in this experiment, researchers found that non-musicians who actively listened to a passage played it better than those who didn’t.
Technique 3: Watch It
Expression is an elusive aspect of music, and seeing how a professional “communicates” during performance may give students a better understanding of the concept. Hopefully they’ll start to think about what they’d like to communicate in performances as well!
BONUS: Practice mutes
Did you know there are accessories designed to dampen the sound of a practicing student?
However, remember that you don’t want your student to only ever practice with their mute. As the progress, they’ll start working on improving their tone, and they can’t do that very well if their tone is muted most of the time.
This kind of practice may not replace traditional practice, but staying musically engaged at home with these techniques is a great way for students to develop musicianship outside of regular school band and orchestra.
And remember, lots of private teachers enroll new students into their studios all year, so if you think your student would benefit from some individual lessons (which they would, obviously), check some of them out! Our studios are a great starting point.