Have you ever had a student lie on a practice record? Would you like to see your students become more independent in their at home practice? It’s safe to assume the answer to both questions is a resounding “YES!” and that’s where the Big IDEA comes in. IDEA is an acronym designed to help teach students how to practice smarter instead of harder by essentially teaching them how we, as educators, structure rehearsals.
With I.D.E.A. they learn to:
I – Identify what part of the music you will be working on
D – Decide what musical concept needs work
E – Execute appropriate strategies to help achieve your goal
A – Analyze your session. What worked? What didn’t?
By using explicit instruction and sequenced Practice Journals designed to go along with each step, students will build the skills they need to have successful, independent practice sessions. It is important to note that background knowledge of basic musical concepts (tone, intonation, fingerings, rhythm, etc.) need to be in place before diving into the IDEA Journals. Younger students will likely need more guidance through this process.
STEP #1 – Identify & Decide
Timeline: Middle to end of 1st quarter
The first step is to Identify a small chunk of the music to work on. It can be anywhere from 1-12 measures and does not have to start at the beginning of the piece. This is their Obtainable, Musical Goal, or OMG!
Next, students Decide what musical concept needs attention. What exactly is it that makes their spot challenging? While it may be true that everything needs work, they should only choose 1-2 concepts to focus on for that practice session. At first, many students will choose to focus on rhythms or fingerings/slide positions/stickings, but as they progress, they can shift their focus to things like dynamics, articulations, and tone quality.
STEP #2 – Execute Strategies
Timeline: End of 1st quarter to the beginning of 2nd quarter
Now it’s time for the fun step! Students will now choose strategies to Execute from their Practice Strategies Guide. Without guidance, many students default to repetition as their only practice strategy. While repetition is certainly an important element of practicing, using it exclusively will quickly lead to mistakes being embedded into their playing that can be very challenging to unlearn. Instead, they can choose a general practice strategy like Tizzling/Sizzling or Add A Measure, or they can choose a strategy geared towards a specific concept such as Mixed Rhythms to work on fingering issues. Once the spot is learned correctly, they can use repetition strategies, like the Penny Game, to build muscle memory to play it correctly every time.
STEP #3 – Analyze & Reflect
Timeline: Middle to end of 2nd quarter
It is not always the favorite step, but the Analyze portion of IDEA is an incredibly important component of the practice process. What things went well for you today? What things are you still struggling with? Taking a very honest look at their practice session will shine a light on the things they are doing well (so they can continue doing them!) in addition to things they need to continue practicing or may even need extra help to learn.
STEP #4 – The IDEA Journal
Timeline: 3rd quarter
Once your students have a firm grasp of each step in the process, they are ready to put it all together. The Step 4 IDEA Journal incorporates all four elements of IDEA into one Journal. They Identify their measures, Decide on what concepts to address, Execute appropriate strategies to accomplish their OMG, and Analyze the success of their session.
STEP #5 – Beyond The Big I.D.E.A.
Timeline: 4th quarter
After the Step 4 Journal, you can take it beyond the Big IDEA with other fun practice activities. Practice BINGO is a great way to get students playing by challenging them to practice in silly locations like in the shower – without the water, of course! Musical Choice Boards or a 30-Day Practice Challenge are also ways to keep home practice engaging.
By incorporating the Big I.D.E.A. into your program, you will be developing independent and confident musicians that will ultimately make your job as a director easier. You can find everything you need to implement the Big I.D.E.A., from Practice Strategy Guides to practice journals to strategy demo videos, FREE at www.practicewithpurpose.net. Happy Practicing!
Tracy Magwire is in her 19th year of teaching middle school band in Fairfax County, Virginia, and is an active adjudicator, clinician, and presenter. The Big I.D.E.A. was developed in collaboration with Katie O’Hara LaBrie.
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