It’s an unspoken rule of music education that students don’t practice over summer break. As teachers know, the appeal of Netflix and naps can easily get in the way of productivity (be honest, you haven’t organized your library of sheet music or large instrument closet), but we also know how important it is that students do something on their instruments over the summer so that the long break doesn’t undo all the work that happened during the school year.
When I was teaching middle school band, my philosophy for summer was focused on getting instruments on faces. Of course, I would have preferred beautiful scales, long tones, and endless sight-reading exercises, but I found that it was more productive to encourage practicing in any form. If possible, work with private instructors in your area to help give students feedback. You could ask the private teacher, for example, to focus on high register playing. Many students, however, don’t take lessons over the summer either. Helping these students spend some consistent time practicing over the break pays huge dividends when everyone returns in the fall.
Share Fun Repertoire
One way to keep students engaged over the summer is to help them find repertoire that they want to play. With no all-state audition, ensemble contest, or big concert coming up, this is the time of year where practicing “Star Wars” over and over is acceptable practice (at least it gets them playing!). Here are some helpful resources you can share with students so that they can find new repertoire:
- IMSLP.org. This repository of public domain music is excellent for finding “famous” pieces for students to try. It’s a great place for low brass players to discover that “Ride of the Valkyries” is a tough piece and string players to practice that Vivaldi solo they heard at a summer symphony concert.
- Play by ear. Learning music by ear combines ear training with execution on the instrument, and students can learn any jingle or pop song they hear on the radio.
- The SmartMusic homepage/carousel. The homepage features music categories designed to inspire students, including movies, songs about pirates, and a new list of repertoire called “Summer Favorites” built based on the most popular SmartMusic titles from summers past.
Make Practicing Social
For many students, the idea of sitting and practicing alone is the problem. For these students, find ways to make summer practicing social:
- Encourage duets (even the unison kind) with friends. Playing together helps gamify practice and improves intonation and listening skills.
- Engage technology to make the boring exercises more fun. Here’s an example using drones.
- Tap into your students’ more competitive side with contests. Remind students that intonation, articulation, and musicality are as important as speed and accuracy.
- Find ways for your students to join the community at large. Summer festivals in your community (like Make Music Day) often have events that offer students a way to perform.
Convincing students not to take a vacation from music can be tough, but by helping students discover new repertoire and making practicing fun you can avoid some of the summer rust this year.
Before he became MakeMusic’s social media manager, Ryan Sargent earned a degree in trombone performance from Baylor University and begged many a middle school student to practice over the summer during his time teaching band.
In addition to his role at MakeMusic, Ryan is an active jazz and funk trombone player in the Denver area and a member of the music faculty at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. Because he plays in a wedding band, Ryan doesn’t get a vacation from practicing.